John B Keane: A good epitaph is a fine sight to behold

Good epitaphs never fail to fascinate me. Like many others I am man who likes to stroll through old graveyards when the weather is fine and when there are no funerals to attract crowds of mourners. There is a peace which is out of this world and hour spent in such places can be very rewarding.

Good epitaphs never fail to fascinate me. Like many others I am man who likes to stroll through old graveyards when the weather is fine and when there are no funerals to attract crowds of mourners. There is a peace which is out of this world and hour spent in such places can be very rewarding.

What started me on the subject at all was a phone call from a friend in the Daily Express, one Geoff Newsome, based in Manchester.

Geoff recalled that he had seen or heard somewhere that Kilfergus Graveyard in Glin was the repository of many unusual headstones and epitaphs. Actually he is quite right and next week he comes to Ireland to have a look at Kilfergus and other interesting burial places in the south-west of Ireland.

When I was a schoolboy I used to think that “Poor Fred” was the best of all epitaphs:

Here lies Poor Fred

Who was alive and is dead,

If it was his sister

Nobody would have missed her

There were those who’d rather

It had been his brother

But since it was poor Fred

There’s no more to be said

A very touching little verse this and the one which always appealed most to me. This, however, was before I visited Kilfergus.

One Timothy Costelloe junior, a member of an old and respected west Limerick family, emigrated to America some time in July 1873, which year was notorious for its paucity and poorness of potatoes. Be that as it may, Timothy Costelloe junior, before he left for America, decided to erect a headstone to his beloved father, who had died only the preceding June.

He cut the headstone himself and composed the epitaph which he inscribed thereon. It is to be seen in Kilfergus, the churchyard of Glin:


DIED June 4th 1873

This is the grave of Timothy Costelloe

Who lived and died a right good fellow

From his boyhood to life’s end

He was the poor man’s faithful friend

He fawned before no purse proud clod

He feared none but the living God

And never did he do to other

but what was right to do to brother

He loved green Ireland’s mountains bold

Her verdant vales and abbeys old

He loved her music, song and story

And wept for her long blighted glory

And often did I hear him pray

That Gold would end her spoilers’ sway

To men like him may peace be given

In this world and in heaven

As I say, the headstone still stands with the inscription clear as it was upon the day of its cutting. There are other equally interesting epitaphs to be found in the old graveyard but the reader would be better rewarded by a visit some quiet evening of Sunday. In another corner of Kilfergus there is a unique epitaph. The stone was erected by Monsignor Thomas Hodnett to the memory of his father, who with millions of others, faded from the Celtic twilight in Black ‘47. Here it is:


DIED DEC 26, 1947.




They say he was an honest man. Could fairer be said of any man? Only God knows who is honest and who is not. The good Monsignor knew this better than most.


Some weeks ago I was good enough to send a reader the words to the song The Road to Abbeyfeale. This week he returns it saying that it is not the right Abbeyfeale, that the one he wants is “Abbeyfeale, Knocknagoshel and Duagh.”

Alas I have not the full version of this fine song, which was composed and declaimed off the cuff on a Hyde Park platform by a Duagh exile who shall be nameless since that is the way he would like it.

There are many songs about Abbeyfeale, about Knocknagoshel and about Duagh but there is no other song that I know of that extols all three as well as doing justice to Lixnaw, Dromlogough and Toureendonal.

Yes, that would be the same Toureendonal mentioned by Jerome Murphy of Listowel and formerly of Knocknagoshel and which he claims was great place for the early Christian martyrs, saints, scholars and holy men of all classes and dispositions. Whether this is the case or not I do not know, and unfortunately do not have the space at my disposal to institute an investigation.

What is important is that I happen to know one very of the Abbeyfeale song required by my reader and since this is a tangible thing I will deliver it here.

Maybe some other reader will come up with the remaining verses:

Abbeyfeale, Abbeyfeale, Abbeyfeale, Abbeyfeale,

Abbeyfeale, Knockna-goshel and Duagh.

Dromlogough, Dromlo-gough, Dromlogough, Dromologough,

Dromlogough, Toureen-donal and Lixnaw.

Word linker

Speaking about names and places, it is astonishing the way certain things are linked with certain places – like for instance Ballaugh and its bachelors, Pittsburgh and its steel mills, Russia and its Steppes, Brosna and its fiddle players.

Some years ago I recall having a conversation with a Shanagolden man I met in Limerick city. He was a word linker; that is to say that if you were to mention a certain word he would automatically mention another associated with the word you mentioned. I remember trying him with a few.

“Glin,” I suggested.

“Glin Coursing,” he answered.

“Rathkeale,” I ventured.

“Barbers,” was his reply.

“Newcastle,” I said

“Crubeens,” he said


“Meat pies.”


“Easter Lillies.”

Kathy from Murroe

Some months ago my friend Kathy O’Donovan of Murroe passed on. She was for many years a fairly regular contributor to these columns. No gentler person could you meet than Kathy. Her poems were like herself, pure and clean and mild. The reason I mention her again is that a reader writes from England requesting the words of a poem she wrote in honour of of local postman Luke Skinner. The poem is on its way but the poem of hers I like best is Sweet Murroe:

Have you ever been to sweet Murroe,

A village neat but small;

Surrounded by those lovely glens

And woods of sweet Glenstal.

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