In this year 2020, for the first time in a very long time, Garland Sunday will not be celebrated in Keash.

This is for obvious and appropriate reasons associated with the Coronavirus but none the less, a sad day for our Parish. There are many people who work tirelessly behind the scenes organising this day for the enjoyment of our parish. God willing when the virus passes (sooner rather than later) we will be able to celebrate this occasion once again in a renewed and exciting way. The virus teaches us not to take events such as this for granted.

When we take this opportunity to look back at Garland Sunday and where it originated from, it has a truly remarkable story. Its original title was that of an annual festival of Lughnasa. This is described as a pagan festival (after the god Lugh). It was a festival which combined sport, music and dance with a pilgrimage climb of Kesh Corran.  Today this event is celebrated on the last Sunday in July rather than the original cross quarter day of around August 4th.

At Lughnasa, Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu, The Great One of the Earth, the last queen of For Blog, is also celebrated.  Having cleared the forest and opening some of the richest farmland in Ireland, she is said to have collapsed with exhaustion and with her dying breath asked Lugh to hold funeral games in her honour every August.

The legends founded around Keash are certainly the most abundant in Ireland with most associated with the famous and beautiful white limestone entrance “Caves of Kesh Corran”.  The earliest legend is probably the legend of Tuatha De Dannan harper, Corran.  A giant sow (female pig) was supposedly terrorising Irelandand causing widespread destruction.  Nobody could catch and kill the sow but Corran sent it to sleep with his Harp, playing; so that the hunter could finally kill it.  It is said that Kesh Corran mountain is the hardened carcass of this sow, but the mountain is much older than the story.

Corran was rewarded with what is now Kesh Corran mountain and the surrounding plains.  It is believed that Keash/Kesh comes from the word Ceis which is said to mean “ground bass”, a style of droning harp playing unique to Ireland and a musical style subsequently taught all over Europe.

It is a style that is said to have been developed by St. Kevin of Glendalough. St. Kevin was ordained below Kesh Corran at Toomour Abbey.

The bass drone was probably inspired by the droning sound of the wind through the caves.

Most famously, Kesh Corran caves are known as the final hiding place of Diarmuid and Grainne.  King Cormac MacArt arranged for his daughter Grainne to marry Fionn Mac Cool.  Fionn was much older than Grainne.  Grainne had instead fallen in love with one of Fionn’s soldiers, Diarmuid.  Diarmuid and Grainne ran away together. Fionn chased them around the country.  Eventually peace was achieved when Diarmuid managed to pay Fionn with cattle, which was a valuable currency back then.  We are told that for many years, Diarmuid and Grainne lived in peace farming on the plains west of Kesh Corran.

We are told that Cormac Mac Art (subsequently to be High King of Ireland) was born at a well under Kesh Corran. We are told that he was taken from his mother and years later found with the wolves on Kesh Corran.

Keash hosts an abundant collection of sacred sites in Ireland. It is said that most of the Celtic Christian saints spent time here in Keash. St. Columcille, St. Kevin and St. Patrick are all associated with Keash.  The inprint of the saints knee’s are seen in the flagstone at Toomour Abbey. It is said that Toomour is the resting place of the King’s and Chieftains who fell in the “Battle of Ceis Chorann” in 971.  It is said by some to be a final resting spot of the second largest gathering of Royalty in Europe.

We are blessed to live in the midst of such history and scenic beauty. From Carrowkeel tombs to the caves of Keash to Toomour Abbey. Culfadda being the ancestoral home to the famous Michael Flatley, such association for which, we are proud.  We have the Keaveny cottage marking the sad story of the Keaveny family who left Keash in the midst of the famine.  There is so much of which the above are an example.

Coming back to Garland Sunday, we are told that the old ancient festival of Lughnasa was held on the mountain top.  In olden times, we are told that the festival lasted three days.  In more recent years, the festival has gone back to a three day event by the holding of a dance in the White Hall on Friday evening, the King of the Hill event around Kesh Corran on the Saturday and the sports day in the Kevin Brehony memorial park on the Sunday.

In researching Garland Sunday in Keash, we see reference to Countess Markievicz travelling to Keash on Garland Sunday 1917.  We are told that she gave an inspirational speech to the thousands of delighted people who were present on the day.

Before that, we are told of the historic gathering of Volunteers which took place in Freehill’s field on Garland Sunday 1914.  We are told that Europe was on the brink of world war with much uncertainty.  Fr. O’Grady was the parish priest in Keash at the time.  Fr. O’Grady contributed in large part to the gathering of between 1600 and 2000 volunteers that day.  There were four bands and many dignatories present.  Fr. O’Grady was PP in Keash from 1912 to 1920.  He carried out alot of improvements to the parish including building the White Hall and Ball Alley.  As an extract from the Sligo Champion says at that time Fr. O’Grady “anxious to provide amusement for the people he erected a hall and ball court at considerable cost.  This hall was opened on Garland Sunday 1913 and now Keash can boast of being one of the most up to date little parishes in the West.  In fact everything that a good Irish Priest can do has been done for his people and the cordial greetings which were accorded him on all sides on Sunday last go to show that his labours have been highly appreciated”.  The Bishop, Dr. Lyster, had sent Fr.O’Grady to America in 1907 to collect money for the building of St. Nathy’s college.  Shortly after his three year stay in America and on his return to Ireland, he was appointed PP to Keash. Fr. O’Grady sadly fell ill in 1920 and died in Keash. In addition to building of the White Hall, he was also involved in works to the Church and School buildings, while attending to the pastoral needs and spiritual welfare of the people.

Today Garland Sunday is associated with Reek Sunday where pilgrims ascend Croagh Patrick, honouring the fact that St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days and nights fasting on this mountain.

In Sligo, Garland Sunday is most notably celebrated in two locations, one of which is Keash.  The other is Tobernalt Holy Well. Mass is usually celebrated at this Holy Well early on the Sunday morning by the Bishop of Elphin.  Prayer (together with annointing of the sick) continues into the afternoon.

We place the cancellation of the festival this year to celebrate Garland Sunday as simply another page in this long and historic story of Garland Sunday, in our Parish of Keash. We pray God’s blessing that this much celebrated festival will resume better than ever next year and continue for many years to come.


By Michael Francis Regan

Oh, dear old keash, my native place

I love you right and true,

Go where I may, both night and day,

I’ ll always think of you.

Your one bright spot, a little dot,

In Sligo County fair

Your glen’s and dale’s and lovely vale’s

are far beyond compare.

Your dear old hill stands very high,

It’s seen from near and far,

and tourist’s come there every year,

by bus and motor car.

To climb the hill and have their fill

Of fresh and healthy air

and gaze around from off that mound,

your pinnacle so fair.

In the East is seen Lough Arrow

With its Islands all serene

and Ballyrush where sings the thrush,

In every hedge row green.

Ballygawley and Benbulben

In the north come in your view

with Collooney and Coolaney

Riverstown and Doo.

Ballymote and Bunninadden

lie straight in front of you

With Gurteen and Kilaville

and famed Lough Gara too.

Meenmore and Brislagh hills,

look over your soil

likewise the Curlew Mountains

near Ballinafad and Boyle

Oh, the caves of Keash are beautiful

and lovely to behold

In one of them once lived a King

In history, we are told.

Right underneath is Cormac’s well,

and also Feenagh lake;

Toomour Abbey and Kingstone too,

the travellers eye will take.

Now, Keash is just a lovely place,

I’m very glad to say,

It’s people have all kinds of sports

to pass the time away.

In football, they have gained a name ,

which in history will go down,

they have won the County Championship,

and thus brought home the crown.

Garland Sunday is the day

when Gaels come from far and near

To see the football tournament

and give the boys a cheer:

People come from miles around

both young and old alike,

some to view the caves and hill,

and others just to hike.

Now dear old Carnacreeva

You’re the spot I love best

For in you I was born

sweet portion of the west.

Broher and Carrowcrory,

I’ll always keep in mind,

and lovely Carrowreagh,

cannot be left behind.

Cletta and Drumnagranshy

are places dear to me

Knockbrack and Tonraponra

I always love to see.

Murhy and Templevanny,

Daghloonagh and Liskeigh,

and old Cornawillans hill and dale’s,

are right well known to me.

Now all ye folk, both young and old,

who hail from dear old keash

Where e’er ye roam, by land or foam

Think of your native place.

Oh don’t forget that dear old hill,

Likewise it’s caves so grand

It one bright spot, a little dot,

In dear old Irelands land.

The Sheep’s farewell to Keash Hill

I’m only a sheep, can you hear me

Ba- Ba, I take after me father and after me ma-ma.

I’ve been on the Hill now, oh many a year, but the boss says he’ll sell me and he means it, I fear.

I see by Old Moore there’s a fair in the town, tomorrow me thinks he’ll be drivin’ me down.

So Goodbye, Beannacht leat, dear Keash Hill of the coves, no more shall I skip through your heathery groves.

I’ve heard the bell peal in the chapel for Mass, and the strains in Whitehall as ye danced, lad and lass.

I’ve danced jigs on the Hill as they danced at the feis and yere great football team held the medals for Keash.

They tell me that down there King Cormac was born, when his mother woke up he was gone in the morn.

I know the spring well where they start the pipes, to bring water to town for the whiskey and pints.

And the women in there like a good cup of tay, just as much as the women of Keash I must say.

I’ve watched that mad bus tearin’ by on the tar, shure myself don’t feel safe and me up here so far.

As it takes all the turns from here to town, it’s a wonder to me there’s not someone knocked down.

I’ve seen many sad trains wind their way to Knockbrack, but shure me being what I am knows He’ll answer their knock.

I’ve seen ye lave Foxes all hours of the night, good friends all the same , neither cross word or fight.

Ye’ ve  a cramery down there and with startin’ and stoppin’ and washin’ and sloppin.

And the shop at the cross where they sell what ye want, ye’ve no business in town now …… except for the jaunt.

Me sheep’s eyes fill with tears and me lavin’ the fun, it’s the best place in Ireland, Keash, bar none.

As I told ye above to the butcher’s I’m bound, but I’ll be back here next week at four Schillings a pound.