Geoffry (or Geoffrey) Keating

Born 1570 - Died 1650.

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1, edited by Charles A. Read (1880)

This celebrated Irish historian and divine, to whose indefatigable labours Irish history is so deeply indebted, was born at Tubbrid, near Clogheen, in county Tipperary, about the year 1570. Of the details of his life there is left us but a scanty record. At an early age he was sent to Spain, and in the college of Salamanca he studied for twenty-three years. On his return home he was received with great respect by all classes of his countrymen, and after a tour through the country was appointed to the ministry of his native parish, Tubbrid, in county Tipperary. Here he soon became famous for his eloquence, and crowds came to hear him from the neighbouring towns of Cashel and Clonmel. "Among others," says the editor of Clanricarde's Memoirs, "came a gentleman's wife whom common fame reported to be too familiar with the Lord-president of Munster. The preacher's discourse was on the sin of adultery, and the eyes of the whole congregation being on the lady, she was in great confusion, and, imagining that the doctor had preached that sermon on purpose to insult her, she made loud complaint of him to the president, who was so enraged that he gave orders for apprehending him, intending to punish him with all the rigour of the law." Before, however, the soldiers reached his house, the historian, warned by his friends, had fled for safety into the Galtee Mountains near at hand.

In the solitude of the mountains Keating caused to be brought to him the materials he had been collecting for years, and at once proceeded to write his well-known and important History of Ireland, which was written in his native language, and ultimately completed about the year 1625. It begins from the earliest period (namely, the arrival of the three daughters of 'Cain, the eldest named Banba, who gave her name to Ireland, which was called "the Isle of Banba"), and extends to the Anglo-Norman invasion. In 1603, however, Keating was enabled, owing to the recall of the president, Sir George Carew, to England, to return to his parish, where he found a coadjutor, with whom he lived and laboured peacefully for many years. One of the joint works of the two men was the erection of a church in 1644, over the door of which may yet be seen an inscription speaking of them as founders, and beside which was placed afterwards the following epitaph on the poet-historian -

"In Tybrid, hid from mortal eye,
A priest, a poet, and a prophet lie;
All these and more than in one man could be
Concentred was in famous Jeoffry."

Keating's writings prove him to have been an eloquent preacher, a ripe scholar, a graceful poet, a skilful writer in Latin and Irish, and a patient enthusiast in the collection and study of the ancient annals and bardic works of his country.

As to Keating's History there are many and very varying opinions. Peter Talbot speaks of it as "an able but extravagantly mad performance." D'Arcy Magee calls it "a semi-bardic, semi-historic work, full of faith in legends and trust in traditions." He, however, acknowledges that "if it contains improbabilities or absurdities they are not of his (Keating's) creation." He further asserts that "ignorance has criticized what it knew not of, and condemned accounts which it had never examined." O'Curry says of it, "This book is written in the modified Gaedhilic of Keating's own time." He also truly says it would be better for those who extract information from his writings "to endeavour to imitate his devoted industry and scholarship, than to attempt to elevate themselves to a higher position of literary fame by a display of critical pedantry and what they suppose to be independence of opinion, in scoffing at the presumed credulity of those whose labours have laid in modern times the very groundwork of Irish history." To our thinking, however, Keating is best defended by himself in his own lengthy preface to the History. In an early part of the work itself he also says, in giving the legend of a settlement in Ireland before the flood--"nor have I inserted it in the beginning of this history with any desire that it should be believed, but only for the sake of order, and out of respect to some records of the kingdom that make mention of it." Remembering this and other like statements in the history, we cannot join in charging the author with unbounded credulity.

Dermod O'Connor's translation is not at all as perfect as could be desired, nor is the translation published lately in New York a very great advance upon it in accuracy. We have still room for an accomplished Irish scholar to give us a creditable rendering, and every facility, as the MS. in the original Irish by O'Mulcoury is to be found at present in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Of the other works of Keating many were a, few years ago, and possibly still are, well known traditionally to the peasantry of Munster. Among them are "Thoughts on Innisfail," which D'Arcy Magee has translated; "A Farewell to Ireland;" a poem addressed to his harper; "An Elegy on the Death of Lord de Decies;" the "Three Shafts of Death," a treatise in Irish prose, which Irish soldiers, we are told, have long held in admiration.

Keating's death is generally supposed to have taken place in 1650.