The most famous graveyard in all our area is doubtless that of Creggan, just outside of Crossmaglen, not least because it is the last resting place of the celebrated Bards, Padraig Mac a Liondain (1685-1733), Seamus Mor MacMurchadha (1720-1750) and Art MacCumhaigh (1738-1773).
The grave of Mac a Liondain is marked by a plaque erected by Eigse Oirialla, an organisation harking back to an even earlier period when the clans of Armagh, Monaghan, East Fermanagh, South Tyrone and North Louth were united under the great House of Oriel. (The name too is commemorated in the beautiful Oriel Trail, a glorious walk well-signposted through the magnificent Cooley Peninsula!).
McMurphy has been already lauded on Journal. This present article is about MacCooey. Local tradition has it that MacCooey penned his greatest work, ‘Urchill an Chreagain’ after spending a night in the underground vault at Creggan that houses the bones of his former clan chieftains, the O’Neills of the Fews. The O’Neill clan vault (marked now by a simple granite stone bearing the inscription ‘1480 O’Neill 1820’ – the dates representing their span of dominance – a time of culture and native powers when the said poets were the pride of the entire province of Ulster) was rediscovered only in 1971 by my aunt’s brother Owen Keenan when his tractor wheel sank mysteriously into the earth! Anyway MacCooey lapsed into despair for his conquered people in the vault: a fair maid appeared and invited him to accompany her to a land where the English did not rule. Convinced of his people’s defeat he agreed to go. He insisted however that wherever he might die his body would be laid to rest in Creggan.
To drink with the gentry or sit at the table
But in some nook or cranny, left perched on his legs
He drained all his buttermilk down to the dregs.
They wouldn’t allow his verse to be banned
Nor suffer the hucksters to kick up a din
Entertained in the priest’s house by Blind Mary Quinn.‘