Jack the Buck - John Geoghegan

On 15 September 2001, Joe and Fred Geoghegan, on behalf of the (Mac)Geoghegan Society, set a new grave stone on the last resting place of John Geoghegan, known as Jack the Buck. For the occasion, Joe penned a poem in both Irish and English.

SEAN macEOCHAGAIN

Leac urnua dhuit, a Sheain mhicCheadaigh,
leac dhen aolchloch liath greanta,
os do chionn 's do chnamha sinte
os cionn deas Neilleach de Chineail Fhiachaigh.

Orthu romhat agus orthu siud i do dhiaidh
go raibh beannacht Choilm 's go mbeannai Aodh iad.
a mhicEochagain, a chroi na feile,
go raibh siochain ort go La an tSleibhe.

JOHN maGEOGHEGAN

For you John maKedaigh*
a new head stone graven,
above your head and your bones stretched even
 a southern Neillaugh* of the Kinealee*

May Colm* bless those before and after you
and on them also the blessings of Hugh,*
MaGeoghegan, celebration's groom
on you be peace to the Day of Doom.

    Seosamh macEochagain
    15ud Mh. Foghmhair 2001

     Joe Geoghegan
    15th September 2001

*maKedaigh = son of Kedagh *Neillaugh = descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages *Kinealee = descendant of Fiacha, son of Niall, also the area they inhabited *Colm = St. Colmcille, patron saint of Niall's descendants *Hugh = Aodh macBricc, St. Hugh of Rathugh, patron of Cineal Fhiachaigh

Fred, Frank Junior and Tom Egan set the head stone

The finished product

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The project originated during the Clan 2000 reunion, when on a visit to the old graveyard in Castletown-Geoghegan, Fred pointed out the location of Jack's grave. There apparently had been a gravestone to mark the spot, but it had vanished some time before. By the end of the reunion, we had vowed to replace it. So just who was Jack "The Buck" Geoghegan?

He was one of four children of Kedagh and Anne, daughter of Sir John Brown of the Neale. The Brownes of the Neale, by the way, were one of the most powerful of the Anglo-Norman families of Connacht and their modern representatives include Lord Altamount and the Marquess of Sligo. Their main residence was (and still is) Westport House in county Mayo. Among their ancestors they include Grainne O Malley, Granuaile, the pirate queen. The very fact that Kedagh married into this family gives you an indication of the high rank which the Geoghegans held in the social order of Ireland. It is probable that Jack's grandfather, Bryan Geoghegan, built Jamestown Court, where Jack was born, using stone taken from the nearby Carne Castle. Jack had two brothers, Kedagh who, like Jack, died unmarried and Arthur who married Marcellina daughter of Sir Thomas Barnwall but died childless. He also had a sister, Mary who married Thomas Nagle in 1763 and was mother to Sir Richard Nagle. Sir Richard inherited Donore and through his mother inherited Jamestown and Carne. So he became the representative of those three Geoghegan houses. With the death of the second Sir Richard Nagle, three main lines of the Geoghegans came to an end - at least as far as is known. But back to Jack the Buck!

John may well be the most famous Geoghegan of us all - he is certainly the most colourful. He never married, preferring a gentleman bachelor life of enjoyment and adventure. His nickname (the Buck) equates to "the toff", "the gent" or "the dandy" and on a portrait of him, he is referred to as "John - Lord of Moycashel".  Though he was catholic, he and his brother, Kedagh, often dined with the grand jurors at the time of the Assizes in Mullingar.

Before I go any further, I should point out that some of the stories I have attributed below to Jack, may actually relate to Kedagh. As with all things Irish, you can never be totally sure of the truth of the matter.

It was usual for the Geoghegans to drive into town in a grand coach and four and John regarded himself as no man's inferior. So it happened at the Summer Assizes of 1768, one of the jurors, a certain George Stepney of Durrow, offered John £20 for his four fine horses. Under the penal statutes of the time, any "Irish Papist" was considered unfit to own a horse and if he was fortunate enough to have one was obliged to sell it to any member of the established church for £5. So the offer was in line with the law even though the beasts would have been worth considerably more than that sum. John excused himself and retired to the inn stables where the horses were housed. Drawing his pistols, he shot the four of them dead, then returning to Stepney, informed him that he could have them for nothing. Thereafter, it is said, whenever Geoghegan came to town, his coach was drawn by the four finest oxen in Ireland.

Another story tells of Jack the Buck's arrival at an Inn where a Jack St. Ledger, a friend of Stepney's, was drinking with his comrades (possibly including Stepney). In an attempt to vex Geoghegan, St. Ledger gave a shilling to the piper and told him to play some tune in praise of the King ("King Billy over the Water", if memory serves). The piper, aware of Jack the Buck's reputation was hesitant and the tension mounted. Jack then tossed the piper a guinea and said "we'll have Geoghegan's Vagary" and the piper complied. St. Ledger was so incensed that he challenged Geoghegan to a duel. The duel was fought with pistols on the steps of Stepney's house in Durrow, by candlelight. St. Ledger badly underestimated his opponent, as Jack the Buck was accomplished with both pistol and sword. As the candles flickered in the darkness, Geoghegan's aim was straight and true and he hit his man. There was continued bad blood between Stepney and Geoghegan and it wasn't long before Jack found an excuse to engage him in a duel. One account tells that the duel took place on the bridge of Lismoyney and that Stepney was badly, though not fatally, wounded. A second account states that Stepney never showed up for the duel, presumably because he feared Geoghegan's prowess which he had witnessed first hand. According to Fred, there are no Stepneys left in Durrow - that could support either version.

Jack is also reputed to have been responsible for giving the town of Horseleap its current name, though the same feat is ascribed to Hugh De Lacy, centuries beforehand. As well as being a duelist and general hail-fellow-well-met, he was also fond of gambling and was a keen card player. The story goes that he was playing cards one evening with a group of English soldiers, part of a garrison that was on a round of the country. Jack was winning well and the soldiers were easily relieved of their money. Naturally, they were not pleased and plotted to kill him and recoup their losses, with interest. Geoghegan was wise to their plotting and slipped out the back door before they could pounce. He was spotted, however, and the soldiers gave chase. Jack mounted his steed and sped away with the soldiers in pursuit. When they upon a river (the name of which I can't remember), Jack the Buck urged his horse on and cleared it in a single bound, leaving the hoof prints embedded in a rock. The soldiers, either through fear or the lack of decent mounts were unable to clear the river and Geoghegan disappeared into the night. The story of the events of that night fell into local folklore and the area around the river became known as Horseleap as a result.

Another gambling story relates how Jack, while playing cards in Bath, in England, noticed that one of the players, Du Barry, was cheating. The Buck bided his time, but at an appropriate moment, picked up a serving fork and transfixed Du Barry's hand to the table. While Du Barry, his hand impaled to the table and unable to move, was writhing in pain, Geoghegan announced "Sir, if that is not the Ace of Clubs under your hand, I'll be begging your pardon".

Many more adventures are attributed to John - Jack the Buck - Geoghegan. The final one took place in London and involved Jack, a Frenchman and an actress to whom both men were paying attention. Jack, never one to shirk a fight, and the Frenchman agreed to a duel in order to sort out the issue of which of them was the better man to court the actress. The duel was fought with swords and although Geoghegan was an excellent swordsman, his weapon broke and he was run though. His injuries were not fatal at the time, but Jack the Buck never fully recovered and died soon afterwards in 1776.

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