Geoffrey Keating

Geoffrey Keating was a Catholic priest and historian from Tipperary. He wrote his masterpeice of Irish history, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (the Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland – often known as the History of Ireland), in the Irish language rather than the English or Latin that many of his contemporaries used for their histories.

The Foras began with myths of pre-Christian Ireland and detailed Keating's vision of Irish history all the way up to the English invasion, when his ancestors, who were among the initial English settlers, arrived on the island.

And when they came together to one place on Magh nEalta they prepared and arranged themselves for battle on either side, the king of Leinster and the Lochlonnaigh [Vikings] on one side, the two sons of the king of Lochloinn, to wit, Carolus Cnutus and Andreas being their leaders; Brian with the nobles of Munster, Connaught and Meath on the other side, with Murchadh, son of Brian, as their leader. Maoilseachlainn, however, did not wish to help them.

The battle was bravely fought between them, and the Lochlonnaigh and the Leinstermen were defeated; and the two sons of the king of Lochloinn and the nobles of the fleet who came with them fell there, together with six thousand and seven hundred Lochlonnaigh.  There also fell the men of Ath Cliath and another company of the Lochlonnaigh of the fleet about four thousand.  In like manner fell the king of Leinster and most of the nobles of Leinster together with three thousand one hundred Leinstermen."

Geoffrey Keating, 'The history of Ireland', pp 273-5.

Tubrid Churchyard, burial-place of the historian Keating

Tubrid church yard, Co. Tipperary, where Keating is buried

An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack (1868)

Inscription in honour of Keating

This plaque on Tubrid church reads:

Pray for the souls of father Eoghan O’Duffy, vicar of Tubbrid, and Dr Geoffrey Keating the founders of this chapel, as likewise for all others, clergy as well as laity whose bodies rest in the same chapel 1644."

Defending Ireland's History

Keating's works showed his strong Catholic faith and the influence of Counter Reformation thought on his writing, but he was also keen to glorify Ireland. He took it upon himself to right the wrongs that he claimed had been done by historians who came before him, and accused them of selecting the bad aspects of the Irish and Ireland to write about, while ignoring all the good things. In his introduction to the Foras he wrote:

Whereof the testimony given by Cambrensis, Spenser, Stanihurst, Hanmer, Camden, Barckly, Moryson, Davies, Campion, and every other new foreigner who has written on Ireland from that time, may bear witness; inasmuch as it is almost according to the fashion of the beetle they act, when writing concerning the Irish. For it is the fashion of the beetle, when it lifts its head in the summertime, to go about fluttering, and not to stoop towards any delicate flower that may be in the field, or any blossom in the garden, though they be all roses or lilies, but it keeps bustling about until it meets with dung of horse or cow, and proceeds to roll itself therein. Thus it is with the set above-named; they have displayed no inclination to treat of the virtues or good qualities of the nobles among the old foreigners and the native Irish who then dwelt in Ireland..."

Geoffrey Keating, 'The history of Ireland', p. 5.

Did you know?  A 1723 English language translation of the Foras by Dermot O'Connor contains the first printed image of Brian Boru.



Brendan Bradshaw, ‘Geoffrey Keating: apologist of Irish Ireland’ in Brendan Bradshaw, Andrew Hadfield, and Willy Maley (eds), Representing Ireland: literature and the origins of conflict (Cambridge, 1993), pp 166-90.

Bernadette Cunningham, The world of Geoffrey Keating: history, myth and religion in seventeenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 2000).

Clare O'Halloran, 'Brian Boru and his afterlife', in History of Ireland, vol. 22, no. 2 (2014) pp. 38-41.

The 18th century historian O’Sullevane claimed that Keating was banished by the lover of a woman who he castigated in a sermon on morality.