The first victim of the Easter Rising was a nurse rushing to attend to patients and the wounded. Margaret Keogh (Kehoe), from Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow. Margaret was working as a nurse in the South Dublin Union (now the site of St James’s Hospital). Six republican riflemen, who had been firing from a top floor on the British soldiers, vacated their position and there was a lull in the firing. Nurse Keogh decided to look into the safety of any patients or wounded on the lower floor. At the foot of the stairs, the corridor was occupied by two British soldiers kneeling out of sight, covering the open doorway with their rifles. As she entered the corridor, they both fired, killing her instantly.
The men who fired upon Keogh were most likely of the Royal Irish Regiment, though it’s important to note the above is just one account of how Keogh died, with others in existence. In The Last Post, an impressive commemorative publication produced by the National Graves Association (NGA) in 1932, Nurse Keogh is included, and there it notes that ‘A Volunteer fell wounded outside the door of the hospital. Immediately a nurse rushed out to his assistance and as she bent over the wounded men she herself was fired upon and fell dead.’
A distraught colleague rushed to her aid but it was too late. Her body was placed on a table in the corridor. Shortly afterwards, Irish Volunteer Dan McCarthy, who had been badly wounded, was laid beside her on the table. McCarthy survived, becoming president of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) from 1921 to 1924.
Eamonn Ceannt, the commander of the garrison, addressed the men afterward, and declared that the nurse was the ‘first martyr’ of the rebellion, and asked those present to remember her sacrifice. Ceannt stated: ‘She died for Ireland just as surely as if she’d worn the Volunteer’s uniform.’
She was buried in the Union grounds, but her body was eventually exhumed and re-interred in Ballinabranna cemetery, in her home parish of Leighton.
Margaret was the grand-niece of Lt. Captain Myles Keogh, who fought on the Union side of the American Civil War. He was later killed alongside General Custer by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. The 22-year-old nurse was largely forgotten but was commemorated in a plaque unveiled by Leighlinbridge GFC in 2009. She bravely went about her work as rebellion raged, and was remembered last year during the Centenary.
Another woman named, Margaret Keogh, was a committed republican activist, a member of Cumann na mBan, and was assassinated in her Dublin home by a ‘murder squad’ of the British Army. She was shot dead on 10th of July 1921, the day before a general ceasefire was due to take effect between the forces of the Irish Republic and the British Empire, effectively ending the War of Independence in the 26 counties. The tragedy of their deaths illustrate the brutal nature of the conflict between Britain and Ireland at the start of the 20th century, brought about by the former’s refusal to countenance the latter’s demand for independence.