|Famous O'Keeffe 's
( O'Keeffe family tree by Kevin O'Keeffe )
One of the many O Keeffe
officers in the French army, Constantine O Keeffe
(1691 - 1745) served with remarkable valour in the
Irish Brigade. In Order to be admitted to the very
conservative nobility of France, he had to procure
records from Ireland to prove; his aristocratic Irish
In the eighteenth century, another Constantine, a later emigrant, was a lieutenant with the Regiment of OBrien,
Patrice O Keeffe was chef de brigade of the regiment of Dillon from 1793 to 1794.
General Patrick O Keeffe of the next generation served for forty years in the Irish Brigade and was wounded many times.
Some of the O Keeffes of Retigny in the Province of Champagne, France, were descendants of men who served in the Swiss Guards and the English service between 1530 and 1797.
In France the name was spelled Cuif, and there is a record of a baptismal certificate issued in the fourth year of the Republic of France for Jeanne Cuif from the parish church of Alligny in the diocese of Rheims.
In the eighteenth century in Ireland, when some of the penal laws were relaxed, the O Keeffes were among the Old Irish who began to distinguish themselves as artists and writers.
Daniel O Keeffe (1740 - 86) of Dublin trained at the Dublin Society's drawing school, where he won several prizes. He went to London and began a promising career with an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Such acclaim for an Irishman gave him the confidence to resotre the Gaelic O to his surname "Few of us Old Irish ventured to sport our "O": at that period", his brother John, the dramtist, had said.
This John O Keeffe (1747 - 1833) was a prolific writer of almost every kind of comic drama. He, too, had studies at the Dublin Socierty's school and had exhibitied at Londaon's Royal Academy. His talent turned towards the stage. He made his debut as an actor at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, in a comedy written by himself. He acted a dozen years with considerable success but, when still quite young, became almost totally blind. He moved to London where he found an outlet in writing, assisted by his daughter, Adelaide, who was herself a novelist and poet.
His plays and songs were so popular that they were performed in all the playhouses around Britain. As recently as 1978, London's National Theatre staged his play, Wild Oats. For his comic opera, Merry Sherwood, he wrote the popular song "I am a Friar or Orders Grey". His plays included such great favourites as Tony Lumpkin in Town and The Castle of Andalusia. A critic described his turn of phrase as being "a contrivance of significant gibberish".
In 1798 he published a colection of his comedies and farces which ran to four volumes. His amusing Recollections were published in 1826, just a few years before his long and busy life came to a close at Southampton.
His portrait by Thomas Lawrenson, painted in 1786, was hung on London's National Portrait Gallery. This Irishman, who had no O to his name to begin with, was awarded a royal pension.
Another John O Keeffe (1797 - 1838) is little known today. He was born in Fermoy, County Cork, where he was apprenticed to a coach painter. There he developed into a skilled heraldic artist. Moving to Cork city he specialized in portrait painting, and many of his altar pieces are to be seen in local churches. He also exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy, but he died too young to have developed his art to the full.
Glenville Park was on of the original O Keeffe homes but it was passed through many hands. This splendid mansion is now the home of Mark Bence Jones, the writer, architectural historian and contributor to the Burke series on families, houses and the peerage. Belle Isle, Lorrha, County Tipperary, has also housed the O Keeffes. Elizabeth Yelverton of Belle Isle, who was born about 1789, married an O'Keeffe of Marble Hill, County Cork.
Their son, Charles O Keeffe, who was one of the registrars of the Court of Chancery in Ireland, married Letitia Yelverton of Belle Isle. With the marriage of their daughter, Cecilia, to the 3rd Viscount Avonmore, Belle Isle reverted to another branch of the Yelverton family. An O Keeffe family of Richmond, County Tipperary, assumed the additional name of Lanigan when John Lanigan (b. 1800), Member of Parliament of Glenguile , County Tipperary, married Frances, only daughter of Charles O Keeffe. The Lanigan O Keeffe family, many of whom have settled in Australia and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), continue a tradition of practising law.
Eugene O Keeffe (1827 - 1939) from Bandon, County Cork, emigrated with his parents to Canada in 1832. At first he worked as a bookkeeper in the Toronto Savings Bank. He left to go into business on his own and, by 1861, had founded the Victoria Brewery, later to become the O.K. Brewery Company Ltd. In 1904 he was elected president of the Home Bank and, in acknowledgement of his many charitable works, he was appointed as private chamberlain to the Pope.
Shan O Cuiv (1875 - 1955), who was born at Macroom, County Cork, was a journalist who wrote for all the leading Irish language newspapers. He also wrote children's stories and textbooks in Irish.
A distinguished American woman artist who came into
prominence in the 1920s, in New York, and lived to a
great age, was Georgia O Keeffe. A most numberous
clan, the O Keeffes have remained remarkably faithful to
Munster, particularly to County Cork.