THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY CREGGAN POETS
Art Mac Cooey 1738 - 1773
Art McCooey is the best known of the five Gaelic Poets from South East Ulster. Art was the last of these Poets. He was called "Art na gCeoltai" - Art of the songs. His poem about Creggan is the national anthem of South East Ulster. McCooey was born in the townland of Ballinaghy now known as Mounthill. Art spent most of his life as a labourer and a gardener.He worked for several local clergy around Crossmaglen including Rev. Hugh Hill Rector of Creggan 1728 - 1773. His poetry is associated with the O'Neills of Glassdrummond. His death represented the end of an era, marking the final eclipse of the old Gaelic order following the exile of the O'Neills of the Fews after 1641.
While poor and foolish he was popular with the common people. One reason for this was that he voiced the feeling of the times, the sufferings, hatreds, laments and hopes. His melodious verses were sung with heart-moving feelings, for National hope was not dead in MacCooey's day, nor had the people become reconciled to the English domination as final and inevitable. After the flight of the Earls, few if any of the chiefs in Ulster could support either court or poet.
Unlike his contemporary Peader Ó Doirnín he seems to have successfully avoided conflict with "Johnston of the Fews". Following his marriage to his cousin, which took place in the Protestant church, he was exiled to Howth for a time. He later returned to the district and was reconciled to the Catholic church.
This was about the time of his quarrel with Rev. Terence Quinn PP of Creggan and the satirical poem "Maire Chaoch" ( One eyed Mary ) written about Fr. Quinn's sister. After his return he wrote " Cuilfhionn Ní Chuinne " Quinn's Fair-haired Daughter in praise of Mary Quinn which seems to have patched up their differences.
Part of the house where his parents lived near Glassdrummond is still standing. Some 25 of his poems survive. After his death his MSS, it is said, became the property of a man called Tom Lamb at Mounthill, but Tom's daughter Betty, opened a small shop at Glassdrummond chapel, and paper being scarce, she tore them up for parcelling goods.
The epitaph on his headstone in the churchyard (erected 1973) from the last line of his poem Úr-Chill an Chreagáin reads: "Gurb ag Gaeil chumhra an Chreagáin a leagfar mé i gcré faoi fhód." "that with the fragrant Gaels of Creggan I will be put in clay under the sod."
Pádraig Mac A Loindain 1665 - 1733
Pádraig Mac a Liondain, a native of the Fews, belongs to the twilight age of the native Irish literary tradition.
The themes of his verses are the material of literature of all ages, history of people and events, praise of friends and famous people, satire and invective against enemies, and the most common theme of all which is love.
According to tradition Mac a Liondain was a farmer and his house was a meeting-place for the literary people of his time. These included Seamas Dall Mac Cuarta, the representative poet of Ulster in the 18th century, and Toirealach Ó Cearúlláin, ( O Carolan) the celebrated harper and musician. About twenty of his compositions in prose and verse survive.
His poetry is of the new kind of accentual verse which followed the making of the strict verse of the professional Bardic poets who had disappeared with the collapse of the old Gaelic aristocracy which had maintained for them for centuries. Mac a Liondain's poetry contains much of the style and language of the poetry of the classical poets. His poem "Moladh Shéamais Mhic Cuarta" - "A Praise of Séamus Mac Cuarta" is from a trilogy in which Mac a Liondain and Séamus Mac Cuarta praise one another for the excellence of their poetry and where Peadar Ó Doirnín, who belonged to the next generation, mocks them for their arrogant and extravagant claims to possess between them a monopoly of the world's wisdom and learning.
Séamus Mór Mac Murphy 1720 - 1750
A major factor in the disturbed state of the Fews in 1740 was the presence of a strong band of tories (outlaws), led by Séamus Mór MacMurphy who was born at Carnally, near Crossmaglen. The Mac Murphy's are believed to have been part of the advance party at the time of the arrival of the O'Neill's.
According to tradition, Séamus was a poet and a fearless outlaw. His closest friend was the Gaelic poet, Peadar Ó Doirnín who, with him, founded a school of Gaelic poetry. They held regular sessions at Dunreavy Wood and Mullaghbane.
During the period 1740 to 1745, MacMurphy and Ó Doirnín were active supporters of the Scottish Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Séamus was betrayed by his lover Molly MacDacker whose father kept an inn at Flagstaff. He was arrested there by Johnston's men. After eight months in prison Séamus MacMurphy was tried, sentenced to death and hanged. He was buried at Creggan.
Séamas dall Mac Cuarta c.1650 - 1733 (Omeath)
His nature poetry and feeling for living things makes him unusual among the more formal poets of his time. "Fáilte don éan" and "An lon dubh báite" are his best known poems. Born in Co.Louth, probably near Omeath. As his name implies he was either blind or of defective sight. He spent his life in the region of north-east Leinster between Carlingford Lough and the Boyne. Like his friend Carolan the harpist, who had the same disability, he depended upon patrons for survival and in the dark years of the eighteenth century they were gone and he was reduced to beggary.
Peadar Ó Doirnín 1704 - 1769 (Forkill)
He wrote satirical verse and came in for constant persecution by the local government agent Johnston of the Fews. Born near Dundalk. One of the traditions about him is that he was so clever as a child that there was a possibility of his becoming a priest, but the Penal Laws prevented this. He is thought to have become tutor to the family of one Arthur Brownlow, a Protestant from Lurgan, who had then in his possession the 'Book of Armagh'. Ó Doirnín may have taught Brownlow Irish. They parted after some years because of inevitable disagreements about politics and Ó Doirnín married Rose Toner and settled in Co.Louth, near Forkill, where he became a teacher. He died in his classroom in 1769 and is buried at Urney churchyard near Forkill. Seosamh Mac Grianna's story "Codladh an Mháistir" is based upon Ó Doirnín's death.