Maggie and me

Newspaper obituary from 1921 for Margaret Keogh

By Anthony O’Reardon

Sometime early in 2016 I received a phone call from a historian by the name of Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc. He was writing a book about the War of Independence: Truce: Murder, Myth and the Last Days of the Irish War of Independence. A fascinating and intriguing book revealing the atrocities carried out by the British Armed Forces in the final days leading to the truce between them and the IRA on the 11th July 1921. One of those stories involved a young woman from Irishtown by the name of Margaret Keogh.

Margaret (Maggie) Keogh

Born in 1900 to Michael and Margaret Keogh, Maggie was the second eldest of nine children to reside at No. 20 Stella Gardens, Irishtown. Number 20 faces out onto the River Dodder where the Shelbourne Park Greyhound Racecourse is today.

Maggie grew up to become the captain of the Crokes Ladies Hurling team and was employed as a clerical assistant at Hely and Co., Dame St. She was well-known and liked in the area.

She was also a member of the Ranelagh Branch of Cumman na mBan. It is not known why she chose not to join the Ringsend Branch. A proud Gaeilgeoir, she was also a member of Conradh na Gaeilge and on one occasion whilst raising money for them she was arrested for refusing to answer a policeman in English when questioned.

There was no shadow of a doubt, Maggie Keogh was known to the Dublin Metropolitan Police as they were known at the time, hence, known to the British Forces. 

Shortly after 11pm, on the 10th July 1921, just over twelve hours before the ceasefire came into effect that ended the War of Independence, British armed forces carried out raids in Irishtown and possibly countrywide.

While Maggie and her 18-year-old brother Thomas were downstairs, there was knock on the door. Maggie answered the door only to find there was no one there. As she turned, a shot was fired hitting her in the side. She fell to the ground calling out to her mother saying she was shot.

Thomas carried her to the kitchen where she bled profusely from her wounds. These are the exact details Maggie gave to detectives as she was attended to in Sir Patrick Dun’s hospital. While in hospital, around 1,000 people held a vigil outside her home, reciting the rosary.

Unfortunately, two days after being shot, Maggie died from her wounds on the 12th July. Up to 2,000 people followed her remains from the hospital to her home. While passing Beggar’s Bush Barracks, the two British Army sentries on duty stood to attention in a mark of respect.

The above description of Maggie’s life and what transpired that fatal night was the only version known until recent years.

Getting back to that phone call, Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc was given my number from a mutual friend of ours who knew I was researching Irish Republican history in the area. To be exact, I was researching the Battle of Mount Street Bridge 1916, in order to put on a community play for the 1916 Centenary Commemorations.

Pádraig was trying to find a descendant of Maggie so that he might find a photo of her to include in his book. I called out to anyone by the name Keogh, but had no success. I sent my apologies to Pádraig and that was that… or so I thought

My mother’s maiden name is Keogh. However, I have never heard of a Margaret Keogh. I knew very little about my mother’s Keogh side of the family. She grew up in Sherriff Street and married my father from Donnycarney. They moved to England in the late 1960s and had two daughters but returned to Ireland and had me in 1975. I grew up in Finglas and eventually met a beautiful Ringsender – Amanda Cassidy. We married in 2002 and soon bought a house in Ringsend where we live today with our three children.

A short time after Pádraig’s book was published, a preview of my play “25 to Clanwilliam” was in NewsFour. I happened to bring that issue out to my mother and father to show them. A page or two after the preview, the paper carried an article about Pádraig’s book which mentioned Margaret Keogh’s story. My father turned to me and said, “your Ma always said she had an Aunty Margaret who carried bullets for the IRA during the War of Independence.”

But the book claimed Margaret was a lone child and my mother knew her aunt had nine siblings. I emailed Pádraig there and then explaining our confusion. He immediately rang me saying his book had a slight error in relation to Maggie’s family size and that it seemed that my mother’s aunt was in fact the same Margaret Keogh he was writing about!

This was amazing, a few months earlier, he had asked me to find a relative of hers, little did we know, he was talking to her grandnephew! In another coincidence, there had been a Margaret Keogh Memorial Committee formed in Ringsend and Irishtown and two members of that very committee had volunteered to be in my commemoration play!

I must take a minute to fully recognise this committee’s tireless efforts to commemorate Margaret’s legacy. The likes of Matt Ward, Michael Behan, Frank Hopkins and Sandra Shortt who spent so much time researching and knocking on doors trying to find facts and relatives to complete this story, some as far away as South Africa.

They also contacted Pádraig to enlighten him on what they’d found so he could set the record straight. Chris Ward of Ringsend Productions and Shay Connolly have also contributed to promoting and commemorating Margaret’s life. Other members include Suanne Moore, Ida Rooney and Damien Murphy, who all remember her story and what she did for Irish freedom and are at present attempting to have a memorial of some kind erected in her memory in Stella Gardens.

As time went by, I soon learned that there was an alternative version of events that night back in 1921. Maggie’s older sister, Mary Anne married a man by the name of Thomas Clarke. Mary Anne’s granddaughters came forward with a different version. They were told by their Grandmother that she was with Maggie that night. They claim that the entire family were involved with the IRA and Cumann na mBan at the time. They used to transport and hide guns and ammunition during the War of Independence.

Apparently, on this night, after a fire had been lit, a gun or bullets fell into the fire which shot out and struck Maggie. They can only assume the story in the papers was a cover up to protect the family at the time as nobody knew if the ceasefire would hold or in fact lead to our independence.

Regardless, there’s no doubt whatsoever that Margaret Keogh of Stella Gardens Irishtown, one way or another, was fatally wounded carrying out her duties as a member of Cumann na mBan in the fight for Irish freedom.

And it is for this reason that on October the 12th 2019 The National Graves Association (NGA) unveiled a new headstone in her honour in Glasnevin Cemetery. Until then, Maggie only had a small headstone about 1 foot by 1.5ft with the inscription “The Woman who died for Ireland”.

We will be forever grateful to the NGA and Matt Doyle for all that they’ve done in Margaret’s memory and the countless other heroes of our great nation. It was attended by the Margaret Keogh Memorial Committee and Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc who concluded her graveside oration: “The fact that Margaret Keogh did not die with a gun in her hand fighting the enemy forces like Sean Treacy or at the end of a noose after capture in battle like Kevin Barry, did not make her loss any less significant to her family, her friends and her comrades in the Republican Movement.”

Also, in attendance were myself, one of my sisters Collette Farrell and our Dad Alfie along with my daughter Emma – Maggie’s great grand niece and others who wanted to show their respect to a great woman.

Unfortunately, the one person who would have stood ten feet tall over everyone that day with pride wasn’t there, my mother Christina O’Reardon, or Chrissie Keogh as she was fondly known, being Maggie’s niece. Sadly, Mam passed away last January but we know she was there in spirit beside Maggie and all her family proudly watching the unveiling.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha. 

Up the Republic!