Raymond M Keogh writes: Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh was gunned down outside Trinity College Dublin on Easter Tuesday 1916. Coincidentally, he was killed on April 25th, the first anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli peninsula and the troops who shot him were themselves Anzacs. They were on furlough in Dublin from front-line duties in France and had been drafted in to defend Trinity. More poignantly, Gerald was killed at dawn on that first Anzac Day—the very hour that Australians and New Zealanders cherish to commemorate their own fallen at Gallipoli.
We don’t know who fired the fatal bullet. Private Michael McHugh, an Australian and a Catholic of Irish descent, would have been on the roof of Trinity when the shooting occurred. On returning home he doesn’t seem to have spoken much about the event. This inspired Kevin McCarthy and Geoff McArthur to compose the song “Digger in Dublin”. It is Michael’s lament for having killed an Irish freedom fighter. In the words of the song: “… this was not my fight”.
Gerald’s death was one of the most documented fatalities of the Easter Rising. At least eight accounts were written by a variety of observers who were in and around Trinity College at the time. Yet the incident was to be largely forgotten, along with the name of the young man who lost his life. Many historians simply refer to him as a “dispatch rider”.
Gerald had been sent out by Patrick Pearse himself from the GPO late on Monday afternoon to summon a group of volunteers of the Kimmage garrison. They had been left behind at Larkfield House, the home of Joseph Mary Plunkett. This location was used as a training camp for the Irish Volunteers and consisted of Irishmen who had fled conscription in Britain or were on the run in Ireland.
About midnight Gerald passed the orders to the Kimmage contingent. They immediately set out for the GPO, going there by way of Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street. In fact, they formed into fours and crossed the city in military formation, passing Trinity College at 1.30 am without incident. Gerald also set out from Kimmage around midnight but seems to have been detained, most likely at the College of Surgeons, until he was sent back to the GPO at dawn. Unfortunately for him the strict order not to fire until attacked that defenders of Trinity were under had been withdrawn.
One account speaks of three insurgents pelting down on bicycles from Stephen’s Green. Corporal Garland, a New Zealander who was on the roof of Trinity, observed them coming and described the incident graphically. After the Anzac shots rang out, Gerald still sat on his bike “… and continued on for about 30 yards on the free-wheel. In fact I thought we had missed him when all of a sudden the bike swerved and he came off.”
After the incident, Gerald’s body was brought into the grounds of Trinity by acting porter George Crawford and placed in an empty room next to the porter’s lodge. Medical student Michael Taaffe had an opportunity to see him at close range. He states that: “The young man … rested as quietly as any of the subjects in the dissecting-room … there was a small black hole in his temple.”
Elsie Mahaffy, daughter of the provost of Trinity, mentions in her diary that after three days, physical decay became so unpleasant that the corpse had to be buried in the college grounds. Later, after the Rising was over he was disinterred and sent to the morgue. But, she adds, “… during the fortnight while he lay in College; though well dressed and from a respectable street, no one ever came to ask for his body.”
The reason why no one came for him is that three of his brothers, who had also been involved in the Rising, were either in prison or on the run. Frank, like Gerald, had joined D Coy 4th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade and belonged to the GPO garrison. Cyril was part of the St Stephen’s Green contingent. After his arrest he was sent to Knutsford detention barracks in England. Charles Leo was also a dispatch rider in the rebellion. There was no one else to retrieve the body; their father had been dead for six years.
The Anzac bullet that killed Gerald created ripple effects that went far beyond its immediate impact. News of Gerald’s death reached their elder brother, J Augustus, who was stage manager at the Royalty Theatre in London. Only two years earlier their widowed mother had suffered the loss of her second eldest son, John Baptist, who had joined the British army and had been killed in Flanders. Now she had to contend with the death of her youngest boy.
Augustus had become aware of the trouble which was brewing in the Abbey Theatre between the board and its manager, St John Ervine. The Abbey was facing financial ruin at the time. He sensed that an ideal opportunity was arising and offered his services in the hope that he could return home to be close to his grieving mother. At a meeting held on July 14th, 1916, the reappointment of Lennox Robinson in place of Ervine was favoured by WB Yeats but Lady Gregory resisted. As a result, J Augustus was engaged by Gregory for a six-month period.
J Augustus was an aficionado of George Bernard Shaw. His appointment at the Abbey was fortunate for Shaw in that he succeeded in expanding his theatrical presence in Dublin. The playwright had protested against the execution of the 1916 leaders in the Daily News, stating that “… an Irishman resorting to arms to achieve the independence of his country is doing only what Englishmen will do if it is their misfortune to be invaded and conquered by the Germans in the course of the present war”. Comments like this were not well received in London during the jingoistic climate of conflict. Shaw’s box-office appeal in England slumped but J Augustus swamped Dublin audiences with his works. Of course, Shaw’s reputation amongst Irish nationalists was very high at this time.
Raymond M Keogh belongs to an old Dublin business family, the Keoghs of Ranelagh. He has set up the website www.ourownidentity.com to explore issues of mixed inheritance in Ireland. It is named after his granduncle, the Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh, shot in 1916. His forthcoming book, Shelter and Shadows, will map his own experience of coming to terms with a mixed family inheritance of Gaelic and Old English elements. The photographs above show Gerald Keogh (above) and J Augustus Keogh.