Biography – Geoffrey Keating

KEATING, GEOFFREY (1570? – 1644?), Irish writer, was born in the county of Tipperary (Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais, bk. iii, 8), near the village of Burgess (Clanricarde Memoirs, 1744). He was a Roman catholic. After education in a school near his birthplace, where Irish literature was taught, he was sent abroad for his university education. The name of ‘P. Geofroy Ketting, doctor en theologie, Vatterford,’ appears in a list of Irish priests who were protected and educated by the Archbishop of Bordeaux at Bordeaux between 1605 and 1621 (Cal. State Papers, Irish Series, 27 Feb. 1621). Keating certainly returned to Ireland as a priest after an absence of more than twenty years. He became popular as a preacher in the south of Ireland, and delivered sermons in many parishes. They were enlivened by stories and by historical illustrations. A Mrs. Moclar imagined that he had preached at her, and complained to the president of Munster, who gratified her by offering a reward for his apprehension as a seminary priest. He was protected by the country people, finding a safe retreat in the glen of Aherlow, co. Tipperary, and there devoting himself to literature. His most important work was a history of Ireland from the earliest times to the English invasion, entitled ‘Foras Feasa ar Eirinn’ (Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland). The preface, which is signed by the author, is dated 1629. Keating’s was the first connected history of Ireland in the Irish language, and it soon became popular all over Ireland. It continued one of the best-known of Irish books till the final decay of literature after the famine of 1846, and was probably the last book of importance to circulate in manuscript in the British Isles. Many manuscript copies were made, and the verses it contains were often quoted. The whole has never been printed. It is written in a pleasant style, and shows an extensive knowledge or Irish literature, but is devoid of all historical criticism. Dermod O’Connor published a translation of it in London in 1723, and John O’Mahony another in New York in 1868. One of the best manuscripts is a copy by John Torna O’Mulconry, in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. An earlier work of unknown date is the ‘Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais’ (Three Shafts of Death), a theological treatise on the conduct of life in relation to the advent of death. It was certainly written before the history, and has enjoyed an almost equal popularity in Ireland. Most of it is written in a simple narrative or argumentative style, but there are rhetorical interludes, as in the chapter (bk. iii. 11) on hell and its pains, where the alliteration is excessive. In one sentence twelve nouns and adjectives beginning with the same letter succeed one another in three lines. The illustrations are sometimes taken from Irish history, and there are many fragments of Irish verse. The most interesting chapter is on the graves of the ancient Irish (bk. iii. pt. viii.), and in another the laughable history of MacRaicin shows that the author had the power of telling a modern story well. The book was printed for the first time from a manuscript of Mulconry in 1890 by R. R. Atkinson. It has not been translated. The other works of Keating, none of which are dated, are ‘Eochair sciath an aifrionn,’ a treatise on the mass, and several poems: (1) in praise of a harper, Tadhg O’Cobhtha, begins ‘Cia an saoi le seinnthir an chruit’ (Who is the learned man who strikes the harp?) (printed in HARDIMAN’S Irish Minstrelsy, ii. 378); (2) ‘A Health to Ireland,’ written from abroad, and beginning ‘Mo bheannacht leat a scribhinn, go inisaoibhinn Ealga’ (My blessing with thee, oh! writing, to the sweet island of Ealga) (ib. vol. ii.) ; (3) on the miseries of Ireland, beginning ‘On sgeoil do chradh Magh Fail ni codlaim Oidhche’ (From the news that pains Magh Fail I sleep not a night) (not printed).

The year of his death is uncertain, but an inscription still remaining on the ruined church of Tubrid, co. Tipperary, shows that he was dead in 1644, and probably indicate that he is buried there.

[Nicholson’s Irish Historical Library, Dublin, 1724; Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. the Marquis of Clanricarde, Dublin, 1741; O’Reilly ed. Account of Irish Writers, Dublin, 1820; Hardiman’s Irish Minstrelsy. Lond. 1831; manuscript of Tri Biorghaoithe, written in 1820 by Thomas O’Scanlan for Patrick O’Briain; manuscript of Foras Feasa ar Eirinn written in 1780, both in library of writer; Wm. Haliday’s text and translation of Keating’s History, pt. i. Dublin, 1811– in part reprinted by Joyce. As to O’Connor’s version, Dr. O’Conor’s Dissertations, p. 10; R. Atkinson’s Royal IrishAcademy, Irish MS. series, vol. ii. pt. i., Dublin, 1890.]        N.M. {Norman Moore, M.D.}

Source: Lee, Sidney [Editor], Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXX. Johnes – Kenneth, published 1892 by MacMillan and Co., New York & Smith, Elder, & Col, London, pp. 274-275. Available via

3 Replies to “Biography – Geoffrey Keating”

  1. Hi!,
    Are there any English translations of his history of Ireland and is anything known about his descendants?

    My great grandmother is Judith Keating, born abt the early 1800s who married Patrick Dwyer.

    All my maternal ancestors come from Tipperary.

    Many thanks,

  2. My grandfather was named Patrick Geoffrey Keating. He emigrated with his father and mother, a sister and a brother, in 1872 because his father was teaching Latin, Gaelic and Greek [the language of our faith, the language of our ancestors, and the language of democracy! — the Irish are wonderfully voluble]. The English were going to “put a string around his neck,” he said. He taught in the hedges and in the kitchens, because the British allowed no language to be taught except English. We should probably be grateful to have English, because we wouldn’t get along in the world too well with Gaelic. But we’re not, because the British were like a bunch of Nazis during the 400-year occupation. The historian was not an ancestor, he was a priest, but the brother of an ancestor.

    Thanks for your wonderful info re the historian! Mary Keating Floyd

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