John Keegan (1816-49)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryReferencesQuotationsNotes

Life
[var. b. 1809; pseud. “Steel Pen” of Leinster Express; “J.K.” of the Nation; “Man in the Green Cloak” of Dolman’s] b. Killeaney, vicinity of Shanahoe, nr. Abbeyleix, Co. Laois [then Queen’s County]; ed. by an uncle school-teacher who later worked at Shanahoe National School, where he himself later taught; contrib. to the Leinster Express (from 1837) - incl. the “Tales of the Rockites”, which purportedly brought the “misguided peasantry” to “their senses” (Obit., Leinster Express; 7 July 1849); also to the Dublin University Magazine (stories, 1839), the Irish Penny Journal (in 1841), the Nation (verse, 1843-45], Dolman's Magazine (poetry and prose incl. “Gleanings [... &c.]”, 1845-47 - incl. “The Dying Mother”), the Irish National Magazine, the Cork Magazine, the Tipperary Vindicator, and - lastly - The Irishman (from Jan. 1849), where he published a poem addressed to “T.F.M.” [Thomas Francis Meagher] - then under arrest in the wake of the Young Irelanders’ Rising;
 
his verse was anthologised in Hayes’ Ballads of Ireland; best-remember for “To the Cholera”, “The Dying Mother’s Lament”, “Caoch the Piper” - on Coach O’Leary, whom Keegan had met; also “The Irish Reaper’s Harvest Hymn”; a compilation was issued as The Harp of Erin; he corresponded with John O’Daly; m. Brigid Collins, Aug. 1846, but appears to have despised her, as extant letters to John Daly [i.e., O’Daly] addressed from Killeany in 1846 show; moved to Dublin, May 1847 on failure of his marriage and after the birth of a dg., Bridget; he was recognised as the most popular ‘peasant poet’ of his generation;
 
he visited London in 1849 [but see “Gleanings in the Green Isle, Jan. 1846” - written on his return]; contracted of cholera and admitted to the sheds erected at the South Dublin Poor Law Union [site of St. James’ Hospital; err. Meath Hospital] May 1849; d. 39 June 1849 - having previously published “To the Cholera” in The Irishman; bur. Glasnevin Cemetery; The Irishman published an obituary (14 July 1849), styling him ‘friend and fellow’ of James Clarence Mangan, lately deceased; he was preparing “Legends of the Round Table of Ossory” (ded. to John Wilson Fitzgerald, M.P., of Grantstown Manor, Ballacolla), when he died; his works were collected by Canon John O’Hanlon as Legends and Poems (Dublin 1907), with memoir by D. J. O’Donoghue based on the earlier research of Canon O’Hanlon; his dg. Bridget survived unmarried in Shanohoe until 1910. CAB ODNB JMC DIW MKA RAF OCIL
 

Note: The information gathered from the acronymic sources listed above has been supplemented heavily from the biographical pages of Tony Delany’s John Keegan page - online; accessed 04.09.2011.

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Works
Very Rev. Canon John O’Hanlon, MRIA, ed., Legends and Poems by John Keegan, with a memoir by D. J. O’Donoghue (Dublin: Sealy Bryers & Walker 1907); Tony Delaney, ed., Selected Works (Co. Kilkenny: Galmoy Press 1997), 137pp.

A “John Keegan” page maintained by Tony Delany contains an extensive biography, bibliography and selections of his writing [online; accessed 03.08.2011]. Delaney accredits Keegan with introduction the word "shoneen" into modern currency - or first printing it, at least - and the term "shin fane" [viz., sinn féin] can also be found in his writing.

Poems available on Tony Delany’s John Keegan page are:—
“The Sunday Evening Dance”
“Evening Reflections ”
“The Dark Girl by the Holy
   Well”
“Verses [on] Little Nell”
“The Sky ”
[ Copied to RICORSO, as attached. ]

Stories available on Tony Delany’s John Keegan page:—
“Tales of the Rockites”
“The Murderer”
“The Sheoge”
“The Banshee”
“Gleanings in the Green Isle”
[ Copied to RICORSO, as attached. ]

See also ...

 

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Criticism
Memoir by O’Donoghue, in O’Hanlon, ed., Legends and Stories (1907); see also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 2.

 

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Commentary
Robert Farren, Course of Irish Verse (1948), refers to Keegan in connection with the advent of the theme of ‘faery’ and the ‘other world’ in Irish verse, and remarks: ‘The transporting breath is, however, Keegan’s Bouchaleen Bawn’ [a poem-story of a conflict between Catholicism and fairy magic in the peasant mind].

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Rita Kelly, reviewing Tony Delaney, ed., Selected Poems of John Keegan (1997) [?in Books Ireland], quotes: ‘Acushla machree, we are wounded and so / So bad that we cannot endure it much more. / A cure we must have, though the Saxons may stare / and “curse like a trooper”, but, devil may care / Shine fane [i.e., sinn féin] is our watchword - so devil may care.’ (Nation, Sept. 1843.) Also quotes [from his letters]: ‘I feel that nameless something which warns me that I have the elements of literary success about me’; and quotes his account of his marriage made ‘under disagreeable circumstances and to a person rather unsuited to a man of my stamp and, what is worse, one against whom my friends and family entertain strong prejudices.’ Kelly is not impressed.

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Quotations

See a selection of his poems - attached.

  ‘To see my ghastly babies - my babies so meek
    and fair -
To see them huddled in the ditch like wild beasts
    in their lair;
Like wild beasts! No! the vixen cubs that sport
    on yonder hill
Lie warm this hour, and, I’ll engage, of food they’ve
    had their fill.’
   
—quoted in Melissa Fegan, Literature and the Irish Famine, 1845-1919, OUP 2002, p.176; cited in Fintan O’Toole, ‘What Haunted Eugene O’Neill?’, in New York Review of Books, 8 Nov. 2007, pp.47-49 [see full-text version in RICORSO Library, via index or direct].

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Old Coach?: ‘And seasons came and went / and still / Old Caoch was not forgotten / Although I thought him dead and gone / And in the cold clay rotten.’ (Quoted in Fred Johnston, review of Selected Works, 1999; Books Ireland, Dec. 1999, p.365.)

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Tales of the Rockites” [No. 1] - describing the victim of a Rockite outrage: ‘[...] John D’Arcy was a respectable farmer, who resided on a good farm, at Knock-a-roe, in the parish of Aghaboe, near the post town of Borris-in-Ossory, Queen’s County. His brother, at the establishment of the Rockite System in that district, was Roman Catholic Curate of Aghaboe. He was a pious, mild and worthy disciple of Him beneath whose sacred banners he had enlisted as a minister of the Gospel. Averse to every species of wickedness and crime, he never ceased to admonish his ferocious flock of the evil consequences to which they exposed themselves in their wild attempts to frustrate the laws which had been established for the peace and safety of the community. He painted to them in lively colours, the miseries they would cause in their families, and the everlasting woes they would bring on their own immortal souls by their blind adherance to their accursed system of intimidation and outrage. All this and much more he pointed out to them, but, alas, he might as well be preaching to the walls of his chapel; he might as well attempt to ‘ride on the whirlwind,’ or ‘direct the storm,’ the infatuated dupes turned away from his instructions, and the good priest, instead of being able to reclaim the misguided wretches from the broad road of perdition, drew upon his own ‘reverend head’ the deep-rooted hatred and contempt of the lawless ruffians.’ (For full-text version, see attached.)

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Yuck!: ‘I have got married under disagreeable circumstances and to a person rather unsuited to a man of my stamp, & what is worse, one against whom my friends and family entertain strong prejudices. Do you remember my “Song of the Railway Labourer” in the Penny Magazine - the girl alluded to in those verses is now my wife. She brought me no pecuniary wealth - she is not extremely handsome nor otherwise peculiarly attractive, & yet I married her for love or rather, because, as Napolean [sic] said of the Russian dynasty, “A fatality involved me” - a person rather unsuited to a man of my stamp, & what is worse, one against whom my friends and family entertain strong prejudices [...]’ (Letter to John Daly, 18 Aug. 1846.)
 
—See Letters to Daly [or O’Daly], available at the John Keegan Website

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Gleanings in the Green Isle / Jan. 1846”: ‘[...] The very queen of cities is this Dublin. London is much bigger, Edinburgh more romantic and historical, Liverpool and Glasgow more busting and money-making; but, for the magnificence of its public buildings, the elegance and convenience of its leading streets and squares, the beauty and variety of its suburbs, the attractions of its promenades and places of public resort, and a thousand other charms, which cannot now be so much as alluded to, Dublin bears away the palm. You will scarcely meet, in any European city, a grander view than that which strikes you as you pass over Carlisle bridge, the last on the Liffey to the eastward, and forming the grand point of communication between the modern and most splendid and important parts of the city. Behind you is Sackville Street - for its length, allowed to be the finest, perhaps, in the world - with its magnificent shops and bazaars, the vast tide of human beings promenading its flagways, innumerable carriages, jaunting-cars, and equestrians dashing over its pavement; whilst, in the centre, the vast Tuscan pillar, surmounted with a gigantic statue of Lord Nelson, rears its huge form, and constitutes, if not one of the most appropriate or national, at least one of the most striking and prominent of the architectural beauties of the Irish metropolis. Eastward, and immediately beneath you, is the harbour, with its steamers smoking and puffing, the hoarse song of the ship-boy stealing mellowed over the waters, and the gay pennons of the merchant vessels and smaller craft floating gaily in the breeze. Westward, then, for a distance of nearly two miles, extend the splendid lines of quays, with the dome of the four courts, and the elegant cupola of St. Paul’s Catholic church, looming over the Liffey, the entire view terminating in the entrance to the Phoenix Park, and the massive obelisk, called the ‘Wellington Pillar’, rearing its heavy truncated form in the far distance.’ (For full-text version, see attached.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography recounts that he suffered much from the famine of 1845-46.

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), notes that he produced nothing in book-form in his lifetime, but numerous stories and poems in magazines, incl. Dublin University Magazine (“Legends and Tales of the Queen’s County Peasantry”; “The Banshee”; “The Bewitched Butter”; “The Sheoge”); Irish Penny Journal (“Tales of My Childhood”); The Nation (poems rep. in Spirit of the Nation); Dolman’s Magazine (London); Irish National Magazine (1846); Irishman (1849); collected as Legends and Poems [ ... &c.], ed. Canon O’Hanlon MRIA, with a memoir by D.J. O’Donoghue (1907).

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); b. Queen’s Co., ed. hedgeschool; poems uncollected when he died; selects “Coach [blind], the Piper”; “The Dying Mother’s Lament” [ending, ‘But when the ghastly winter’s dawn its sickly radiance shed, / The mother and her wretched babes lay stiffened, grim, and dead!’]; “The Irish Reaper’s Harvest hymn” [‘... / Smile down blessed queen, on the poor Irish boy / Who wanders away from his dear beloved home ...’]; “The Dark Girl by the Holy Well”, with long prose note from author on St. John’s Well pilgrimage.

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Christopher Morash, The Hungry Voice (1989), b. Queen’s Co. [Laois]; ed. hedge school, fugitive verse, victim of cholera epidemic of 1849; buried in pauper’s grave, Glasnevin; “To the Cholera”, in Cork Magazine, Vol. 2, No 13 (Nov. 1848). “The Dying Mother’s Lament”, in Legends and Poems (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker 1907), p.509. (Morash, p.274.)

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