James J Hackett is a well known character in the Moate area of Ireland, a writer and an expert on local history, myth, legend and fable in the counties of Westmeath and Offaly. On several memorable occasions my wife Theresa and I, and other members of the Dwyer famliy, have shared a drink with James in one of his favourite hostelries, the Cat and Bagpipes on Clara Road, just down the lane from where Theresa's mum Kitty lives.
I remember for instance drinking into the early hours with James J one cold Christmas Eve amidst a cosy gathering of local farmers in the back bar of the old Cat where he toasted my impending birthday and proceded to entertain the whole audience with quotes from the great Irish and English writers and tales of local intrigue.
James has earned a reputation as a Shanachie, or traditional story teller across these two adjacent counties and I was recently delighted to learn that he had finally published a book of some of his knowledge and stories in 2006. Living at Ballinakill in the general area of Moate, James J comes from a family of saddle makers, though this very practical trade belies his learned and well read talent. Here is a short excerpt from his book Days Gone By which provides a brief insight into the history of Moate:
The Town of Moate - Its origins
by James J Hackett
The town of Moate began with the Quakers in the early 1700's. Previous to this Moate was a clsuter of very small abodes around O Mealaghlins castle which is still there today and is occupied. During the 12th century a group of Anglo Normans built a Motte which gave its name to the town.
The town of Moate is officially called Montagranoge, or Moate of Grainne Og who according to legend was a Munster princess (Carroll) who married O Mealaghlin the local lord. She was a judge or Brehon, and held her court of laws here. The name Mota Granoge means sunny little hill. The mote can still be seen at the south or central end of town.
Copies of James J Hackett's book Days Gone By may still be available from the author at Ballinakill, Moate, Co. Westmeath, Ireland.