John Keegan Casey

Memorial Plaque on the school house in Kenagh where Casey taught.

Life & Times of John Keegan Casey
John Keegan ‘Leo’ Casey (1846 – March 17, 1870), known as the Poet of the Fenians, was an Irish poet, orator, novelist and republican who is famous as the writer of the song ‘The Rising of the Moon’ and as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867.

He was born in Castletown-Geoghegan in County Westmeath in 1845 but moved to Gurteen (3km from Ballymahon) when his father was appointed local schoolmaster there. He followed his fathers footsteps and in 1864 taught for a time in Cleraune Schoolhouse in Newtowncashel. All that remains today of Cleraune schoolhouse is a farm shed but in the mid 1800s’ one hundred children were being taught there by one teacher. A bronze memorial plaque in Caseys’ honour was unveiled at the site in 2002. He also taught at the schoolhouse in the village of Kenagh,  a site which also has a memorial plaque dedicated in his honour. In 1865 he was appointed as assistant school teacher in Ballymahon.  The River Inny was a source of inspiration for many of Caseys’ poems, most especially around the area of Shrule Bridge and the nearby mill where he worked. Another  bronze memorial plaque is located at this site. In 2002 a comprehensive biography of the poet was launched at the backstage Theatre by the John Keegan Society. Entitled ‘Celebration of the Life of John Keegan Casey “Leo”‘  the book also contains his writings and poetry as well as many rare photographs.

Described as a remarkable and complex person, his writings, oratory at great political rallys and his Fenian activities inspired people. His beautifully styled poetry and lofty conceptions obtained for him a prominent place in the columns of the nationalist newspapers. He was however, imprisoned for nine months following the failed Fenian rising of 1867. It was while in Mountjoy prison Caseys’ health was irreparably damaged by the hardships he suffered and he died on St. Patricks Day in 1870 at the tragically young age of 25.  Ireland lost one of its most inspired visionaries.  He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin where his impressive gravestone reads:

 “Patriot Poet Novelist
Member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
Author of The Rising of the Moon and many soul stirring national ballads and songs
 From his youth his life was devoted to the cause of Irish freedom. His last words were a prayer of intercession for his countrys liberty and his souls salvation” 

John Keegan Casey will forever be  remembered for his patriotic ballad, ‘The Rising of the Moon’ which is associated to the 1798 rebellion of the Irish against the British.

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