John Keegan Casey is best remembered for writing the 1798 Rebellion song, The Rising of the Moon, while he was still only a teenager.
Casey was already establishing himself as one of Ireland’s leading poets and writers when he died when he was only 23 years old.
Many people believe the premature death meant that Ireland lost a man who could have gone on to become one of its greatest ever writers.
Born at the height of the Irish Famine
Casey was born on 22 August in 1846 at the height of the Irish Famine.
His birthplace is often given as Milltown but ancestral records show he was born in the village of Mount Dalton, close to the town of Mullingar in County Westmeath.
When he was eight years old, the family moved to the Ballymahon area of Westmeath after his father became headmaster at a local school.
Casey retained close links with the area throughout his short life.
His heart was in writing and Irish nationalism
In 1864, Casey started working as a teacher at Cleraun School between Mullingar and Roscommon.
He only stayed a few months because his heart was in writing and Irish nationalism.
He had grown up with the ravages of the Irish famine all around him and it affected him deeply. He believed the British Government had not done enough to help people and simply left them to starve to death.
He wanted Ireland to be independent so the needs of its people would be put before the interests of British landowners.
Dublin and a career as a writer
By the age of 18, Casey had already written several poems and songs on nationalist themes.
Disillusioned with teaching, partly because he felt the curriculum wasn’t nationalistic enough, he moved to Dublin to become a full time writer.
He soon established himself as a major new talent.
Writing under the name of Leo and Kileevan
Casey wrote several pieces for the nationalist publication, The Nation, under the name of Leo. It’s thought he used the pen name to conceal his identity from the British authorities who were highly suspicious of him because of his nationalist beliefs.
He also used the name Kileeven, and he also submitted material to the Boston Pilot.