Mac Cuarta, Séamas ‘Dall’ (c.1650–1732/3), poet, was probably born near Omeath, Co. Louth, although the Drumcondra area of Co. Meath is given as his birthplace in some sources. Little is known of his immediate family or their circumstances except that his father's name was Brian and that two brothers, Ruairí and Brian Óg, are mentioned in his poems. Mac Cuarta's work displays a familiarity with Irish and classical literature and suggests that he was educated in a local hedge school. A career in teaching or as a priest may have been intended, but an illness that blinded him in his youth would have put an end to such hopes. The means by which Mac Cuarta earned his livelihood are unclear but he would appear to have played the harp as well as composing verse. His poetry reveals a familiarity with both Louth and Meath as well as an affinity for Ulster, and the theory that he normally resided with relatives in Omeath while paying regular visits to patrons among the minor gentry of the Boyne valley is consistent with the evidence.
Mac Cuarta was arguably the most important northern poet of the early eighteenth century. His contacts among other poets in the Leinster–Ulster border region included Pádraig Mac a Liondain (qv), Niall Óg Mac Murchaidh, and Brian Ó Ceallaigh, and both Mac Cuarta and Mac a Liondain composed poems in honour of Turlough Carolan (qv) when the famous harper visited the Oriel region. Some fifty works attributed to Mac Cuarta are extant – a corpus that is varied in both form and content, including as it does compositions written in óglachas (loose versions of the syllabic metres formerly employed by the professional bardic poets), less formal poems in the hybrid trí rann agus amhrán format that emerged in the late seventeenth century, and amhráin in the stressed metres of popular song.
The earliest composition to which a date can be assigned is a lament (‘Is in Eachroim an áir atáid ina gcónaí’) for Sorley MacDonnell, who was killed while fighting in the Jacobite army at Aughrim. Similar political sympathies are evident in poems that praise Col. Brian McGuinness (‘Chuaigh an coirnéal cumhdaigh uainn ar cuanta’), one of the ‘wild geese’ who left Ireland in 1691, and two members of the Fews branch of the O'Neill: Capt. Brian O'Neill (‘Ní maith is léir dom na leabhair Ghaeilge’) and Lieut.-col. Terence O'Neill (‘A mhacaoimh a théid’), both of whom entered the Spanish service. Mac Cuarta also composed a welcome in verse (‘Mo chiansa fir na hAustria’) for Christopher Fleming, baron of Slane, on his return to Ireland: Fleming had been taken prisoner at Aughrim, forfeited his estate, and subsequently served abroad, but he was allowed to return about 1704. The overthrow of the native gentry and the emergence of a new Williamite ruling élite was deplored in such works as ‘Is é mo ghéardheacair chlíse’, ‘Ceist agam ort, a chúirt na féile’, and ‘A sheanchloch uasal’. A dialogue in verse (‘Is é is léir liom uaim gurb oidhre ar Ghuaire’) between Mac Cuarta and a fellow poet, Aodh Mac Oireachtaigh, gives a rare insight into political divisions within the catholic community in the years following the revolution. While Mac Oireachtaigh dismissed the tory outlaws active in the Co. Louth area as criminal upstarts who were usurping the leadership role that properly belonged to the gentry, Mac Cuarta praised them and expressed the hope that they would succeed in maintaining their resistance till the ‘wild geese’ returned to free Ireland. Mac Cuarta's catholicism is reflected in devotional works on such topics as the Virgin Mary (‘A bhláth na bpaitriarc is a iníon’) and the passion of Christ (‘Féach coróin na ndealg maol’), and also in an encomium (‘Iarraim do bheannacht gan fheirg’) addressed to James O'Shiel on the latter's appointment as bishop of Down and Connor in 1717. Latterly, however, Mac Cuarta's best-known poems are those that deal with more personal themes: notably ‘Fáilte don éan’, in which the poet greets the cuckoo on its annual return and regrets not being able to see the bird because of his blindness, and ‘Uaigneach sin, tithe Chorr an Chait’, in which he satirises the philistine inhabitants of the townland of Corrakit, Co. Louth, who had refused him hospitality.
Mac Cuarta is believed not to have married and to have had no children. His material circumstances worsened following the deaths of his two brothers in 1717 but he survived them by some fifteen years. His death was lamented in verse by Pádraig Mac a Liondain, who said the event occurred 1732 years and two months after the birth of Christ; his burial place is unknown.