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Geoffrey Keating

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Irish theologian, historian, and poet, b. at Burgess in the parish of Tubbrid, Co. Tipperary, about 1569; d. at Tubbrid about 1644. He studied first at a Latin school near Cahir, and afterwards frequented various Irish schools in Munster and Leinster. In accordance with the custom which prevailed in Ireland during the period of Protestant persecution he was ordained a Mass-priest at the age of twenty-four and then sent abroad for his philosophical and theological studies. He formed one of the band of forty students who sailed in November, 1603, under the charge of the Rev. Diarmaid MacCarthy to Bordeaux to begin their studies at the Irish College which had been founded in that city by the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal François de Sourdis, in that same year. On his arrival in France he wrote a poetical "Farewell to Ireland", and a "Lament on the Sad State of Ireland", when the news of the Flight of the Earls (14 Sept., 1607) reached him. After obtaining the degree of Doctor of Divinity at the University of Bordeaux he returned about 1610 to Ireland and was appointed to the cure of souls at Uachtar Achaidh in the parish of Knockraffan, near Cahir, where he put down the then prevalent abuse of delaying Mass until the neighbouring gentry arrived.

In 1613 a spy reported "Dr. Keating in the Countie of Tiperarie", and in 1615 another spy reported that there was "in the diocese of Lismore Father Geoffrey Keating, a preacher and Jesuit, resorting to all parts of the diocese". About 1620, his fearless preaching aroused the anger of a lady of rather loose morals, Ellinor Laffan, wife of Squire Mockler. She invoked the aid of her relative, Donough O'Brien, Earl of Thomond, President of Munster, then residing at Limerick. The penal laws were put in force against Keating and he had to take refuge in a cave, Poll Granda, in Gleann Eatharlach in the recesses of the Galtees. When the storm had abated somewhat, he resolved to devote himself to literary work and he travelled through the country in disguise under an assumed name. During the next six years he collected materials for his historical and theological works, visiting Leinster, Connaught, and Ulster. In spite of all obstacles he finished the preface to his history in 1629, the first part in 1631, and the second part in 1632 or somewhat later. The same year, 1631, also saw the completion of his "Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais" (The Three Shafts of Death), a series of moral reflections on death and the conduct of human life, and his "Eochairsciath an Aifrinn" (The Key-Shield of the Mass), a defence of the Mass against heretics and an explanation of it for the faithful. A small silver chalice bearing the following inscription: "Dominus Galfridus Keatinge, Sacerd(os) Sacrae Theologiae Doctor me fieri fecit 23 February 1634", is still preserved in the parish church of Cappoquin, Co. Waterford. He composed a poetical elegy on Edmund Butler, third Lord Dunboyne, 17 March, 1640, and another on Thomas and John Butler, sons of Lord Dunboyne, who fell in battle. He had already written elegies on James Butler, son of the Earl of Knocktopher, 1620, John óg Fitzgerald, Lord of the Decies, 1 March, 1626, and Thomas Butler, fourth Lord Cahir, 1627.

In 1644 during the supremacy of the Catholic Confederation a small oratory, called Teampul Chiarain, was built in the north-east corner of the graveyard of Tubbrid, his native parish, and a slab over the door of it bears an inscription which seems to indicate that Keating was dead at that time. The few poems of later date ascribed to him in some manuscripts are probably the work of Pádraigín Haicéad, a contemporary poet. In addition to his poems and the three great prose works above mentioned, "Eochairsciath an Aifrinn", "Trí Biorghaoithe an Bháis", and "Forus Feasa ar Eirinn", Keating also wrote two smaller devotional treatises, "Psaltair Mhuire" (The Psalter of Mary), a series of meditations on the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, published for the first time in the "Irish Rosary" (Dublin) August, 1908-August, 1909, by Richard Foley, and a similar work still unpublished, "Coróin Mhuire" (The Crown of Mary). Geoffrey Keating was proficient in the Irish, Latin, and English languages and his writings prove him a consummate master of Catholic theology, Irish style, native history, and legendary lore. His history has been undeservedly criticized. It has been blamed for the inclusion of legends, which is in fact one of its greatest merits and has earned for him the title of the Irish Herodotus. But besides legends he has also preserved us some important early ecclesiastical records which would otherwise have been lost, such as the Acts of the Synod of Rath Breasail at the beginning of the twelfth century when Ireland was first divided into its modern dioceses. Eugene O'Curry remarks that: "It would be more becoming those who have drawn largely and often exclusively on the writings of these two eminent men (Father John Colgan and Dr. Geoffrey Keating) and who will continue to draw on them to endeavour to imitate their 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."

The following is a list of the first complete editions of each of Keating's works: — "Trí Biorghaoithe an Bháis" (The Three Shafts of Death), ed. Robert Atkinson, LL.D., for the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1890); "Eochairsciath an Aifrinn", ed. Patrick O'Brien (Dublin, 1895); "Dánta, Amhráin is Caointe" (Poems, Songs and Elegies), ed. Rev. John C. MacErlean, S.J., for the Gaelic League (Dublin, 1900); "Forus Feasa ar Éirinn" (The History of Ireland), text and translation, ed. David Comyn, vol. I (London, 1902), and Rev. Patrick S. Dineen, vol. II and III (London, 1908), for the Irish Texts Society (London); "Psaltair Mhuire", ed. Richard Foley, serially in the "Irish Rosary" (Dublin), August, 1908-August, 1909. None of these works has been translated into English except the "History", of which three different complete English translations have been published: by Dermod O'Connor (London, 1723), frequently reprinted; by John O'Mahony (New York, 1886), second edition, and by David Comyn and Rev. P. S. Dineen (London, 1902-1908).


Calendar of State Papers: Ireland (1619); G. F. [JOHN ROCHE], Vindiciae Hiberniae, etc. (Antwerp, 1621); the anonymous Dissertation prefixed to the Clanrickarde Memoirs (London, 1722); MacGEOGHEGAN, Histoire de l'Irlande ancienne et moderne (Paris, 1758), 63; Ordinance Survey Letters, Co. Derry (1835); BURKE in Journal of the Waterford Archaeological Society (1895-1907). For Lives of Geoffrey Keating see HENEGAN in MORERI, Dictionnaire historique (Paris, 1759); HALLIDAY, preface to Forus Feasa ar Eirinn (Dublin, 1811); MacERLEAN, preface to Dánta, Amhrain, is Caointe Sheathruin Ceitinn (Dublin, 1909); FOLEY, Saoghalre Sheathruin Ceitinn (Dublin, 1908).

About this page

APA citation. MacErlean, J. (1914). Geoffrey Keating. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: The Encyclopedia Press.

MLA citation. MacErlean, John. "Geoffrey Keating." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 16 (Index). New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1914. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. For the glory of God and in honor of Saint Philomena.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1914. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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