O’Keeffe Chalice

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 1590 [unknown]
Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, Londonmap
Surnames/tags: O’Keeffe O'Keefe
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O’Keeffe Chalice - by Ruth O’Keefe

For many years I have wanted to see the O’Keefe Chalice & this past September I finally got an opportunity to visit The Victoria & Albert Museum in London where it is kept. I asked several staff where it might be but no one seemed to know of what I was looking for but I knew it to be there. I headed to the Chalice Rooms but the chalice rooms were huge with lots of cabinets full to the brim. I realized my chances of finding it walking around were slim & would take hours. So I googled it, found which room it was in & its location.  There it was! A beautiful sight & heirloom to behold. Absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was there to see it. But I felt saddened it was kept in there. Doesn’t it belong to it’s people? On further inspection I realized it wasn’t described as The O’Keefe Chalice but an Irish chalice & that’s probably why the staff didn’t know of what I spoke.  Yet I knew it’s story. I thought of it’s adventure, it’s travels & the sacrifices given to preserve it.  I was grateful to be the only person in the chalice room & I sat there for about 15 minutes thinking of this story that only some of us will ever know. That O’Keefe’s will only feel. I took many photographs & felt happy & sad at the same time that I was in its presence. Do go see it if you’re ever in London . I believe it knows & welcomes when a fellow kin O’Keefe has come to visit. 


Stuff The British Stole - Paul Middleton

Paul Middleton shared that the O’Keeffe Chalice was featured on a recent program called “Stuff The British Stole”. The episode “Cup Runneth” has an AUDIO link available: https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/radio/podcast/stuff-the-british-stole/sbs-2021-11-02-s2-ep3.mp3

Here is a synopsis of the “Cup Runneth” episode: In County Cork, Ireland, there’s a tree that locals call the Chalice Tree. Local lore says it’s where British Redcoats disrupted a secret Catholic mass, killed two priests and took a sacred chalice. Now that chalice sits in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. But what happened in the intervening 200 years is now being pieced together by two Irish families: the O’Keeffes and the McAulliffe’s.


  • Dianne Hall, Associate Professor in History, Victoria University
  • Walter Ryan-Purcell, Co-President, The Purcell Society
  • Morty O’Keefe, Chairman, O'Keeffe Clan Gathering
  • Raymond Sullivan, Chalice Tree tour guide
  • Jeremiah McAuliffe
Duration: 38min 52sec
Broadcast: Wed 3 Nov 2021, 1:00am


The O'Keeffe Chalices, Paten & Altar Stone - By Dan O'Keeffe

Introduction: The O'Keeffe Chalice (1735) published paper by Robert Day F.S.A. in the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (CHAS) Journal of 1899, made no reference to the older O'Keeffe Chalice (1590), now called the Mount Keeffe Chalice.

The O'Keeffe Chalice (1735), according to Day was made for Bishop Cornelius O'Keeffe, shortly before he died. He was the Catholic Bishop of Limerick from 1720 until his death in 1735. During the height of the Penal Laws and resultant persecution, the Catholic Church of Rome appointed Cornelius of the Glenville-Rathcormac-sept of the O'Keeffes. His family tree was traced back to a line of O'Keeffe Chieftains and Kings by Fr.Eoghan O'Keeffe the Genealogist (1656-1726). Cromwell evicted Denis (the bishop's father) from his estate at Glenville. When evicted, the family after much pain and suffering, finally found refuge on a thirty-acre hill farm at Templeglantine, Co. Limerick on the Estate of Sr. William Courtney. This Estate according to Fr.T.O. Muirthile S.P. (Glor Inse Ban 1994) seemed to have been a favourite refuge for despoiled Gaels. The Bishop was the youngest of 6 boys. The family descendants were in Templeglantine until the 1950s' and claimed The Fermoy O'Keeffe Chieftains connection right up to the end.

Mount Keeffe Chalice (1590): O'Kief Cosh Mang Vol 6 - Casey under the Title “1590 O'Keeffe Chalice - Saga from The Newmarket Area” recorded the following “To Mrs George A. Jackson of Climax, Michigan, we are indebted for a clipping dated January 7 1961 (newspaper not named). The staff reporter of the newspaper in conversation with Sean O'Reilly, Secretary of the Mallow Field Club of History and Archaeology, describes a murder of a priest in Penal Days Ireland with the theft of the oldest Chalice in Irish Ecclesiastical History. “Apparently one of the branches of the O'Keeffe's presented a chalice to the clergy of Newmarket in the Middle ages. Then, during one of the most violent periods of the Penal Days a certain priest, while celebrating Mass in a lonely glen some few miles north of Newmarket town, was bayoneted to death by Redcoat Soldiers while mass was in progress. He had been using the O'Keeffe Chalice (1590). This older Chalice and other items were looted by the soldiers and local tradition has it, that a tree, bearing a resemblance to the Elevation of the Host, grew in its branches on the spot where the Holy priest was murdered.”

Later accounts by Seanchas Duthalla Journals – by Mrs E. Sheehan(1978/'79), records the story and names Sean O'Reilly of Mallow and the late Dan Casey of Newmarket and Fr. James Wilson, Chaplain of Mount Alvernia. “A Mr. Clancy of Doneraile first told Mr. O'Reilly that he had noticed the Chalice on a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum”. She named the priest that were saying the mass, when the chalice was seized, as Fr. Gallivan, and an unnamed priest from Kerry. “The Red Coats looted the chalice and the vestments and other church items”. Neither Casey, the news article reporter, Sean O'Reilly, nor did Seanchas Duthalla Articles by Mrs Sheehan make reference to the other chalice (now known as the Bishop Cornelius O'Keeffe Chalice).

The Mount Keeffe Inscription by the Purcell family (1916): However, that is by no means the end of the story. Because proceeding all this, was a Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal paper M.G. (1915 Vol. 21 page 145-146), called “The Day Collection of Antiquities”. It documents the disposal of the famous Robert Day FSA collection of antiquities (including the O'KEEFFE 1590 - Chalice). This sale took place after Day's death in 1915. The Chalice was sold at the second day of the auction for £4-16 shillings per oz. and it weighed 9.75oz or £46.75. It was described on the catalogue as one of the most beautiful sacred vessels and early Elizabethan. The Purcell family of Burton Park, Buttevant purchased the Chalice. On the same day The Archer Chalice (1696) was sold for £5.16s; A William 111, Chalice inscribed in Latin “Edmund Murphy caused me to be made” and crucifix, 1678 sold for £8 and the Smart Chalice 1706, used in the Baptist Chapel, Cork for £24. After the purchase an inscription beneath the foot was carried out on behalf of the Purcell family. The Inscription says “The Mount Keeffe Chalice re-consecrated at Burton Park A.D. 1916”.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London bought, what was then known as ‘The Mount Keeffe Chalice' for £400, in 1929.

Characteristics of the Chalices: According to the V&A Museum “The Mount Keeffe Chalice is made of silver gilt Irish 1590, one of the more important Irish Chalices of the late 16th century retaining an incurving hexagonal stem but with the tall pyramidal foot, which became a national characteristic. The diameter of the cup is 3 inches. It is not clear how the cup is attached to the stem, although, it does appear that there is a pin or screw holding them together. It has a hexagonal foot, engraved on the base: “COK ME FIERI ANNO DOMINI 1590” . The front panel is engraved with a crucifix with the instrument of the Passion, and alternate panels with moresques.”

The inscription on the (BISHOP CORNELIUS) O'Keeffe Chalice ref -Day(1899) is “Cornelius O'Keeffe, Episcopus Limericensis me fieri fecit, anno domini 1735” According to Robert Day “The Bishop O'Keeffe Chalice is 5 7/8 inches high, 3 ¾ inches wide at the base a 2 ¼ inches wide at the lip of the cup. It unscrews in three parts; the knop is oval, with a receded band in the centre, having its upper portion engraved with four leaves on a powered ground and the lower part with an engraved pattern to correspond with the gadrooning in the foot, which is circular, and otherwise undecorated” (Day) With the Bishop O'Keeffe Chalice (1735) is the Paten, a circular plate of silver, 3 inches in diameter, gold plated, and a Travelling Altar Stone”.

Origins of the Chalices: The Mount Keeffe Chalice was presented according to Mrs Sheehan (1978-‘79) - Seanchas Duthalla Journal, by the ‘Newmarket (Mount Keeffe) O'Keeffes'. During the worst of Penal Times mass was celebrated in Gleann an Aifrinn, on the MCAuliffe farm. During wet weather it was said in the house of nearby Mr. O'Keeffe. In contrast, the late Molly Hickey - local historian in Cullen was reported by Mrs Sheehan to have a different version. “Molly claimed that the chalice was presented to Cullen Church by the Ahane O'Keeffes' (near the Kerry border). “Charles O'Keeffe who came to Mount Keeffe after 1700 may have been one of this family and by this time was a Protestant. The chalice may have been a family heirloom”.

The origin of the 1735 Chalice and Paten are clear-cut. According to Grove White, Bishop Cornelius went to Paris to set-up O'Keeffe Burses the year before he died, "the bishop received a considerable sum of money from some unexpected source, and for a thanks offering he founded on the 8th of September of the same year three burses in the Irish College for the education of students descended from the O'Keeffe's' of Gleannn Phriacane (Glenville) to be nominated by the Bishop of Limerick or Cork" Mrs Sheehan(1979), and Diarmuid O'Murhada (1965), - The Family Names of Co. Cork, had an interesting piece re the burses. "Arthur O'Keeffe styling himself late of Dunbollog-this was corrected in the 2nd edition of O'Murchada to the Dromagh O'Keeffes' practised as a counsellor at law at Lincoln Inn London, filed his lineage and was accompanied by a deed which founded the O'Keeffe Bursarships in Paris in 1734, endowed the Bishop Cornelius O'Keeffe - Bishop of Limerick". One could assume from this that Arthur O'Keeffe of Ballymaquirk O'Keeffe's' gave the considerable amount of money to the Bishop for the Chalice, Paten and Burses. Day suggested that the Bishop's Chalice was made in Ireland, but was not marked because the goldsmith involved did not want to tempt British providence. He claimed that it, (along with the Ardmore chalice), was made secretly in Ireland by the one goldsmith. On the other hand, Archbishop Begley (1935) claimed the chalice was more than likely it was brought back from France by Dr O'Keeffe on his last visit there, just before he died “it much resembles other French chalices of the same period”

The bishop's ‘will' according to Archdeacon Begley ordered that “my own proper ornaments ------be given to executors and to be kept by them until they find proper persons among my relations and to be distributed as occasion shall offer and they think worthy of them and no other.”

The Bishop O'Keeffe Chalice was reported by Day in 1899 to have been preserved by the Harold - Barry family. The chalice descended according Day from the Harold family of Limerick. From the 15th to the 18th century the Harolds were powerful in Limerick and Dublin where they had large estates, including one at Harolds Cross in Dublin. The Harolds according to Historical and Topographical Notes had been Sheriff and Mayor of Limerick on several occasions. The family according to Day, were good friends of the Bishop and so the Chalice and Paten may have been passed on to that family by the executors of the bishops will. In about 1800 Richard Harold of Pennywell Estate, Limerick, married Miss Barry who was the only child of John Barry, Ballyvonare, and Doneraile parish. It is believed by the present generation of the Harold Barrys', that the Bishop Cornelius O'Keeffe Chalice, Paten then came to Ballyvonare.

The Travelling Altar Stone: The altar stone with the Bishop Cornelius O'Keeffe Chalice and Paten, according to Day has all the appearance of a great age. “Upon the centre are circular depressed marks caused by the impact of a larger chalice that must have been used at an earlier period. From its general appearance it is certain that the stone is older and of higher antiquity than the chalice with which it is associated”-Day (1899). Stones of this character that are not inserted in the altars of churches are known as ‘a travelling altar stone' and are of rare occurrence. A photograph of this most interesting relic shows its five emblematic crosses, symbolising the five wounds of our Saviour. In this country Mass can be offered in the peasants cottage, upon the mountain side, in the sheltered valley, and on the secluded island in the peaceful lake; and this custom has continued from penal times, when the number of Roman Catholic churches were limited, and when the priest had no altar, but a symbolic stone, like here figured.”(Day 1899)

Discussion: Since the Bishop had the newer chalice presented to him, and an altar stone of an older Chalice ends up with it, then one might speculate and say, ‘that there was some common link between the two O'Keeffe Chalices'. It would be interesting to find out if the depressed marks correspond with the base of the ‘Mount Keeffe Chalice'. We still do not know who presented the 1590 Chalice, and how and when did the Altar Stone come together with the 1735 Chalice and Paten? Furthermore, one wonders why the older Chalice was re-inscribed Mount Keeffe Chalice by the Purcell family in 1916. Perhaps Robert Day bought the older from the Mount Keeffe - O'Keeffe's' before or shortly after the death of Charles O'Keeffe, who died in 1882.

Is there a link between the Bishops and Mount Keeffe Chalice? The most extraordinary mystery arising from above was that of Robert Day. He was for many years President of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and co-editor of its Journal; he was also one of a famous group of Southern antiquarians - ref CHAS vol. 21 1915. . He published up to his death, his researches on the Antiquarian, Historical and Archaeological Journals, both in the North and South of Ireland. According to Sources of History of Irish Civilization he wrote over 200 Journal Papers. It was stated about him in the 1915 Journal, “he had the unique advantage of being a researcher, but also a collector of one of the most valuable historical and antiquarian treasures in Ireland for a half a century”. He wrote about the ‘Sarsfield Chalice' and ‘Berehaven Chalice' in 1893; the ‘Sinan Chalice (1600)' in 1897; the ‘Inishannon Chalice' in 1881; the ‘Skerret Chalice' in 1882; ‘Cork Made Chalice,1674' in 1897; the ‘O'Keeffe Chalice' (Bishop Cornelius) in 1899; the ‘Ardmore Chalice' in 1899; and the ‘Silver Chalice of Baltimore' in 1901. Why did he not write about the Older O'Keeffe Chalice? Why did he not the answer the question that he posed himself in the 1899 CHAS Journal paper – what chalice is the Altar Stone belonged to? When did he acquire the 1590 Chalice? From whom did he acquire it? What was his view - points with regard to the history of the “O'Keeffe Chalice (1590)”? As regards the Altar Stone when did it come into the possession of the Harold Barrys? Did Robert Day acquire the Altar Stone with the Chalice and decided to dispose of them separately?

It is sad in one sense that both chalices are held outside of Ireland. On the other hand one should thank the people who played a part in the preservation of these antiquities. As can be seen from the above both chalices have a great significance in relation to the strength of faith of our ancestors during the Penal Laws era. It would be hoped that the Chalices, Paten and Altar Stone, would be given on loan to museums in Cork and Limerick, where one expects a good interest, especially those of O'Keeffe extract. It should help to re-capture some of our Gaelic and Religious past, particularly in relation to North Cork area.


More information about the O'Keeffe Chalice may be found on the following websites: http://okeeffeclans.com/okeeffechalices.html https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O71968/the-mount-keefe-chalice-the-mount-keefe-unknown/ http://sources.nli.ie/Record/PS_UR_029117


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