Moses Teggart, poet of the boglands

Vol. 4 No. 2 - 1980

Moses Teggart, the poet of the boglands

by W.E.C. Fleming

Almost a century ago, a young man whose name was later to become a household word in the Birches district, emigrated to the United States of America.

Moses Teggart was born in the townland of Ballinary on 1st February, 1854, the son of the local postman who also held the position of Parish Clerk in Tartaraghan Parish Church, where part of his duty was to answer the Responses on behalf of the considerable proportion of the congregation who were illiterate.

Itching feet

Young Moses showed considerable promise as a pupil at Cloncore Lower Primary School and proceeded to Belfast for further education; he entered the teaching profession serving locally in Milltown and also in Cork. But he had itching feet and moved to Scotland where he took up government employment and became a great admirer of the poet Robert Burns. He undoubtedly felt an affinity with the National poet of Scotland, Teggart being a common Scotch name; and moreover, both men were of humble origin, self-educated and had a keen eye for the glories of Nature. Yet he did not make Scotland his home, but in the 1880's joined the steady stream of emigrants to the New World; and, arriving in Springfield, Massachusetts, joined the staff of a local printing company.

Moses, however, could not forget the environment in which he had grown up, and the poems he penned and sent regularly for publication in the local press were watched for and appreciated by the bogland folk. Descriptions written in very different surroundings proved to be accurate portrayals of the district where he was reared, and which lay near to his heart. The mosscheeper fluttering among the rushes, the "chay lady" (childhood's pet name for the cow), the turf-stacks, the heather and the belles, are all portrayed in life-like fashion in his poems. The lifestyle of the bogland people he vividly described and often with a touch of humour as in the poem:

Treasure Trove.

Our Mary (light be now her troubles!
By her help it was we throve)
Digging, one day, in the stubbles,
Lit on bogland treasure-trove.
Digging - not with spurt and splutter!
To the quick, and deeper far.
She dug up a tub of butter,
Axle grease as black as tar.

Whence, oh whence, and from what region,
Did the hoard, once yellow come?
Ask the winds - their name is legion,
Yea, beseech them, and they're dumb.
Shouldered home - an awkward bundle!
And the black staves knocked apart,
No longer squeaked the barrow trundle,
Creaked no more the old turf cart.

Moses Teggart was a versatile writer and his poetic gift is to be seen also in religious and classical themes. He paraphrased various Greek works such as "Hero and Leader," and Homer's "Vision of Penelope." Although he did not attain to the high standards of Robert Burns, yet he was a gifted man, and his verse about the boglands struck a new original note. He was able to awaken others to the beauty and charm of what at first sight appeared to be an unattractive region.

Last visit home to Ballinary

In the autumn of 1908 he returned to visit his aged father who was then in failing health, and while he was staying at the old home in Ballinary his step-mother died. It would appear that the dampness and rigour of the winter weather told on his constitution which had never been very robust, and he decided for his health's sake to hasten his return to the drier climate of the U.S.A. He boarded the Allan Liner "Carthagenian" but did not live to complete the voyage, and in the fury of an Atlantic gale the ship was stopped and his corpse committed to the deep.

His farewell poem, written at the Birches on 11th February, 1909, just eight days before his death, reflects the depressing circumstances which he felt had compassed him round about.

Farewell, ye cold black bogs and moors!

Farewell, ye cold black bogs and moors!
Good-bye, ye gold-bloomed whins!
Ye teach me how the love endures
That in friendship fond begins,
Good-bye ye little red-breasts all,
That sing so sweet at dawn!
At dusk I hear your pensive call,
And shall when I am gone.

Ye joyous lark that in the blue
Already carols loud,
I know your song is sweet and true
Though I'm with sorrow bowed.
A home across the western wave
Once more I go to seek;
Beside your song so loud and brave
This dirge sounds worn and weak.

Farewell, ye kindly people all,
In bogland and in town!
Your friendship I esteem, and shall
Till I this head lay down
In that last sleep o'er which the dawn
Of heaven some morn shall rise.
When I, fond hope! though some time gone,
Shall join you in the skies.