Scroll To Top

O'Keeffe Clan

Gathering and Rally

9, 10 and 11 Sept 2016

guided tours, lectures

historical and genealogical exhibitions

cultural and musical events,

buffet banquet Saturday evening
The O'Keeffe's History

The genealogists held that the O'Keeffes came to Duhallow, from the Gleannamhin or Glanworth district, where they had been prominent for centuries. After the coming of the Normans, they were probably pushed back from the rich lands around Fermoy to the less attractive lands around Duhallow; although they still held lands near Glenville in the early 17th century.
Their territory got the name of Pobal O'Keeffe in the Barony of Duhallow, and this was defined as the parishes of Dromtarriffe, Cullen, Nohaval, most of Kilmeen, and the portion of Clonfert. They had castles at Dromagh, Drominagh and Duarigle, as well as castellated mansions at Ahane, Cullen, and Ballymaquirke. The castle at Dromsicane was similar to Dromagh; and by implication, could have been built by the O'Keeffe's, although it was occupied by McCarthy's in 1643.
The O'Keeffe's were a leading family of the Eoghannachta, and provided several kings of Munster between A.D. 1,000. Dr. Albert Casey, in Vol. 1 of “O'Keif, Coshe Mang and Upper Blackwater”, lists nine sources, by means of which the O'Keeffe ancestry was traced back to 52 B.C. (to Felim, King of Munster). Surnames, generally adopted in the 10th Century have been extended back to the beginning of the family line for orientation.
One prominent member of the clan, Crevan the Great, King of Ireland (366-378) was the most illustrious king of the Eoghannachta, as he obtained sway, not only over Ireland, but over Alba, Britain and France as well. (This may now sound rather farfetched, but if Niall Naoi nGiallach was able to go ravaging abroad in St. Patricks time, why not Crevan, 70 years before!). He was poisoned by his sister, who wanted to make her own son King.
The O'Keeffe line proper begins with Lughaidh O'Keeffe (308-353), uncle of Crevan. Prominent in this line were Aeneas (411-489) King of Munster who was baptised by St.Patrick: Eugene (442-523), Crevan (473-543), Hugh (538-592), Cathal (569-621), Arthur (725-806) son of Cathal, King of Munster, who is considered by some British authors, as possibly the Arthur who was also King Cardigan in Wales.
Keeffe O'Keeffe (865-937) was the first to adopt the surname “O'Keeffe” Doncha O'Keeffe commanded the Irish forces in Munster in 924, and after pursuing the Danes into Ulster, obtained a signal victory over them at Dundalk.
Hugh O'Keeffe, son of Doncha, was slain at the Battle of Clontarf (1014)
Ceallach O'Keeffe, an anchorite, died on 1063.
The names Eugene, Conn, Fineen, Hugh, and Manus, occur regularly down the line until 1700. The O'Keeffe's did not join in the Desmond Rebellion, with the possible exception of Tadhg of Dromagh, who was attainted.
In 1582 Hugh'OKeeffe was killed after a raid by the Earl of Desmond into Pobal O'Keeffe. The O'Keeffe's were no friends of O'Sullivan Beare, and when he, on his long march to Leitrim, camped in their territory, they spent the night yelling around his camp.
About 1612 Art Og O'Keeffe of Dromagh had his title to the manor of Dromagh confirmed.
In 1619 another Art, his cousin had a grant of the Manor, Castle and Mill of Dunbollog, (Co. Cork, Diocese of Cloyne).
In 1641 Daniel O'Keeffe, as chief of his nation, held about 18,000 acres in Duhallow, but all these lands were finally lost to the O'Keeffe's after 1691. His son Daniel was a member of the Confederation of Kilkenny.
Among those who had been outlawed in 1641 were Donal, Donogh MacDonail, and Donogh Og O'Keeffe of Dromagh, as well as Conn O'Keeffe of Cullen.
Dromagh Castle was surrendered in 1653 by Capt. Hugh O'Keeffe, whose nephew Daniel was a commander of foot at the battle of Aughrim, where he was killed (Daniel's son Arthur was also killed). His son Donal was finally dispossessed about 1703, and became the outlaw “Donal A Rasca” who figures in song and story. He lived with his consort, Mairead Ni Cheallaigh in a cave at Gortmore, until she betrayed him, and he killed her. It is said he himself was finally killed by the English, after jumping over the cliff, at Dromscaragh, near Kiskeam.
The last parcel of O'Keeffe land, containing about 9,000 acres, and still called Pobal O'Keeffe (in the Ballydesmond area), although leased in the 1700's remained in the hands of the crown until about 1830, when it was sold to a Mr.Scully, M.P. for Cork, who sold it in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1858, to Nicholas Dunscombe.
In 1697 Arthur O'Keeffe, late of Dunbollog, bequeathed in his will to his heir, Daniel, all his Manors, Lands, etc. with remainders to his sons Charles and Arthur, Counsellor at Law. This Arthur described about 1740, as of Lincoln's Inn, and Bedford Row, London, died in 1756, without issue and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
An interesting entry is given under the Act for the Registration of Popish Clergy 1704; Father Owen Keeffe, who was ordained in Toulouse in 1679, was then living in Gurranevarrig and serving in Clonfert parish. His suretors to the sum of £50 each were Denis Callaghan, Lismealcoimin (Kanturk), and Manus O'Keeffe, Knocknageeha (Cullen). This Fr. Owen addressed a poem of welcome (“Failte dhibh, a Bhrathair Ghaoil, thar saile go crioch Eireann”), to his distinguished cousin, Conelius O'Keeffe, Bishop of Limerick (1720-1737) on the latter's arrival in Ireland from France.
Bishop Cornelius was born in 1664, the sixth son of Denis O'Keeffe and Hanoria O 'Daly. He was also ordained at Toulouse, and ministered for some years at La Rochelle and Nantes. His father had been driven from his lands at Dun, near Glenville (by Cromwell), and eventually settled at Dromkeen, Co. Limerick, where Cornelius was born. In 1734 Bishop O'Keeffe founded O'Keeffe Burses in the Irish College in Paris, for the education of “any good O'Keeffe descended from the stock of Glenville”.
Several O'Keeffe's joined the ranks of the Wild Geese, among them Constantine O'Keeffe, of Ballydesmond, whose brother was killed while fighting with Clare's Dragoons on “Ramillies' Bloody Field”. Two other members of this outstanding family (of Art O'Keeffe), were also killed in other battles, while fighting with the French army.
Constantine, born in 1671, served France for 40 years, and died in 1745. His youngest brother Art (born 1682), also went to France, and had a distinguished career in the French admiralty.
Most of this family, including the father, had served in Lord Kenmare's Irish Jacobite Regiment, and four of them were afterwards working on the Kenmare Estates in Kerry, where they pass from our view into obscurity.
In 1732, the O'Keeffe's were admitted into the Ranks of the French Nobility, on the attestation of Lord Castleconnell and Chevelier Nugent. Hudson O'Keeffe son of Daniel of Ballymaquirke, also left Ireland with the Wild Geese, and settled in the province of Champagne. His grandson became keeper of the Royal Treasury of Louis XV.
At home Arthur and Manus O'Keeffe of Knocknageeha and Edward O'Keeffe of Dromagh were outlawed for high treason. (1690).
The O'Keeffe lands at Ahane (Cullen), had been confiscated after the Desmond Rebellion, but that family lived on there as tenants, (where Timothy J. O'Riordan now lives), until well into the 19th century. When the last member was dying in the Millstreet Union Work House, the dogs were heard crying; as was said to be the case, when any member of the family was about to die.
The O'Keeffe's must have been fond of their dogs if the following traditional story from the early 17th Century is correct:
They insisted on taking their dogs into the Church of Cullen, during mass, much to the annoyance of the priest, who accordingly denounced them from the altar. They were so enraged at this that one Sunday after mass; they followed him from Cullen to Nohaval to kill him. But after his horse jumped over the stream near Nohaval, a sudden flood prevented his pursuers from crossing.
There is one further aspect of the O'Keeffe story.
Soon after 1700 Charles O'Keeffe of Cullen decided he would get land in the only way he knew, by becoming a Protestant. In 1715 he leased nine gneeves of land at Knocklucoge from Richard Aldworth. He gradually consolidated his position. And in due course the family became prosperous and influential around Newmarket. His son Daniel died in 1740 and his grandson Menas married in 1751 Mary Bunworth, (Bunworths lived in Newmarket until recent times).Knocklucoge is henceforth referred as “Mount Keeffe”. Menas died in 1781, and is buried in Dromtariffe old church (all the others are buried in Newmarket Protestant Graveyard). The name Menas occurs in every generation for almost 100 years, the last Menas dying in 1861. His son Charles died 1882, and his grandson James Maunsel O'Keeffe died tragically in 1907, and in 1908 she married her first cousin, Fitzgerald O'Keeffe, of Kanturk banking fame. After his death in 1934, Mount Keeffe was sold to the Guean family, with the second farm going to the Scully family. Lusanna then went to live in England, where she died about 1950. Her brother was a doctor in England, and the last known address of his family was Tring, Herefordshire. Fitzy O'Keeffe and his wife are remembered by Mrs. Raleigh (nee Kennedy) whose parents worked at Mount Keeffe. On the night in 1934 when Fitzy died in sleep, Mary Kennedy who was in the house heard extraordinary noises, for which there was no explanation.
Finally we come to the “Mount Keeffe Chalice”, which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was given to the Museum by Miss L. Purcell of Burton Hall, Churchtown in 1929. The existence of this chalice became generally known in recent times, through the diligence of Sean O'Reilly of Mallow, the late Dan Casey of Newmarket, and the late Fr. James Wilson, Chaplain, Mount Alvernia. A Mr Clancy of Doneraile first told Mr. O'Reilly, that he had noticed the chalice on a visit to the museum, and Mr. O'Reilly investigated the matter thoroughly , getting photos of the chalice, and the inscription of which it reads:-
C.O.K, ME FIERI FECIT anno domini 1590.
There is a strong tradition in Newmarket of priests being murdered there in Penal times. So Dan Casey led a group from Mallow, to Gleann an Aifrinn, two miles north of Newmarket, where a Mr McAulliffe and his daughter, Mrs Kenneally who lived there, told them this traditional story:
The O'Keeffe's presented a chalice to the church in Newmarket about 1600. During the worst of the Penal times, mass was celebrated in Gleann an Aifrinn, on the MacAuliffe farm. The priest used to hide the vestments and chalice in an opening at the base of a tree. Sometimes in wet weather, mass was said in the house of a Mr O'Keeffe, who lived nearby. One Sunday morning early, when a Father Gallivan, and an unnamed priest from Kerry were in the O'Keeffe house, a troop of Redcoats surprised the Sentry, and murdered the two priests. They looted the chalice and vestments. On the spot where the priest's bodies lay there grew a tall tree which resembles the shape of a chalice. The ruined walls of the house where the priests were murdered are still standing.
This account leaves a number of unanswered questions.
In contrast to this version of the Mount Keeffe Chalice story. Mrs. Molly Hickey of Cullen thinks (from traditional sources) that the chalice was presented to Cullen Church by the Ahane O'Keeffe's, who after fighting with the priest took it back again. Charles O'Keeffe, who came to Mount Keeffe after 1700, may have been of this family, and by this time the chalice may have been a family heirloom. It is also possible of course, that the Mount Keeffe family, although Protestant, may have been secretly helping their Catholic relatives and neighbours, and that Mount Keeffe was a safe place for keeping the Chalice, which with improving conditions for Catholics towards the end of the 18th century may have gradually ceased to be used. This of course, is mere supposition, but until more details come to light, we must simply try to imagine what the most likely explanation is. We hope to have further details on the chalice in a further issue.
(We are indebted to Padraig O'Maidin, Co. Librarian, for much information for this article.)
The O'Keeffe History by Mrs. E. Sheahan, Seanchas Duhalla.