Monumental: Honouring Kerry’s Regional Poets

In the cemetery of Kilmakilloge, Tuosist, stands a handsome monument inscribed as follows:


Leac é seo a tógadh i mí Iúil, 1930, Diarmuid Ó Seaghdha (na bolgaighe) agus an Mortaí Ó Súilleabháin (Learai), beirt Filí Thuaith Ó Siosta atá curtha sa Reilig seo. “A Thighearna ghléigil soar leo comacta suin/Iosa agus Aoin-Mic eist le gloir mo ghut/A Dia spioraid naomta scaoil soar na boitre o coin/Agus a Tríonóid Naomta sceim bí trócaireach linn.” Slioct as Aitrige Diarmuda.

Erected in 1930 to the memory of Diarmuid Ó Seaghdha (na bolgaighe) and Mortaí Ó Súilleabháin (Learai), two poets from Tuosist who are buried in this cemetery.  'Oh bright Lord, protect us with your power/Jesus only son listen to the sound of my voice/Oh God, Holy Spirit, set us free from the ways of danger/Oh Holy Beautiful Trinity have mercy on us.' Extract from the Aitrige of Diarmuid.[1]


Diarmuid O’Seaghdha (na bolgaighe), otherwise Diarmuid O’Shea, was the regional bard of the Ivera promontory during his lifetime.[2]  Mortai Ó Súilleabháin (Learai), otherwise Morty O’Sullivan, was inspired by his locality, his compositions frequently sung at patterns and fairs.[3]


Commanding: The monument in the cemetery of Kilmakilloge perpetuates the memory of the Tuosist poets


Diarmuid O’Shea (c1760-1846)


Diarmuid was attached to the House of Mac Finghin Duibh at Doirin (Derreen), Tuosist, a place later associated with Peter McSweeny (McSwiney) and, for a period in the late nineteenth century, the English historian, James Anthony Froude.[4]


Derreen House, Tuosist, in later times home to the historian James Anthony Froude (right).  ‘Froude’s Seat’ in Derreen Gardens (gardens open in season to the public) is where the historian is said to have written his colourful histories


Diarmuid was born in the western area of Tuosist known as Drong at a period between 1750 and 1760.[5]  It was a ‘stony slope of land’ given to Diarmuid by his father.[6]


Diarmuid was educated in a hedge school at Loughaunacreen, to the north-west of Derreen.  He was a bright student, who quickly learned how to read.  Later he worked as a farmer and a spailpín.


He was an advocate for those who, like himself, were in poorer circumstances.  While working away in Cill Chórnain, Co Waterford, he succeeded in reversing anti-poor regulations set in place by the parish priest.


Diarmuid was also a ferryman, and it was said that his poetic ability was realised during a voyage from Cork Harbour to Kilmakilloge in Peadar, his ferryboat, used to transport passengers and their produce to the Cork markets.


On this occasion, spring winds had failed, and Diarmuid’s impatient passengers had decided to walk to Tuosist.  To their surprise, Diarmuid reached Tuosist first – ‘It was said that on this voyage Diarmuid received the gift of poetry.’[7]


His poetry, in the traditional bardic style, was emotive and witty, a response to whatever the occasion demanded.[8]  A mallacht or curse could come ‘as swiftly as a prayer or a verse of blessing.’[9]


He had great knowledge of scripture, and a number of folk tales survive as to how he acquired it:


The story goes that all this knowledge was imbibed during a single night at the House of O’Sullivan of the Falls.  The poet, happening to lay hands on the Testament, became engrossed in it and on learning that he might not take it with him, spent the two short hours of the night in reading the greatest story this world has ever known.[10]


One of his longest poems, an effusion of twenty-two verses, of eight lines each, was a satire on the local priest who had a team of workmen on his farm on Candlemas Day.[11]


Puissant Irish Princes


And what does the Earl want in Tuosist? … Has he not lands enough in England? Has he not tens of thousands of acres among the lime-stone pastures of Meath and Dublin, that he grudges the Sullivans the rocks and bogs of Kilmakilloge?

- Froude, The Two Chiefs of Dunboy


Diarmuid’s patron and friend was Mac Fínín Duibh Ó Súilleabháin, otherwise Sylvester O’Sullivan (1756-1809) of Derreen.  Sylvester was the last of the sept of noble chiefs of that place who had ruled there since the fourteenth century.[12]


Smith, in his history, remarked on the family:


Towards the bottom of the harbour of Kilmakaloge, which is an inlet of Kenmare river, is also the residence of a branch of the O-Sullivans, called, Mc Fineen-Duff; near whom, lives Mr Silvester O-Sullivan, whose house is pleasantly situated between two rivulets, which joining soon after, form a considerable stream that discharges itself into the above mentioned harbour.[13]


Rev James Goodman described Sylvester as ‘a good landlord’:


Silvester O’Sullivan, alias, Mac Fineen-duff lived at Tuosist, Co Kerry, and was considered a good landlord, a man of more than ordinary stature, and of great bodily strength.[14]


On one occasion, Sylvester saved Diarmuid from the gallows when he was tried for stealing a set of sails from John Segerson.[15]


In 1809, Sylvester was dining with the bishop and clergy at the parochial house in Newcastle, Co Limerick, and after dinner he started on his horse for Rathcahill.  During the journey, he suffered an accident:


He was dragged home dead by the stirrup.  Rumours of foul play were at first in circulation, but they seem to have been groundless.  How he fell from his horse has, however, since remained a mystery.[16]


The tragedy was reported in the press:


A few days ago died at Newcastle, co Limerick, Sylvester O’Sullivan Esq (Mac Finnan Duff, son of the black warrior Finnan).  This melancholy event happened in consequence of a fall from his horse, which thus proved fatal, after an illness of twelve or fourteen days.  We never remember a casualty more generally or sincerely lamented.  Lineally descended from a race of puissant Irish Princes, the virtues of his heart were proofs irrefragable of the noble blood that gave it animation – brave, unassuming, hospitable, benevolent and sincere, as a Magistrate, as a Gentleman and as a Friend, he was esteemed, loved and respected.  By his death one of the most renowned of the real ancient families has become extinct.[17]


Sylvester was unmarried, without issue.[18]


Can words paint the dismay with which the sadness was received in his native district?  His mangled body was taken by road to Kenmare and across the mountain-pass of Leacht, on the shoulders of his tenantry, who bore him to his last resting place at Kilmackillogue within view of his home at Derreen.[19]


Tomb at Kilmakilloge: ‘This M’Finin Duffe was an O’Sullivan, and the last of his line’[20]

Diarmuid composed a 20-verse elegy, ‘a masterpiece of feeling and sorrow,’ described as his magnum opus.[21]


A Sigh through Limerick

My woeful sighing, go pass through Limerick, Connaught and Clare,
To Cork of the ships, aye, and over the waves!
Our strong right hand, successor of the renowned warriors,
Protector of all the weak is laid low.[22]


The Great Mac Fínín Duibh, enshrined in music and verse


The loss of his chieftain weighed heavily on the poet.  The new landlord, Peter McSweeny, married to Lucy, Sylvester’s niece, did not court culture and Diarmuid was forced to beg.  His circumstances, his outrage at the plight of his own people, his rejection at the hands of the bodaigh faoi hata – the new rich, found expression in his poetry.[23]


His output demands study.


Diarmuid died in dire poverty in 1846.  On his deathbed he composed an Aithri (Aithrighe) – a poem of repentance – as was customary for Gaelic poets.  It was a composition of more than 20 verses.[24]


Praise to Him who sanctified grace in heaven
Who has fixed the moon and stars in their orbit
Who made the soil fertile, and put little birds among us,
Who gave light to the yellow sun from the south.


Oh King of the Friday and Almighty Father
Protect me at night and watch over me by day
As you take me to the next life
Make a place for me in the company of the Blessed.[25]


Morty O’Sullivan (1817-1905)


Morty O’Sullivan, otherwise ‘Murty Larry,’ was the son of published poet, Labhrás O Súilleabháin, and nephew of Diarmuid O’Shea.  He was born at Bonane ‘in the shadow of Cnoc an t-Sidhe’ in 1817.[26]


He married a widow in Drombohilly, Tuosist, and spent most of his life there.


He was a carpenter by trade with no formal training in poetry but wrote ‘songs which the people liked.’[27]  He had a likeable personality, and spent time rambling and storytelling:


Most of you knew Morty of the Mirth, the humorous, the irrepressible Morty, who even when landlord tyranny threatened to banish from his loved Cnoc-a-Tighe found solace in the fact that hence he would be more free to follow his bent for verse weaving.[28]


A good example of his wit is his verse on learning that the aged dog of a parish priest was to be put down:


O Rover, dear Rover, you floricksome cur,
When you were young a bird couldn’t stir,
But now that you’re old and unable to bark,
You’re condemned by the clergy and drowned by the clerk.[29]


His compositions, some of them in English, were in praise of heroes and his home district.  One was a declaration of his innocence when imprisoned in Tralee Jail for a year on charges which he denied.[30]


One of his most celebrated poems, An Cnuicin Fraoigh, a verse of ten stanzas, was composed when Lord Lansdowne took possession of some of Morty’s land for afforestation.


Irish author Piaras Beaslai recalled meetings he had with Murty during visits to his uncle, Rev James Beazley, in Tuosist.  On one occasion they discussed the poem, An Cnuicin Fraoigh:


I gathered that Murty had not been the first to sing of An Cnuicin Fraoigh but like many of our Gaelic poets, had composed new words to a famous old air, locating the ‘heathy hill’ of the old song on the place where he lived, on the heights of Cnoc an Ti, called Knockatee by English speakers.[31]


The Little Heathy Hill, as recorded in The Poets and Poetry of Munster


Beaslai described the song as a lament for the ‘clearances’ which the landlords had effected by wholesale evictions:


Murty painted a glowing picture of the beauties of the ‘heathy hill’ and called down curses from heaven on the foreign tyrants who had driven the people from their holdings, the ‘foreign he-goats’ as he called them in his Gaelic way.  He seemed to have escaped eviction himself for he says he did not think he would live three months if they exiled him from ‘the height of Cnoc an Ti.’[32]


Morty O’Sullivan died on St Patrick’s Day 1905 at the home of his son, Sean Larry in Drombohilly and was buried in Kilmakilloge.


Further reference, see pages 154-161 of A Chomharsain, Ná Leighidh An Chainnt Breá Fén Gcré An Investigation of the Saíocht of a Kerry Parish in Beara (2004) by Fr Tom Looney, which contains a biographical sketch of Morty O’Sullivan.


Fr Tom Looney, parish priest of Fossa, formerly of the parish of Tuosist, holds his thesis, which includes research of Diarmuid O’Shea and Morty O’Sullivan.  To the right, Fossa parish church, Church of Christ, Prince of Peace


Elaborate Tributes elsewhere in the County


The Beara poets were not alone in being honoured in the early years of the new Irish State.   A number of similar honours occurred in the county.  As Seamus Fenton observed, ‘If Irish speech had not almost died out, there would be less need of monuments.’[33]


The Tuosist memorial was preceded, in 1928, by an elaborate headstone at Derrynane Abbey, erected over the grave of Iveragh poet, Tomas Ruadh O’Sullivan (1785-1848).[34]


Later, in 1940, a sculpture – An Spéir-bean – commemorating four Kerry poets, Pierce Ferriter (d1653), Geoffrey O’Donoghue (d1677), Aogán O Rahilly (d1728) and Owen Roe O’Sullivan (d1784) was unveiled at Martyrs’ Hill (otherwise Fair Hill), Killarney.[35]


Troubled Past: An Speir-Bean (left), sculpted by Séamus Murphy (1907-1975) and the unveiling ceremony in 1940


An Speir-Bean was the second monument created to the memory of the Four Kerry Poets.  The first, Eire, was designed by Kerryman, Jerome Connor (1874-1943).  His design was submitted in 1931, at which time the sculptor’s plan was outlined:


The monument represents the figure of Mother Erin in a sitting position on a pedestal with a sword in her left hand representing patriotism and her left arm resting on a harp portraying music and poetry.  The face of the figure represented that of a mournful woman, resting on her right hand.  The statue is to be erected in an 8 ft square piece of ground specially laid out with concrete and gravel and the whole work is to be protected by a great bronze chain.  In the centre of the front square, Mr Connor has provided a bronze urn in which he proposes to place a light by which means it will be possible to read the Gaelic inscription on the front of the pedestal by night.  The figure is to be of bronze and the pedestal of Kerry stone.  Mr Connor explained that he had visited the proposed site of the memorial in the Fair Green and Martyr’s Hill.  He suggested that the monument be erected at the apex of the hill and in the railway wall dividing the market.  This spot is in close proximity to the place where Pierce Ferriter was hanged and he could not find a better site.[36]


Differences of opinion arose from the outset.  It was pointed out to the sculptor, who met the committee at the International Hotel, Killarney, that he had not included a symbol of Catholicity in the memorial and, it was argued, all the four poets were Catholics.


Ultimately, after a long discussion, the sculptor, who was ‘executing the work free of charge,’ agreed to work in an emblem of Catholicity and later included a bronze medallion at the foot of the pedestal with ‘the face of our Saviour therein and the head wearing the Crown of Thorns.’[37]


However, the project ran into trouble and Jerome Connor’s work did not reach fruition.[38]


Grand Designs: The work of Jerome Connor, who stands to the left of his design of Eire, was not to be


It is perhaps symbolic of Ireland’s history that Eire survived.   In 1974, she was resurrected and cast in Dublin by John Behan of the Dublin Art Foundry, and unveiled in Merrion Square, Dublin, in 1977.   The work commemorated the centenary of the Butterkrust Bakery Dublin and its founder, Sir Joseph Downes (1847-1925).[39]


This Sculpture was Presented by Joseph Downes and Son Ltd in December 1976 to Commemorate the Centenary of the Butterkrust Bakery Dublin, and Honour its Founder, Sir Joseph Downes JP High Sheriff of Dublin; also to Record Appreciation for the Support of Many Generations of Dubliners and for the Enjoyment of the Citizens of this City and All Passers-By.[40]


Diversity: Sir Joseph Downes and his bakery enterprise were commemorated by the statue created to honour the Four Kerry Poets.  To the right is Lady Downes, photographed in 1915


It had, until then, been in the care of Professor Donal O Murchadha, Professor of Sculpture at the National College of Art.[41]


Today, Eire – a symbol of Irish music, poetry and patriotism – sits in the park in Merrion Square, looking a little dejected.[42]  She is in the good care of Dublin City Council.  The bread-makers who helped to give her life are gone, the company folding in the 1980s.[43]


It might be argued that a space should be found for her in Killarney, her intended home, where Speir-bean has held sway to the memory of the Kerry poets for 80 years, or that she properly belongs in Annascaul, birthplace of the sculptor.


Yet Jerome Connor was clear that Eire represented not individuals but the Ireland found in the words and songs of her hereditary poets.


In this respect, Merrion Square, once a fashionable place for writers, might be as good a place as any.



[1] The monument, sculpted by Sean O’Conaill of O’Connells of Cork, was unveiled on 7 July 1930.  Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a Chomhursain (1937) by Seán Ó’Súilleábhain contains a photograph of the monument.  An image also appears in A Chomharsain, Ná Leighidh An Chainnt Breá Fén Gcré An Investigation of the Saíocht of a Kerry Parish in Beara (2004), p158, an unpublished thesis by Fr Tom Looney, parish priest of Fossa, held in the Institute of Technology, Tralee and in Morgan of the Wine A 16th Century Legend of Ballycarbery Castle (2020).  My sincere thanks to Fr Tom Looney for assistance with translation to English.  A translation also appears in the publication Tuosist 6000 (1999).

‘Diarmuid’s nickname, Bolgaighe, indicates the scars left from contraction of Smallpox during his lifetime’ (Looney, as above, p1).  Learai is a nickname used to help distinguish families of the same surname.

[2] ‘The mountainous region lying between the bays of Bantry and Kenmare, anciently called Beara, formed portion of the vast territory of the O’Sullivans, called Ivera, extending hence to Castlemaine Bay in co Kerry’(Guy’s Topographical Dictionary County Cork, p56).

[3] Further reference, ‘The Beara Poets Diarmuid O’Shea and Morty O’Sullivan,’ Kerry Tradition The Peerless Poets of The Kingdom (1941, rev 1950) by Seamus Fenton, Chapter VIII, pp57- 66.

[4] Further reference to Froude’s period at Derreen, see The Ireland of James Anthony Froude (2010), unpublished thesis held in the Institute of Technology, Tralee.

[5] ‘Doire Dhroinge and Cnoc na Droinge lie on the Beara Way to the west of Cashelkeelty’ (Looney, as above, p138).  It is shown on the OS map as Derrygreenia townland, parish of Tuosist, which incorporates part of Keecragh Mountain.

[6] Ibid, pp138-139.  The land was given when Diarmuid married his cousin, an O’Shea. However, due to the laws of consanguinity the parish priest later intervened, ordering the close cousins to separate.  This marriage ban however proved a temporary one and they were allowed to live together again.  Diarmuid often refers to his wife, though she appears not to have been his first choice.

[7] Ibid, p138.  Fr Looney presents three versions of folklore attached to that fateful journey; see pp138-139.

[8] Thirty-nine of Diarmuid’s poems were collected by Seán Ó’Súilleábhain (1903-1996) and published, in 1937, under title Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a Chomhursain (which also included poems by other Kerry poets).  See pp69-84 for variations of the lament. 

Fr Tom Looney, Thomas B Ó Luanaigh, parish priest of Fossa, utilised this book in A Chomharsain, Ná Leighidh An Chainnt Breá Fén Gcré An Investigation of the Saíocht of a Kerry Parish in Beara (2004), an unpublished thesis held in the Institute of Technology, Tralee. 

A copy of Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a Chomhursain is held in the O’Donohoe Collection, reference IE MOD/C76, kindly donated by Fr Tom Looney.

Cork-born Rev James Edward Harnett Murphy (1850-1919), rector of Rathcore, Meath, and professor of Irish at Trinity College Dublin, collected (and appears to have published) the songs of Diarmuid O’Shea.  Reverend Murphy’s papers are held in Trinity College Dublin, MSS 3664-78.

[9] Looney, p143. 

[10] Kerryman, 5 July 1930. ‘He is said to have memorised the whole of the Bible overnight in Kenmare when he first saw a copy … not bad for an itinerant day labourer’ (Looney, p146).

[11] ‘Which that year had been retrenched’ (Kerryman, 5 July 1930).

[12] ‘The sept of the MacFinin Duibh derived from MacFinin Duibh, who was son of Anadh (fl c1300), the first O’Sullivan Bere.  They appear to have become established at Direen around 1320.  It remained their seat until the death in 1809 of the last Mac Finin Duibh’ (Southern Star, 6 July 2002).

[13] The Antient and Present State of the County of Kerry (1756) by Charles Smith, p80.

[14] ‘Lament for Sylvester O’Sullivan, Mac Fineen Duff, by Diarmuid Ó Sé’ with notes by Rev James Goodman, in manuscript, held in the National Library of Ireland, MS 49,620/3.  Evidently annotated by Rev Goodman in the early 1870s, as suggested by his short introduction: ‘The following lamentation has been composed on the death of a gentleman Silvester O’Sullivan, alias, Mac Fineen-duff who lived at Direenavurrig, Tuosist, Co Kerry … He met with his death at Rathkeale, Co Limerick, and was interred in his native church, Kilmaclogue, Tuosist, on September 1, 1809.  Both the gentleman, and the author of the poem (the latter named Darby Shea, a tenant of the former’s), were well known to all the old people of the country.  Direenavurrig, which is situated four miles from Ardgroom, on the way to Kenmare, is now the property of the Marquis of Lansdowne, and has been the residence of Mr Froude the historian during his recent abode in Kerry.’

Note: Tithe records indicate that parts of Derreen / Kilmakilloge went by other names in times past, including Dirreenathuig or Derreenavurrig. It is worth noting that there is also a place named Dirreenavurrig which lies near Sneem almost opposite Derreen across the Kenmare Bay.  

A biographical note on Rev James Goodman, Professor of Irish at Trinity College Dublin, contained in The Church of Ireland in Co Kerry a record of church & clergy in the nineteenth century (2011), p209.

[15] Looney, p139.  Diarmuid claimed that he had never been paid for the sails.

[16] Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge (The Gaelic Journal), February 1906, p82.  ‘An evil destiny is said to have pursued the family for generations in consequence of the curse of a widow whose son Mac Finghin Dubh severely flogged for robbing his orchard.  Generation after generation the Mac Finghin Dubh died in the flower of his youth, and in the person of Captain O’Sullivan the line was finally extinguished’ (ibid).

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 12 September 1809.  A similar notice appeared in the Limerick Chronicle, 9 September 1809:  Died at Newcastle in this county in consequence of a fall from his horse, 12 days previous, universally regretted, Sylvester O’Sullivan Esq of Killarney – he was lineally descended from a race of puissant Irish Princes, and recognised as Mac Finnan Duff, ie, son of the black warrior Finnan – this gentleman was a Magistrate of the Co Kerry and was very much respected.

[18] Genealogy can be traced in litigation regarding Sherkin Island, ‘O’Sullivan v M’Swiney’ (McSweeny) in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Exchequer in Ireland from Hilary Term 1841 to Trinity Term 1842 (1843) by Robert Longfield Esq and John Fitzhenry Townsend Esq, pp111-131.  It records how Silvester O’Sullivan, M’Fineen Dubh, was seized in fee of Sherkin Island, and died in 1808 (sic) without issue and intestate, leaving a sister, Mary Anne Browne (whose only daughter Lucy married Peter McSwiney (or McSweeny) in 1814, who acted as Mrs Browne’s agent) and four nieces, the daughters of another sister, Elizabeth O’Sullivan, surviving him.  It also reveals that in 1810, the lessor of the plaintiff in this case, Justin O’Sullivan, married Margaret, one of the four nieces of M’Fineen Dubh, whose eldest son was Eugene O’Sullivan.  Peter McSwiney, father of the defendant, died in 1824.

The following is also of use: ‘The death occurred at Collorus, Tuosist, Kenmare, of Mr Daniel O’Sullivan (Dan Jer) aged 87.  He was descended in direct line from Mac Finghin Dubh, the last local chieftain who held the lands at Derreen before they passed into the possession of Lord Lansdowne.  Mac Finghin Dubh was killed at Rathcahill, in Co Limerick, in 1809 … He is survived by three sons, Patrick, Michael, and Donie, who are in the US, and two daughters, Julia and Agnes in Kerry.  His sister, Mrs J Sullivan, still lives at Collorus’ (Irish Independent, 21 September 1940).

[19] Kerryman, 5 July 1930.

Mac Fínghín Dubh: A Story by ‘Conán Maol’ (Patrick Joseph O’Shea) was published in 1903, ‘A Kerry story founded on historical fact.’ 

Patrick Joseph O’Shea (1855-1928), otherwise Padraig O Seaghdha, was a native of Gortbrack, Templenoe, Kenmare, Co Kerry.  He was active in the Gaelic League from its foundation and came to prominence as a writer on the foundation of An Claidheamh Soluis [Irish Opinion] to which he contributed.  He worked for the Customs and Excise service, from which he retired in the mid-1920s.  Among his publications, Eoghan Paor (1900), a novel; Seághan an Díomais (1901) otherwise Shane the Proud; Aodh O’Neill (1902), a play; Oiġreaċt Roísín (1910), a play; Eire (1907), a collection of papers of Irish history; An Buaiceas (1903), a book of short stories and Stiana (1930), a novel.  Patrick Joseph O’Shea died at his residence, 11 Heathfield Road, Terenure, Dublin in April 1928.  His daughter, Nora, was married to barrister and district judge, Michael J Lennon (1891-1966). 

[20] Inscription taken down by Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926) and published in the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead, Ireland, Journal for the Year 1905 (1906) Vol VI, Years 1904-6.

[21] Kerryman, 5 July 1930.  ‘We may well conjure up the pangs of sorrow which pierced the heart of Diarmuid, as he trod with downcast head and leaden feet in the funeral cortege of The Phoenix of Caha … All have now departed from the little churchyard on the hill save one who, prostrate on the sod above his dead chieftain, pours forth his soul in lamentation during the long night, till the first streaks of dawn light up the canopy of cloud on Mullach Nimhe and Cnoc Eoin.  Then he tears himself away from the tomb and descends the slope to his home across the glen in Druing, a wretched and forlorn man.  The elegy in which he keens his chieftain is, perhaps, his magnum opus, a masterpiece of feeling and sorrow.’

Diarmuid also composed an elegy on the death of Morty na h-Inse whose body was dragged in the wake of an English ship through the sea from Beara to Cork.

[22] The title, ‘A Sigh through Limerick’, is found in ‘Lament for Sylvester O’Sullivan, Mac Fineen Duff, by Diarmuid Ó Sé’ with notes by Rev James Goodman, in manuscript, held in the National Library of Ireland, MS 49,620/3. 

The translated verse given above appears under title Tuireav Vic Inín Duiv (Lament for the Son of Fineen Dubh) in Journal of the Folk-Song Society, No 23, January 1920, pp200-203.  It is the first of eleven verses collected by Alexander Martin Freeman from Miss Peig O Donoghue, Ballymakeery, Co Cork.  The following note appears with the translation: ‘If this tune is complete as it stands, it is our solitary instance of a melody ending on the seventh degree.  I was told of a man in Ballyvourney, now many years dead, who used to sing this song with a long wail following the note which appears here as the final; so that it may have ended on a different degree.  Miss O’Donoghue’s voice breaks, with a sort of upward sob, not musically notable, on the last note.  A little rearrangement would transform this tune into a ¾ melody of 5-bar phrases of the type of No 2 in this collection.  I was assured in Ballyvourney that a version of the words had been printed but I cannot discover where.  It is not to be found in Mr Best’s Bibliography.  This is especially regrettable on account of the numerous corruptions in our text.  Verse 10 may be made up of parts of two verses. Verse 11, line 4, looks like the final line of the poem.  Peg (who gave me the song in two instalments, after much torturing of her memory) thought it was consecutive so far as it went, but that there was a great deal more that she could not remember.  She added the usual tribute to a long, partly remembered song: Bhí bhéarsa’s fiche ann, ie, it had twenty-one verses.  The MacFinghin Dubh here lamented was Sylvester O’Sullivan (a descendant of Domhnall Cam mentioned in No 1 of this collection), killed by a fall from his horse in 1809.  He was a magistrate and a captain in the Kerry militia, and ‘is said to have had the privilege of bringing off a prisoner from capital punishment at every assizes.’  See The Gaelic Journal, Vol xv, p82, for this and further information.’  ‘L E B’ also adds a comment: ‘This lament does not seem to appear in the best-known Irish collections.  It is in type much like West Highland Ossianic narrative airs and laments.’

Another, fuller version (21 verses) was given the following year in Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (1921) Vol XVIII, pp20-23, under title Mairbhne Mhac Finghin Dubh (Lament for Mac Finghín Dubh) with the following note: During his later years he lived with his married sister, Mrs Browne at Rathcahill, near Newcastle West, Co Limerick, where he died on the 1st September 1809, as a result of a mysterious fall from his horse while out riding in a wood close by.  The body was taken to the chief’s ancestral home at Derreen and buried in Kilmakilloge churchyard, in the shadow of the Caha Mountains.  A prize offered by Mrs Browne for the best elegy was awarded to a Limerick poet named James Quinlivan, whose verses are printed in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge [The Gaelic Journal, 1906].  The poem given here is by Diarmaid O’Shea of Kerry called Diarmaid na Bolgaighe because his face was pitted with smallpox (bolgach).  It is written in chain-verse, ie, the last word of phrase of every verse forms the beginning of the next, and it is taken from a manuscript lent me by Canon J S Burns of Falmouth, whose grandfather copied it in Roscarbery not many years after it was composed.  I took down the air in May 1919 from the singing of Mr P J O’Shea, the Irish novelist (Conan Maol) who comes from near Derreen.  He has written a most interesting story in Irish about the chief of Derreen, marred, however, by some anachronisms, eg, he makes Mac Finghin Dubh take part in the battle of Fontenoy which was fought before he was born.  Along with the story he has printed another version of the above elegy.  Mr Martin Freeman obtained another air, and eleven verses of the poem, from Peig Ni Dhonnchadha in Ballyvourney and these are given in No 23 of the Journal of the Folk Song Society (Vol VI, p200).  It will be observed that at the end of the air we have a cronan or lullaby in place of the usual caoine.  The reason of this is that the poet refuses to believe that Mac Finghin Dubh is dead, and suggests that he has been stolen away by Cliodhna, the Spirit of the Caha Mountains, where he is slumbering.  D J O’S [D J O’Sullivan].

This excellent version of the Elegy is most welcome.  In the original the first and last lines, like those of the version printed by Mr O’Shea, are marred by the dissonant and probably false Clair.  The incomplete version noted by me in Ballyvourney has Cler, ie, the English form, Clare, and this, in view of the loose rhyming of the whole piece, is quite possibly the original word.  Cleir, as in verse 15, gives a perfect rhyme and has accordingly been printed under the music though if this were the original word it is not easy to see why it should have become corrupted within a few years of the composition of the poem. A M F [Alexander Martin Freeman].

Further reference, Songs from Ballyvourney, Co Cork with Irish Texts and Translations by Alexander Martin Freeman (1878-1959) published by the Folk-Song Society of London in three numbers of its journal 1920-1921.  Biography of Freeman, whose publications include Vanessa and her Correspondence with Swift (1921) at

Limerick poet James Quinlivan (c1775-1836) otherwise Seamus O Caoindealbháin (Ó Caoinliobhán / O Caoinleain) or ‘Setter’ Quinlivan, who was awarded the prize offered by Mrs Browne for the best elegy to her brother, taught in Glenmore, in the parish of Killeedy (ref ‘Gaelic Poets’ by An Mangaire Sugach, Limerick Leader, 14 October 1972).  His salary was paid by Lord Courtenay (it is worth noting here that there were two contemporary poets by the same name in the same area at the period in question, the other a weaver – see biography of Quinlivan at

Among his compositions was Eachtra an Chait, ‘The Cat’s Adventure,’ written in 1813.  His winning composition was Elegy on Capt O’Sullivan (22 verses).  Published with introduction by Rev Patrick Woulfe, Limerick, in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge (The Gaelic Journal), February 1906, pp82-87; includes an overview of those who participated in the competition.  See also Caoineadh ar Mhac Finghin Duibh by Finghin O Suiloleabháin CCT in the March 1906 issue of the same journal.    

Quinlivan died in similar circumstances to Sylvester O’Sullivan. On returning from a fair in Kerry, and crossing the river Feale which was in flood, he was swept off his horse and drowned on 9 March 1836.   The event was recorded in the Limerick Chronicle of Saturday, 12 March 1836: ‘On Wednesday, Jas Quinlivan, a celebrated Irish teacher, of the Strand, near Newcastle, was drowned in the River Feale.  He went to Kerry to draw a will for a relative of his, who was dying, and on his return Mr Leahy sent a horse and boy to bring him over the river, when they arrived in the centre of it, the mountain flood rushed down upon them, and they were both swept into the stream, fortunately the boy’s foot was entangled in the stirrup by which means the horse drew him safe to land.’ 

[23] Looney, pp143-144.

[24] Irish Examiner, 30 June 1930.  Sean O’Sullivan recorded 19 of them in Diarmuid na Bolgaighe agus a Chomhursain, pp110-113.

[25] Looney, pp144-146.

[26] Kerryman, 5 July 1930.  Knockatee is found on the OS map in the townland of Derryconnery, Tuosist.  Otherwise given as Cnoc an Ti and Cnoc an t-Sidhe.

[27] Looney, p155.

[28] Kerry Reporter, 19 July 1930.

[29] Looney, p156.

[30] An Veistín Liath was composed when Morty spent time in jail over cudgelling (Looney, p155).

[31] Irish Independent, 16 January 1963.  Mr Beaslai added, ‘Murty was a man of middle height with snow-white hair and beard.  Despite his great age, he had no stoop, was active on his feet and full of energy and vitality.  At our first meeting I commenced writing down his poems.  There were many other meetings for he came to the house daily and in all I took down nine or ten of his songs. One was a translation of ‘The Exile of Erin’ which was surprisingly well done with internal assonances in the lines.’

[32] Ibid.  Major General Piaras Beaslai (1881-1965) also interviewed a man named Sean Healy who could recite the poems of Darby O’Shea (Diarmuid na Bolgai).  ‘The old gentleman came to the house and repeated some religious poems by Diarmuid which I took down.  He told me the date of their composition was about 1830.  The language was more learned and their metres and assonances more elaborate and intricate than any song of Murty Larry’s but they lacked the latter’s human appeal.’

[33] Kerry Tradition The Peerless Poets of The Kingdom (1941, rev 1950) by Seamus Fenton, p7.

[34] See ‘Tomas Ruadh O’Sullivan,’ Kerry Tradition The Peerless Poets of The Kingdom (1941, rev 1950) by Seamus Fenton, II, pp71-88.  In Charleville, Cork, in 1931, a monument was unveiled in honour of Sean Clarach MacDonnell (1691-1754).  Account of ceremony in The Liberator Tralee, 7 July 1931.

[35] See Kerry Tradition The Peerless Poets of The Kingdom (1941, rev 1950) by Seamus Fenton for further reference to the background of the monument and the unveiling ceremony.  Further reference to Owen Roe O’Sullivan in Owen Roe O’Sullivan Son of Sliabh Luachra Biographical Sketch of Kerry’s Famous Bard with notes on Cronin of Rathmore House, The Park and Glenflesk Castle (2017).

[36] Kerry Reporter, 10 October 1931.  ‘Also at that particular spot the silhouette of the figure may be seen to advantage from the railway road.’

[37] Kerry Reporter, 10 October 1931 and Kerry News, 21 October 1931.  ‘Mr Connor also informed the committee that he now thought that the memorial would be better at the corner of the market where the railings meet the railway wall opposite the Franciscan church.’ 

[38] An account of the affair in ‘Bronze Age Metalworking has a 20th Century Application’ by Michael Kenny and Maggie Prendiville, The Kerry Magazine  No 18 (2008).  A photograph of Jerome Connor’s impression of the Four Kerry Poets Memorial statue appears in A Junior History of Ireland Part II (1933) by James Carty, p118.  The photograph was submitted to the publication by Jerome Connor.

[39] The project was funded by Joseph Downes & Son Ltd, Jamestown Road, Finglas.

[40] Sir Joseph Downes (1847-1925) – ‘Lord Barmbrack’ – knighted in May 1900, was son of Christopher Downes of Kilteel, Co Meath.  He was twice married, first in 1884 to Teresa, daughter of Dennis Carton of Dublin.  Teresa died in 1904 and he married secondly to Joanna, daughter of Thomas Davy of Newtown, Tipperary and widow of Alderman James Hennessy of Dublin.  At the time of his death on 22 November 1925, he was survived by two sons, Joseph Vincent Downes (c1890-1967) of Dunboy, Foxrock, Dublin, architect and Professor of Architecture UCD (1944-1951) and Vincent James Downes (1892-1968) of Ellerslie, Temple Road, Dublin and two daughters, Mrs Rita Lardner, widow of J C R Lardner, KC, and Miss Evelyn Downes.

[41] Evening Herald, 28 April 1977.  ‘The six-foot high piece, entitled Eire, was commissioned from Irish-born sculptor Jerome Connor by a group of Kerry business people.  Originally intended as a memorial to four Kerry poets, it was to have been erected in Killarney.  But the group lost interest when Mr O’Connor – always noted for the painstaking care he took with his work – took so long to complete the commission.  It was not until Mr Connor’s death in 1943 that the sculpture finally came to light.  It was then looked after by Professor Donal O Murchadha ... until three years ago.  Now the sculpture has been offered to Dublin Corporation by Downes Bakery Ltd, and it will shortly be sited at Merrion Square.’

[42] Image and description in Art in Parks, A Guide to Sculpture in Dublin City Council Parks (2014) by Dublin City Council, p8.

[43] Joseph Downes & Son Ltd went into receivership; the business was offered for sale by the receiver in 1987.  Its products included the Butterkrust and Bundy brand names. Johnston Mooney & O’Brien now occupy what was once the Downes Butterkrust bakery in Jamestown Road, Finglas.