Floorboard Find a Treasure for Padraig O’Keeffe Scholars

A letter discovered under a floorboard adds substance to the family history of Sliabh Luachra fiddle master Padraig (Patrick) O’Keeffe.  The correspondence was uncovered thirty years ago by keen-eyed Knocknagoshel native John Cotter, author of King William Brown (2014).


John, who now resides at Knockdown, Cordal and will shortly be launching the second and concluding part of his fantasy story, King William Brown, was passing the uninhabited former residence of the O’Keeffe family at Glountane, and decided to have a look inside the building.  He noticed a floorboard out of alignment with the others and on inspection, found the letter under the floorboard.[1]


The letter, addressed from Gorey, Co Wexford and dated 29 April 1938, is written in ink on paper embossed with Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State).  It is signed ‘Bill,’ a younger brother of Padraig employed by Garda Síochána.[2]  He was writing to his mother, Margaret O’Keeffe:


Dear Mama
I received your welcome letter some time ago and was glad to hear your cough had lightened.  I am sorry to hear you have since been ill and hope the receipt of these few lines will find you A1 as I am presently TG (thank God).  I was up in Graiguenamanagh recently and Nancy and all there are A1.  The guards in Wexford had their Feis Lighe on Wednesday night and had a fine crowd, three cars went there from Gorey as well as the (?D) James Fahy, the Supt and Mrs Murray.   I was speaking to Con Coakley who was asking for you all.  He said he was sorry he couldn’t call at Xmas, that was the night I went down to Eily’s but that it would be too late if he had called.  He is in Fitzgibbon St and came down with the D.M.G. Band.[3]


Bill writes about the weather and hopes that his sister Nora and her family are well[4] before moving on to discuss his workload, and a bid by another officer named O’Neill to be stationed at Gorey.  He concludes:


Hoping the receipt of this will find you and all at home enjoying the very best as I am at present TG (thank God).  With all good wishes.  I remain Your Fond Son, Bill


A little over six months later, Mrs O’Keeffe had passed away.


The Family of John and Margaret O’Keeffe


According to the Census of Ireland (1911) Margaret O’Keeffe and her husband, National School teacher John Leahy O’Keeffe, who died in 1915, bore ten children, eight then surviving.[5]


Glountane National School where John O’Keeffe was principal has fallen into ruin


Padraig, born on 8 October 1887, was the eldest.  His siblings were Honoria (Nora) J O’Keeffe, otherwise Mrs Thomas Carmody, who died in 1961; Abina J O’Keeffe, who died at St Finian’s Hospital, Killarney on 24 October 1972; John J O’Keeffe, who died at 6052 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, on 24 July 1927, described as ‘late of Revington’s Tralee’; Callaghan ‘Cal’ O’Keeffe, a well-known member of staff at J K O’Connor, Castleisland, who died at Edenburn Hospital, Tralee on 22 November 1976 and Michael J O’Keeffe, who died in Chicago on 22 May 1983.  His remains were returned to Shannon Airport for burial at Scartaglin cemetery, and Margaret J O’Keeffe (aged 8 in 1911) was the sole surviving sibling at this time.  William J O’Keeffe, author of the letter, died on 10 July 1965, described as ‘late of Glountane, Castleisland and Grove Park, Rathmines, Dublin.’[6]


Padraig O’Keeffe


The Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival held annually in Castleisland commemorates the great fiddle master.[7]  His reputation in the music world was established early in his life.  In 1916, he was engaged by the Gaelic League to assist with a fundraising tour which included Garryowen step dancer and musician, Teresa Halpin.[8] It was said of him, ‘very few players, if any, in Kerry have such a wide selection of jigs and reels as Mr O’Keeffe.’


Some years later, a reporter heard him play at ‘Mr T Vaughan’s Hall’ on All Saints’ Night:


It is not in the playing of those foreign ragtimes that Padraig excels, but in the playing of traditional Irish music that he shows forth true worth of his wonderful genius … I came to the conclusion that it was a pity, talent such as he has, cannot be recorded on the gramophone.[9]


In September 1993, a monument to the great Padraig O’Keeffe was unveiled at his birthplace, Glountane.[10]


John Cotter, author of King William Brown, photographed at the former O’Keeffe residence at Glountane.  On the left, an illustration of William O’Keeffe’s letter to his mother and, on the right, renowned step dancer Teresa Halpin (Treasa Ni Aílpín) in 1916



[1] John discovered other items including a quantity of 4c United States postage stamps bearing the profile of Lincoln, and teaching notes.  He recognised their significance and held on to them until he could find the right home which, three decades on, is the archive of Castleisland District Heritage, ref IE CDH 104.

[2] Guard William O’Keeffe, Borris, Co Carlow, was transferred to Gorey, Co Wexford, as clerk in the superintendent’s office, in November 1936.  A presentation was made by his colleagues and friends in Carlow prior to his departure.  See Evening Echo, 25 November 1936.

[3] Depot, Metropolitan and Massed Bands are recalled in Aonac an Garda Souvenir Programme (1927) https://www.garda.ie/en/about-us/our-history/aonach-1927.pdf

[4] ‘I hope the weather is as good down at home as it is here – it will clear all the colds away as the summer will soon be here.  I hope Nora and family are A1.’  Nora was married to Thomas Carmody.  The family headstone at Kilmurry cemetery bears the following inscription: In Loving Memory of Mrs Nora Carmody, Ex NT (Née O’Keeffe) Glountane, Cordal Died Dec 18th 1961 Also her Children Noreen & Mary Francis Who died Young and her husband, Thomas Carmody, who died 12th October 1963 Paddy Carmody Banard Died 24 February 2009 RIP.

[5] Votes of condolence were passed to Mr O’Keeffe, Glountane, in July 1908 at a meeting of the Castleisland Teachers’ Association – this was on the death of his 15-year-old daughter, Mollie O’Keeffe, who died on 11 July and is remembered on the family headstone at Kilmurry.

John O’Keeffe taught at Glountane National School.  A case heard in 1913 gives insight into schooling in the early twentieth century.  John Mannix of Baravehy summoned John O’Keeffe and Hannah O’Keeffe on behalf of his eight-year-old daughter, Maggie Mannix, who claimed that ‘Mr Keeffe beat me across the head four times with his open hands because I couldn’t do drill.  He beat me before and hurt me.  I was afraid of him sometimes.  After he beat me I had a headache … on the 9th Nora Keeffe beat me; I was at play.  She said I carried home stories to my father and hit me across the head and pulled my hair.  She teaches me but she didn’t beat me when she was teaching.’  In his defence, John O’Keeffe said he never used violence on any pupil, that the little girl had ‘made a mess of the school and he put his hand on her to put her out of the school.’  The case was dismissed though the school master was cautioned.  Reference, ‘School Master and Pupil,’ Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle, 27 September 1913.

In July 1883, John O’Keeffe’s house was the subject of a moonlight raid.  ‘The house is situate near a cross roads, and not far from it is a hay stack.  On the evening of the 9th of April, Keeffe retired to bed about one o’clock, and after some time he was aroused by a violent knocking at the door.  A person wearing a kind of lady’s ulster entered, and insisted upon getting a revolver.  He got one loaded with five charges, and demanded five other cartridges, which were also given him.’ A man named O’Connor was arrested, and John Twiss was accused of being an accomplice.  Report in Irish Examiner, 24 July 1883. 

[6] The family headstone in Kilmurry cemetery is inscribed: 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 February 22nd 1963/Son William Died July 10th 1965/Abina Died Oct 23rd 1972/Sacred Heart of Jesus/Have Mercy on Their Souls.

[7]  https://patrickokeeffefestival.com/.  In June 1910, P J O’Keeffe, Glountane, Cordal, came second in the seniors violin competition at the Tralee Feis, first place being awarded to Donal O’Connor, Tralee Branch of the Gaelic League.

[8] Kerryman, 16 December 1916.  Mary Teresa Halpin, daughter of Joseph Halpin, a carpenter, musician and dancer, and Mary Ellen Moore. was born in Garryown, Limerick on 3 June 1894 (or 1895).  In 1923 she married Professor Sean O Cuirrin (1894-1980), the same year in which the couple produced the violin instruction book, Teagasc-Leabhair na Bheidhline.  Teresa died on 18 December 1983 and was buried at Mountmelleray.  Further reference, https://www.ainm.ie/Tag.aspx?Type=opus&SubType=book&Valyoo=Amhr%C3%A1in%20%C3%A1thais%20:%20teagasc-leabhar%20na%20bheidhl%C3%ADne

[9] Kerry Reporter, 15 November 1930.  Mr Vaughan’s Dance Hall was situated in Ballydesmond, and operated from 1924 to 1985.

[10] Further reference, http://www.odonohoearchive.com/patrick-okeeffe/ and https://www.dib.ie/biography/okeeffe-padraig-a6819.