Patrick O’Keeffe

The approaching annual autumnal Patrick O’Keeffe Festival in Castleisland provides opportunity to present material on this subject from the collection.


The foundation of the festival, now in its 23rd year, was sketched by John Reidy:


Noted piper, Peter Browne arrived in Castleisland late in 1992 and began researching the life and times of O’Keeffe for RTE Radio 1.  His findings led to the broadcast in November 1994 of a four-part documentary which looked at every aspect of the life of the wandering, musical genius. At the conclusion of his work in the Sliabh Luachra area in early 1993 Peter Browne’s parting gift was to hint that Castleisland should remember the great man somehow.  He suggested it could be done by means of a festival … That idea was first mooted in a pub [Charlie Horan’s] run at the time by Mary Jones – a Glountane native [who] took up the challenge and became the first festival president in 1993.1


From a series of fund raising posters in the collection


Pádraig O’Keeffe, more commonly Patrick O’Keeffe (1887-1963), son of John Leahy O’Keeffe and Margaret O’Callaghan of Doonasleen, Co Cork, was a noted traditional musician from Glountane.


Patrick O’Keeffe


His father was the principal of Glountane National School located near Cordal, Castleisland.2


Ruin: Glountane National School, named ‘Glantane’ on the Ordnance Survey map


A copy of the Glountane enrolment book is held in the collection.It contains a record of Patrick and his siblings.4  It shows that Patrick was enrolled on 6 June 1892 at age 4, and removed from the record 15 August 1903. This contrasts with the generally held view that Patrick was schooled elsewhere:


A custom at that time was for the eldest child to be fostered in the home of the maternal grandparents and Pádraig went to live in Doon with the O’Callaghans.  He stayed a good while as a school record from Ummeraboy, the nearest school to Doon, shows him still there at the age of fifteen.5


Records show that Patrick received his early and late schooling at Glountane:


When he reached school-going age, Pádraig went to his father’s school across the road.  But when he got a bit bigger he was sent to live with his maternal grandfather and uncles over the county boundary in Doon, County Cork ….The young O’Keeffe returned to Glountane when he had finished his primary education, probably about 1901.6


Echoes of another time: Inside Glountane National School in 2015


Patrick O’Keeffe trained as a school teacher and in 1915 took up a position at Glountane National School.  In this year his father died:


Members of the National Teachers’ Association Castleisland beg to offer our most heartfelt sympathy to the widow and orphans of the late Mr John O’Keeffe, Teacher of Glountane National School, in their sad bereavement.7


Earlier, John O’Keeffe had been commended for his teaching skills:


The many friends and well-wishers of Mr J O’Keeffe, N.T. Glountane National School, near Cordal, will be glad to hear that he has received recently that much sought-after acquisition  – a triennial increment of good service salary from the 1st of April 1906 for the creditable answering of his pupils during the three preceding years.  He also received a similar triennial increment from the 1st of April 1903 for the very efficient answering of his pupils during the three preceding years.  This is indeed eminently creditable to Mr O’Keeffe, as he has neither assistant teacher or monitor in his school to aid him in the discharge of his onerous duties.8


Patrick O’Keeffe memorial at Glountane


Patrick O’Keeffe taught at Glountane until 1920.  Castleisland-born musician, Terence “Cuz” Teahan (1905-1989) recalled Patrick’s teaching period there:


Padraig O’Keeffe taught me the music … You’d have forty-five minutes for lunch, and in the summertime they would come with two fiddles and they would march us maybe a mile and a half up the road and back.  We were drilled in school.  We were drilled by Padraig O’Keeffe, the whole bit like the army would do around here.9


Teahan dedicated his tune, ‘The man from Glountane’ (1972) to Patrick O’Keeffe (see note 10)


Teahan, remarking on Patrick’s family and siblings, including Maggie Callaghan O’Keeffe, Bina, John, Cal, Michael, Willie, and Maggie May, described the family residence:


O’Keeffe’s house is as good today as the day it was built.  The picture of a decrepit house that is used in articles by Alan Ward is the abandoned home of Thomas Murphy … Pádraig O’Keeffe’s dwelling is two stories and in perfect condition.  There is a man paid to keep fire in it two or three times in the summer and all through the winter by his brother Michael in Chicago.11


Signpost on the Sliabh Luachra Trail: Birthplace of Pádraig O’Keeffe


Patrick O’Keeffe, who spent the next four decades of his life as a wandering music teacher, died on 22 February 1963 and was laid to rest in Kilmurry cemetery.12 


O’Keeffe Memorial at Kilmurry, Cordal


His musical legacy lives on.


Bóthar o Thúaidh from the O’Keeffe collection in the Irish Traditional Music Archive


1 Extract from 'Unearthing the Genius of Patrick O'Keeffe' by John Reidy in the 2004 festival programme, a copy of which is held in the collection (IE MOD/82/82.1).
2 The writings of former students are contained in The schools' Collection: Gleanntán, Scairteach an Ghleanna, Roll Number 7563, Cordal East, teacher Muiris Breathnach.  Glountane National School, which opened on 9 October 1862, was proposed in 1859: 'Estimates will be received for completing the National School near Glountane on the Old Road from Castleisland to Newmarket, according to the Drawings and Specifications in the hands of Mr Redmond Roche, Castleisland, March 20, 1859.' Glountane National School closed circa 1970s. It was advertised for sale in The Kerryman, 18 October 1996 as the 'School of Musician Padraig O'Keeffe, NT'.  The school is today in ruin.
3 IE MOD/31/31.1. The school record consists of 11 pages of alphabetically organised text, Baily to Walsh, in columns without headings. Information pertains to males, appears to include name, age, date enrolled, date removed from register, address and father's occupation ('f' denoting farmer).  The records span the period 1867-1939. A separate sheet contains a short list of names of females.
4 John J, Callaghan, Michael and William.
5 The Sliabh Luachra Fiddle Master Padraig O'Keeffe (1887-1963) by Peter Browne published in Ceol na hÉireann; Irish Music, no 2 (1994), pp61-78.  Copy held in IE MOD/A5/5.
6 'Pádraig O'Keeffe: The Last Fiddle Master' by Pat Feeley, The Old Limerick Journal, Winter Edition (2002) pp53-59 subsequently published in Journal of the Kerry Archaeological & Historical Society (2004) Series 2, Volume 2, pp22-42.  Copy held in IE MOD/A5/7.
7 The Kerryman, 22 May 1915.
8 Kerry Weekly Reporter, 25 August 1906.
9 The Road to Glountane (1980) by Terence "Cuz" Teahan. Note accompanying his tune, 'Glountane School –1862' (composed 17 August 1956), p29.  Copy held in IE MOD/A5/3.
10 An accompanying note described O'Keeffe's teaching and playing style and also included an image of him in 1950 (pp72-73).
11 ibid.  Note about siblings on p14. Description of house in note accompanying the tune, 'The Road the Glountane' (p71) which gives title to the book.
12 The headstone bears inscription: Erected in Loving Memory of/John Leahy O'Keeffe N.T./Glounthane N.S./who died May 1st 1915/his wife Margaret O'Keeffe/(nee O'Callaghan)/Died Nov 14th 1938/Daughter Mollie died July 11th 1908/son John died in Chicago July 24th 1927/Son Patrick died Feb. 22nd 1963/son William died July 10th 1965/Abina died Oct. 23rd 1972//Sacred Heart of Jesus/Have Mercy on Their Souls.  Further reference, IE MOD/A5 which includes, 'Padraig O'Keeffe, Last of the Old Fiddle-Masters, A Memoir' by Séamus Ennis, published in Treoir (1970), Vol 2, No 1, p8; Music from Sliabh Luachra: an introduction to the traditional music of the Cork/Kerry borderland: with notes on Topic records 12T(S)309-311 (1977) by Alan Ward, published as a separate booklet with Traditional Music Magazine, No 5 (1977); Comóraoh Pádraigh O Keeffe (1983) published by Scartaglen Feile Cheoil; Pádraig O'Keeffe  The Man and his Music (1995) by Dermot Hanifin (in which the author commemorated the musician in the poem, 'Pádraig' and remarked that 'None of the O’Keeffe boys ever married').