Launch of gravestone for Patrick Kevany
Words spoken at the Launch of the gravestone for Patrick Kevany (1826-1896) and family, Harbour St. Tullamore. Sept 13th, 2015. By Una Agnew SSL
It was a long journey for Patrick Kevany from his birthplace in Easkey, Co Sligo as a young man of 20, to the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore where he spent 40 years of his life as teacher and agriculturalist in Tullamore Workhouse and adjoining farm. Born in 1826, he lived to be 70, quite a feat in 19th century Ireland with its succession of famines and fevers. But during this long life-journey, he made an important detour into Co Monaghan, to a place called Inniskeen where in the spirit of the gifted agriculturalist that he was, he planted some of “the vigorous seeds of Connaught, of the tribe of UÃ Mhaine, into the little drumlin hills of Monaghan. His love- child conceived by local woman, Nancy Callan, was to bear fruit in a striking way.
In May 1896, he died at his residence in Harbour Street without knowing that he had left this nation a valuable legacy, from his star-crossed liaison in Inniskeen, he had left us a poet yet to be born to his son James who would become one of Ireland’s brightest lights! His grandson Patrick Kavanagh would, in his turn, and with different agri-skills, celebrate the fields and whitethorn hedges of South Monaghan with his superb lyrical poetry.
Patrick Kevany’s role in Tullamore from 1856 onwards was to teach the poorest and most abandoned in society in the Workhouse, and train them to become productive members of society while he himself became a town official of such excellence that he conducted his responsibilities in the workhouse with the same care and interest as if it were his own private business. So said Mr George Ridley who valued Kevany’s contribution to the work of Tullamore’s Board of Guardians.
When he married Mary Molloy from Urney near Mountmellick, he put down roots in Offaly and built up a reputation for his prizewinning root vegetable at the Royal Dublin Autumn Exhibition on a number of occasions. He and his wife also managed a drapery shop in Harbour Street. Kevany was instrumental in acquiring the services of the Mercy nuns who transformed the standard of health care in the workhouse. Little wonder that Kevany’s two daughters, Brigid and Kate became Mercy nuns in Galway and as nurses in St Vincent’s Convent, continued to care for the poorest in society. His son Patrick was just 14 when his father died. He looked after his mother and the drapery shop, then moved to Dublin and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
Today, we stand at this newly marked Kevany’s grave in a spirit of gratitude, remembrance and reconciliation. There are people to be thanked:
(1) We thank McKeon stone sponsor of this magnificent gravestone in blue Kilkenny limestone. It surpasses my wildest expectations and I am grateful to Niall Kavanagh who designed it and was so supportive and patient throughout the process of constructing and engraving it. I love its curved surface An Cuar- like the page of a well read book! I thank also the anonymous donor, who generously covered the cost of engraving and erection. Egans of Kilbeggan are to be commended for transporting the stone and erecting it neatly here in its correct and proper place.
(2) Above all I want to thank Carmel and Brendan Ward for keeping the graveyard records so safely over years. Without them we would never have known that this plot was bought in 1879 for £3 on the sad death of the Kevany’s 7 month old son, Owen.
(3) I also thank the Tullamore Historical Society for inviting me to write this story in their historical journal and to speak at two of their meetings.
(4) I am grateful to the Mercy sisters of Tullamore: Srs Concepta O’Brien and Mildred Lynam who offered me hospitality on several occasions while I doing this research here. It is significant that Sr Mildred is here today; her ancestor Stephan Lynam was the trusted friend of Patrick Kevany and was best man at his wedding.
(5) Last but not least, I want to thank Rosaleen Kearney and my brother Art Agnew of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre, who travelled from Inniskeen this morning, bringing with them a container of the stony grey soil of Monaghan. Art will recite the poem for us now as only he can and sprinkle some of the soil on his grave.
I’m sure Mr Kevany will feel warmer in his grave now that this soil is lovingly sprinkled on his grave. He left Inniskeen somewhat in disgrace 160 years ago but time now to mend the links between Monaghan and Tullamore and celebrate the precious legacies left by the Kavanagh/Kevany families.
As we stand beside this magnificent gravestone, we are reminded by the wisdom of the inscription on the stone that reads: But I knew that loves doorway to life is the same doorway everywhere. Kevany may have closed one door in Inniskeen but he opened another in Tullamore and made a new life of love and dedication for many people. It was a long journey indeed from Sligo to the Grand Canal and a happy fault that he made an important detour to Inniskeen in Co Monaghan.