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TERESA BRAYTON: THE OCCULT AND THE OLD BOG ROAD REMEMBERED IN NORTH KILDARE

 
The Occult and the Old Bog Road remembered in North Kildare
 
 by
LIAM KENNY
 
It is the time of year when notions of the occult and the supernatural loom large in the imagination. The transition from the lingering light of autumn to the long night of winter has prompted writers and poets in past generations to turn their thoughts to the world of the superstitious and the supernatural. Long ago  when the embers of a turf fire or the flickering glow of a candle were all that lit the abodes of the people it is not hard to speculate how tales of ghosts and other worldly interventions dominated their imaginations.
 
Dabbling in the occult was indeed a fashionable trend among  the intelligentsia of the early 20th century. The great poet W B Yeats, for one, acknowledged the influence of occult practices in his creative processes. A less well known figure but one who lived in the same era and shared a similar interest in the realm of superstition was Kildare’s very own Teresa Brayton, best known as the author of the popular emigrant lament ‘ The Old Bog Road.’ As well as her emigrant and nationalistic poems Teresa Brayton (nee Boylan and born near Kilcock in 1868) shared an interest in the ancient Celtic tales of spirits and fairies. North Kildare historian Olive Morrin has researched aspects of Teresa Brayton’s writings and has opened a window on the North Kildare writer showing a breadth of subject matter going well beyond her authorship of ‘The Old Bog Road’. Among Brayton’s writings were poems with titles such as ‘ The land where fairies play’ and ‘The druids speak’., imagery grounded on her fascination with ancient Irish references to mysticism and magic.
 
Teresa Brayton’s own life story was in some ways typical – and in other ways quite untypical – of the Irish emigrant experience in the early 1900s. She had attended Newtown school, near Enfield, and had become an assistant teacher to her sister Elizabeth. However she emigrated to Boston in 1895, soon after moving to New York where she was to settle for almost thirty years. She married a French-Canadian, Richard Brayton, but little is known of her married life and it seems as if she became widowed quite early.
 
While some aspects of her life in New York remain enigmatic she was prominent in the Irish American nationalist movement which in many ways was the trans-Atlantic engine behind the increasingly more militant nationalist movement in Ireland in the early 1900s.  She wrote patriotic poems such as ‘ Ireland speaks’ and ‘ the Croppies grave’ and even by the outspoken standards of Irish American republicans her verse pulled no punches. Although the lack of detail prevents firm conclusions it is known that she was prominent in Irish American circles in New York and most likely met nationalist leaders such as Padraig Pearse, de Valera and Countess Markievicz who made the morale boosting trip across the Atlantic to the city hall meetings of American republicans. Indeed testament to her close relations with such prominent figures is correspondence like the letter to her from Countess Markievicz enclosing a chip of wood said to have come from the flagstaff over the GPO in 1916.
 
Although she will always be remembered for writing the words of the ‘Old Bog Road’, a staple of the Irish ballad repertoire in the early decades of the twentieth century, it is clear that Teresa Brayton had access to the highest echelons of nationalist politics. Eamonn de Valera as Taoiseach attended her funeral in Cloncurry cemetery in 1943 (she had moved back from the US a decade previously) and at a later date as, President of Ireland, unveiled a Celtic cross over her grave. A writer with interests in the occult, nationalism and the emigrant experience Teresa Brayton’s name is still little known outside the peaty terrain of Kilbrook, Ferrans Lock and Newtown on the Kildare-Meath border where the network of old bog roads inspired her best remembered verse.
 
* My thanks to Olive Morrin and the Teresa Brayton Heritage Group of Kilcock, who with Kildare County Library, are continuing to research the story of her life and times.
 
Series no. 39
 

Liam Kenny's article from his regular feature, 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' in the Leinster Leader of 1 November 2007, on the writings and life of Teresa Brayton.


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