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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
Daniel the Outlaw

A Tragic Troubadour.
Life & Collected Works of Folklorist, Poet & Translator Edward Walsh 1805-1850.
Rewritten by John J. O’ Riordain, year 2005.

In the “legend of the Midwife,” which appeared in the 34th. Number of the Dublin Penny Journal. I saw an allusion made to the “Oak-crowned cliff of Daniel the Outlaw.' It speedily re-called to my memory, the bye-gone days when that cliff and its surrounding hills and streams were the scenes of my early youth; when at the “noisy mansion” of Phil Sullivan, near the bank of the silver Ariglin.
I received my first ideas of chivalry and romance from the perusal of the “Seven Champions of Christendom,” – a gallant enterprise and warlike stratagem, from the “Irish Rogues and Rapparees” – and my early fostered and long-matured hatred of tyranny, from the “Genuine History of Ireland,” These volumes would now be disregarded; but can the coolness of judgement atone for pleasures enjoyed in the warmth of youthful fancy? I have been delighted to lie for hours together in the Outlaw's retreat of the cliff – to regard in musing mood, the compartments of the rock which tradition had assigned to his solitary fire, his sword and gun, to conjure up the days when the decayed oaks of the steep cliff cast their umbrageous protection round the rock his repose; when his shrill sliver whistle roused his faithful band to the call of their chief; here I rehearsed all that tradition has preserved of his matchless prowess and “hair-breadth escapes” I shall sketch his story.
The recollection of the time when his tale of truth first struck my car, still affords me a melancholy pleasure. Days of my youth, why have you given place to years which have stamped the premature wrinkle on my brow? But you shall ever lie in the waste of my memory, refreshing as the green neighbourhood of the wells mid the sands of the desert to the weary eye to the African traveller.

The story of Daniel O'Keefe, surnamed the outlaw, is involved in much obscurity. He was, it seems a follower of that O'Keefe, who, when driven by the Roches from Fermoy, obtained large possessions in these western districts, and that having accidentally slain McDonough, the chieftain of Duhallow, he was forced to betake himself to these mountain fastnesses to shun the vengeance of McDonough's powerful clan. At length having associated with him a band of daring spirits, he gave proof of his Milesian hatred of the Saxon invader, in bold and desperate outrages on the possessions of the intruders on the native right of the Gael. His daring enterprises and extraordinary escapes from the frequent parties of soldiers sent in pursuit of him, and the protection he afforded the weak and defenceless, are yet the theme of many an Irish song. The outlaw himself was a polished scholar and poet; and fragments of his verses yet survive among the more aged dwellers of the glens.

The Common mode of depredation practised by this freebooter was to carry off Creaghs whole herds of cattle from the enemy until a sufficient sum was sent for their release. The deep glens surrounding his retreat in the cliff, screened the booty, taken in his predatory excursions, from the closest search; but the cave of Gortmore, by the river Blackwater, about fourteen miles from Kiskeam, was his most usual place of resort, because its vicinity in Mallow, then the great thoroughfare between the north and south, and its immediate proximity to the lands of the stranger, rendered it an excellent centre of operation. Likewise, this retreat could afford full security against all attacks. On the side of a huge cliff that fearfully overhangs its base, gaped the opening of the cave; the river which has since receded from the rock, then rolled its wild waters along its base. From the water's edge a few rude steps cut in the limestone rock, led into the cave, but from every other side it was wholly inaccessible. The reader will form an idea of the importance of this retreat, as it could be approached only in a boat or by swimming; and the cave, as tradition relates, extends for many a mile beneath St. Hillary's hills.

Daniel the outlaw had a female companion to soften the horrors of this dark dwelling to share his life of depredation and danger – her name was Margaret Kelly. She is said to have been extremely beautiful, and Keefe loved her with a long and faithful affection; but temptation of a large reward offered for his head, induced her to betray him. It was she who generally procured him provisions from the neighbouring town of Mallow; and she always crossed the river in a boat which was kept concealed in the cave. She agreed one day with the commanding officer at Mallow, to betray O'Keefe into his hands. A few soldiers were to be stationed convenient to the landing place on the opposite bank, and when the outlaw, on the next occasion, had conveyed his perfidious messenger in the light skiff over the river in her way to town, the soldiers were to shoot him from their place of concealment on his return to the cave. For this service she received an acknowledgement entitling her to the reward on the outlaw's death or apprehension. After concluding this horrid compact, she returned to the cave, when O'Keefe, in a moment of soft dalliance, gently put his hand into her bosom, and was horror stricken to find the parchment that confirmed to the beloved of his heart the price of his blood, and urged to madness at her detestable perfidy, he plunged his skein into her bosom, and she expired with a single groan.

This celebrated freebooter was endued with great swiftness. In one of his southern excursions, being detached from his band and alone, he fell in with a party of horse troops and was pursued for many miles. He ran towards Gortmore cave, and the troopers pressing close upon him as he reached the fearful cliffs that overhang the broad Blackwater. He bounded at a spring from a rock to the opposite bank; his pursuers' durst not follow him. A woman who witnessed this extraordinary feat, exclaimed, in the Irish tongue- “How great is thy leap, O! Man of wonder,” and he quaintly replied- “It is trifling, compared with the length of the run”.

Being seized with a violent fever in a wild district to the west of Millstreet, betrayed by his nurse-tender. O'Keefe was yet unable to quit his bed, which he was confined and surrounded by armed men; he was wrapped in his blanket, laid upon a cart, to which he was fastened down by strong ropes. The soldiers concluded he was dying, and were less watchful of their prisoner. Upon reaching Mallow he cut the cords that held him down with the sword which lay close at his side during his illness which the soldiers had not perceived as they bore him from the bed. His sudden rush from the cart and the bright flashing of his steel, filled them with astonishment, and moment of their irresolution and dismay he effected his escape.

At length the hour that was to terminate the career of this extraordinary man approached. A person in whom he reposed great trust, unable to resist the rewards offered for his apprehension, invited O'Keeffe to partake of his hospitality, that he might betray his guest. This man communicated his intention to his wife, who used every means of persuasion to induce him to forego his base design, but in vain – and upon leaving home for the purpose of bringing a strong party to seize O'Keeffe. He bound her on oath to conceal the treachery from the confiding outlaw. In the course of some time, O'Keefe finding himself thirsty, desired to drink and his hostess brought a draught of new-milk. Upon his expressing a wish to have the draught warmed, she pointedly said –“Ma's maith leat a bheith buan caith fuar agus TEITH”. The ambiguity of these words which equally mean “ to drink hot and cold” or“to drink and flee,” excited his attention: he flung the bowl to the earth – drew his well-tried sword and rushed from the house – but the red coats had that moment arrived, and a well aimed bullet cut short his speed and his life.

See also :

O'Keeffe Chalice

O'Keeffe Families


At the dance in the village
Thy white foot was fleetest;
Thy voice mid the concert
Of maidens was sweetest;
The swell of thy white breast
Made rich lovers follow;
And thy raven-hair bound thee
Young Mairead Ni Ceallaigh.

Thy neck was lots made
Than the ceannabhan whiter;
And the glow of thy cheeks
Than the monadan brighter;
But death's chain hath bound thee
Thine eyes glazed and hollow,
That shone like a sun-burst
Young Mairead Ni Ceallaigh.

No more shall mine ear drink
Thy melody swelling;
Nor thy beamy eye brighten
The outlaw's dark dwelling;
Or thy soft heaving bosom
My destiny hallow;
When thine arms twined around me
Young Mairead Ni Ceallaigh

The moss couch I brought thee
Today from the mountain;
Has drunk the last drop
Of thy young heart's red fountain;
For this good ‘scian' beside me
Struck deep and rung hollow,
In thy bosom of treason
Young Mairead Ni Ceallaigh

With strings of rich pearls
Thy white neck was laden;
And thy fingers with spoils
Of the Sasanach, maiden.
Such rich silks enrobed not
The proud dames of Mallow;
Such pure gold they wore not
As Mairead Ni Ceallaigh.

Alas, that my loved one
Her outlaw would injure;
Alas that he e'er proved
Her treason's avenger.
That this right hand should make thee
A bed cold and hollow;
When in death's sleep it laid thee
Young Mairead Ni Ceallaigh.

And while to this lone cave
My deep grief I'm venting,
The Saxon's keen bandog
My footsteps is scenting.
But true men await me
Afar in Duhallow;
Farewell, cave of slaughter,
And Mairead Ni Ceallaigh.

Donal Dhu

My name is Donal Dhu,
I'm an outlaw bold and true,
I roam the country through
From Saxon bandits free.
But I loved a maiden fair
She had dark and glossy hair,
She sold me in despair;
She's the dear maid to me!

Margaret Kelly was her name,
And burning was the flame
That was hidden in her bosom
When first I knew her name.
But her love grew false and cold,
And an outlaw's life she sold,
For the Saxon's worthless gold;
She's the dear maid to me!                

My Sires were princes grand
Throughout old Ireland:
From many a mighty band,
We held our castles free;
‘Till the Saxons' gainst us rose,
An outlaw'd man I rove,
Lamenting my false love.
She's the dear maid to me!

Cursed was the hour,
When revenge o'er me had power;
I slew my beauty's flower
When I heard her perjury.
This good ‘scian' by my side,
I struck deep in my bride,
And her life's blood ebbed away.
She's the dear maid to me.