KEEGAN, John. Legends and Poems by John Keegan, now first collected.
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Edited by the late Very Rev. J. Canon O’Hanlon. With a memoir by D.J. O’Donoghue. Dublin: Sealy, 1907. Demy octavo. pp. xxxiv, 552. Title in red and black. Green cloth, title in gilt on upper cover and spine. Spine professionally rebacked. Cloth worn at corners. Good copy. Rare.
Keegan, John (1816?-49), poet and sketch writer, was born in the townland of Killeany, near Shanahoe, Queen’s Co. (Laois), the son of Mary Keegan, née O’Mahony, probably in 1816 - though some sources suggest 1809; his father’s name is not known. He lived with his parents in the home of his maternal uncle Thomas O’Mahony, and is known to have had an elder brother who died young. He was educated in his uncle’s hedge school (later established in Shanahoe chapel, c.1822), and is reputed to have worked as an assistant
In April 1837 Keegan’s poem ‘The rifleman’s grave’ appeared in the Leinster Express, where he continued to publish verse and stories (often as ‘Steelpen’) for several years. He became a prolific contributor to a diverse range of newspapers and journals, including the Dublin University Magazine, Irish Penny Journal, Tipperary Vindicator, Irishman, and Nation. His best-known poem was ‘Coach the piper’, which appeared in the Irish National Magazine (16 May 1846), in the same year that he married Brigid Collins (d. 1896). The couple had one daughter (baptised 20 November 1847), but the marriage was unhappy and they soon separated; Keegan settled in Dublin, while his wife and child returned to the Collins family home.
In Dublin, Keegan associated with John O’Daly, Edward Walsh, and James Clarence Mangan, and worked as Dublin correspondent for a northern newspaper. His concern with the disastrous effects of the famine was reflected in his work, and his poem, ‘To the cholera’, was printed in the Cork Magazine (November 1848). He may have worked briefly as a clerk on the relief committee around this time. In the spring of 1849, his health failing, Keegan visited England, where he wrote one of his last poems, ‘Sonnet on sickness’. On his return to Dublin he contracted cholera and was taken to the cholera sheds in the Rialto/Kilmainham area of the city, where he died in 1849. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Glasnevin cemetery.
Poems include: Tales of my Childhood, St. Kenny’s Bush, A Dead Man’s Revenge, The Trooper’s Ghost, Legends and Tales of the Queen’s County Peasantry, The Banshee, The Bewitched Butter, The Sheoge, The Boccough Ruagh, A Tradition of Poor Man’s Bridge, Puss in Brogues, A Legend Darky Duff the Madman, A Tale of South Munster, The Hornpipe, A Sketch of the Scariff Mountains, The Fairy’s Revenge. A Tale of Grantstown Lough, etc.
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