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Notes on the Poets of Clare by Thomas F. O’Rahilly

Séamus Mac Cuirtín

Séamus Mac Cuirtín (James Mac Cuirtín) was fifth in descent from Seán Mac Cuirtín, brother to Aindrias the poet. He was born in 1814 or early 1815. As a young man he spent some time in Kerry, whither, he says, “I went in quest of a little education, whereby I might obtain a livelihood.” There also he “considerably increased” his knowledge of Irish. From 1845 to 1847 (and probably later) he taught school in Moy, a little to the south of Lahinch, where Mr. Michael Finucane had given him a house, “in consideration of instructing his own children.”

Some fifteen of Séamus Mac Cuirtín’s poems have come down to us, preserved in the transcripts of his friend, Micheál O Raghallaigh of Ennistymon. A number of these are in broken deibhidhe-metre, as, for instance, his elegies on Judge Michael O’Loghlen (1842) and on Daniel O’Connell (1847), his addresses to Archbishop McHale (1846) and to William Smith O’Brien, and a poem of his bidding farewell to the Irish language. This employment of deibhidhe, which of all the syllabic metres is the one least capable of adaptation to modern ears, is typical of Séamus Mac Cuirtín’s mental outlook.[22] His mind was of a strong traditional cast, and he was ever conscious of his descent from a family of hereditary Clare ollamhs.[23] “I was in hope,” he wrote in a bilingual letter which he addressed to Smith O’Brien, early in 1847, “that some interested patron would take up my service, as I considered, I had a share of claim on Irishmen through some of my family gone before me who had laboured much to revive” the Irish language. But there was very little encouragement for Irish writers, and still less for a man so out of touch with the times he lived in as Séamus Mac Cuirtín. “There was no use for me,” he complained “in urging my devotion or my family claims before the degenerate tribes of this age.” Smith O’Brien alone, he says, had given him encouragement. But tragic events were brewing when Séamus wrote the above. A few months afterwards came the terrible Famine, and in the following year the failure of O’Brien’s rebellion, with his ensuing transportation.

What became of Séamus Mac Cuirtín I do not know. It would be interesting to discover the date of his death, and also whether any representatives of this great Clare family exist today.


Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Conmara


Lesser Poets (A.D. 1700-1850)