OVER hills and through valleys, along roads and lanes where long-forgotten homesteads once stood, the late John McKeagney, who passed away in 2010, made sure that these sentinels of a time gone by were not forgotten.

For it is easy, in a modern world, to rush by and miss the ruins of a house in a field where you never knew some family once lived, or a stone circle which has gradually been covered over, or to miss out on the old stories and folklore around the local area.

John, however, did not overlook such history – instead, he made it his business to find out and rediscover it.

And, after 45 years, the Tempo man put it all together into a book – ‘In The Ould Ago’ – released in 2010.

His meticulous methods in sourcing material and displaying it in the book was startling. Not only did he interview people and take notes, but he also sketched and drew the images conveyed to him, with the final result being a volume of 200 A3 pages bound in a hardback.

John’s son, Paul, explains that there has been a renewed interest in his father’s book, which is a favourite of Education Authority Chairperson Barry Mulholland, and Sunday Independent columnist, Brighid McLaughlin.

“We are getting the fifth reprint of my father’s book. Since the launch [in 2010], the book has kind of created a life of its own. Every year or two, it just pops up and people discover it and it causes a bit of a stir,” explained Paul.

Since Brighid McLaughlin’s article in August, this ‘stir’ has meant a fifth edition of the book is to be printed.

“We got down to our last couple of dozen books and we had to make the decision to print again. We didn’t want it to go out of print, and our parents would be delighted to know that if anyone wanted the book they could still get it.”

On what has piqued people’s interest in the book, Paul thinks the Covid lockdown has seen people look closer to home with interest – something his father was doing for years.

“Everybody has been cooped up in their local area and I think people have become more curious about their local area, and more curious about, for example, the shapes of the stones in the field just over the road and why they were placed there.


“That the type of thing my father would have done. He would have gone into fields and found stone circles and illustrated them, and he would have recorded them through illustrations.

“He found old houses, and redrew the old hearth and the actual outline of different houses he would have seen.”

Paul went to say: “I think, with lockdown, people are spending more time in the local areas and having another look at that house at the end of the lane and wondering a bit more about it, and my father’s book chimes a bit with that.

“It is a collection of stories of how people lived in times gone past.”

Paul said his father considered himself a “time detective” rather than a historian. “He would try and figure things out. He saw these bits of history as a challenge to figure out.”

Whether a time detective or historian, John McKeagney’s collection has made an impression in many places.

On display in top US universities, his recordings are currently being digitised by the Folklore Department at University College Dublin.

Just recently Paul posted a book to Nevada.

“Because it’s history, it’s not going to go out of fashion. It is going to become even more valuable,” Paul said.

For further information on ‘In The Ould Ago’, or to buy the book, see www.folklorebook.com, while the book is available at McKeagney’s Spar, Tempo.