An extract from the “Memoir of the Father Geoffrey Keating, D. D.”, by Michael Doheny, Esq. This memoir makes up part of the introduction to John O’Mahony’s translation of Geoffrey Keating’s “The History of Ireland” (in Irish Gaelic, “Foras Feasa Ar Eirinn”), originally published in 1857. The extract is from pages iv through v of the memoir.
It is now time we should say what we can of the subject of this memoir personally. Doctor Keating himself traces his lineage to the distinguished family of that name, whose various branches held high rank and large possessions in the Counties of Wexford, Kildare, Carlow, Waterford, Tipperary and Cork. According to the traditions of the family, adopted and, so to say, legalised by the books of Heraldry in Ireland, the founder of the house, whose original name is now unknown, was one of the pioneers of the Norman Invaders, who kindled the beacon fire that lit the way of Fitzstephens into Cuan-an-Bhainbh. The story goes, that as he lay by his watchfire, a wild boar chancing to prowl that way, was proceeding to attack him, until frightened by the sparkling of the fire, when he fled in dismay. The watcher, thus providentially saved, adopted for his crest a wild boar rampant, rushing through a brake, with the motto, “fortis et fidelis,” and his name became, we are not told how, Keating or Keting, from the Irish words “Cead tinne,” “first fire.”
As early as the year 1179, only ten years after the landing of Fitzstephens, we find the name “Halis Keting” a subscribing witness to a grant to Dunbrody Abbey by Herve de Montmorencie. This fact, in the absence of other evidence, would be sufficiently conclusive, against the assumption that Keating was a corruption of the Norman name, “Etienne,” for no such corruption had taken place at that early date, nor did the invaders hold familiar intercourse with the Irish.
As Dermid Mac Murchad arrived in Ireland, from his exile, a year before the landing of Fitzstephens, and was accompanied by Welshmen, and as he was anxiously expecting the arrival of his auxiliaries, nothing would be more natural than that one of those Welshmen should be employed as a watcher for their coming, and, on his success, should be rewarded by the perfidious prince himself with the title and distinction of “Cead tinne.”
“Halis Keting” was undoubtedly the founder of the house. He received large grants of land. His principal estate and residence was Baldwinstown, in Wexford. His descendants, being in connection, if not kindred, with the Geraldines, extended their sway over many counties, and were distinguished for hospitality and courage. Narraghmore in Kildare, the residence of one of the family, has remained famous to our own day for its “Cead mile failte,” which was known all over the island.
Kindling the fire, that lit the foeman’s way, was by no means a cherished title to Irish gratitude. But, in process of time, many of the Normans, as was proverbial of the Geraldines, became nationalized, and in defiance of the “Statute of Kilkenny” London edicts and other devices of “British civilization,” entered into the honored relations of fosterage and gossipred with the Irish. Nay, sometimes they went the audacious length of intermarrying, being so rude of taste as to prefer some “silver tongued” Irish beauty to the haughtiest Norman dame. Among these were the Keatings, who, on many an occasion, proved themselves formidable opponents to London law and King bishops.
In the reign of Henry VII., James Keating, Prior of Kilmainham, stormed Dublin Castle, and held it for months against the Government. He was afterwards dislodged and attainted, and Parliament, in furtherance of civilization, enacted and ordained that no person born in Ireland should ever thereafter be Prior of Kilmainham; a salutary enactment which became a precedent in practice with the English garrison in Ireland ever since. During the “rebellion” of the great Earl of Desmond, the Keatings of Carlow did such good service in his cause that the whole sept, branch and name, were attainted. How it fared with the Tipperary families, with whom the Doctor is more immediatetely connected, we have no record of. Possibly that, being under the protection of Ormond, and holding their estates in his palatinate, they took no part for or against their kindsman of Desmond.
Note: Bob Keating originally sent parts of this to the Keating-L mailing list on 1 January 1999. I’ve added a bit more text from my copy of the same book.