By Paul Murphy*
Jack Keogh of Deerpark is a name synonymous with the War of Independence and Civil War eras in Ballinasloe and East Galway. He garnered a sort of escape artist reputation, evading capture for long periods and escaping from imprisonment, most notably when he was rescued from the Central Lunatic Asylum in Dundrum in May 1926.
My hunt for Jack Keogh began with the release of the 1911 census records online. I found my grandmother, Bridget Keogh, aged just 2, living with her family in Ballinasloe in 1911, and it wasn’t long before I was reading various articles about her brother Jack, my grand-uncle.
There are a lot of stories about Jack’s exploits and his pension file, released in May by the Military Archives, probably confirmed his reputation for good or for bad to those who knew of his exploits.
But there are other records. The National Archives hold Jack’s Maryborough (now Portlaoise) prison records, and the police files of his escape from Dundrum, for example.
It was of interest to us as a family of avid readers to find that Jack had eight books among his belongings when he entered Maryborough. There is a record showing he requested a book about Owen Roe O’Neill, The Call of The Wild by Jack London, and a pamphlet on the life of Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne. He was declared insane during a punishment of six months solitary confinement which was a consequence of a row over a library book.
According to the police files in the National Archives, Jack’s escape was instigated by Maud Gonne MacBride, planned by Frank Kerlin, IRA Director of Intelligence and carried out under the leadership of George Gilmore, who also got 19 men out of Mountjoy.
On 12 May 1926 a young woman visited Clery’s department store on O’Connell St, Dublin and ordered rugs for delivery to a house. The next day the delivery was hijacked and the van detoured to the Lunatic Asylum in Dundrum with a delivery for the head of the asylum. Once inside the security gate, the staff were held up. Some minutes later the van departed with Jack and another inmate.
He absconded to America via Canada. A letter from Jack to his father was found during a raid on the Keogh house after his escape. Jack describes meeting people in Boston and New York and generally having “a swank time”. He settled in Chicago where he married Ellen Curley from Skehana. They had two children but was deported soon after the birth of his youngest.
Not long after is return he was in trouble again. He was sentenced to two years by a military tribunal for shooting into the house of a man over what appears to have been a turf-cutting rights dispute. The victim was an ex-Dublin Metropolitan Police sergeant named Michael Killeen.
Another little known but probably significant detail found in the archives of 1935 incident is that in the days before the shooting a man from the Land Commission was looking for Jack to discuss his application for a farm. His conviction probably ensured he didn’t get that farm.
Other members of the Keogh family were active in the conflict at the time. Jack’s younger brother James joined the IRA soon after Jack. He died in aged 18 – the victim of a shooting at an incident related to house possession near Loughrea.
Jack’s father (also Jack) was invalided when he lost his hand at some point prior to Jim’s death in May 1922. Jack Sr was interned at ‘Tintown’ in the Curragh Camp for almost two years, from August 1922 until May 1924. Drawings of Jack Sr have appeared in prisoner autograph books, including one on display in Kilmainham Gaol. (One of Ballinasloe’s Fianna Fáil cumainn was named after James Keogh, and Jack Sr was secretary of it in 1929).
Jack’s sister Kathleen was also interned for two weeks in April 1923, possibly in Athlone. The Keogh household was raided many times while Jack was on the run. The house was smashed up, with the occupants and any animals found subjected to violence. The youngest of the Keogh children, Frances, was moved to live with a neighbour for her own safety, while her mother Bridget was in hospital. She never moved back into the family home.
Jack came to an ignominious end. He was found dead in the field beside the Technical School in May 1945. The official verdict at the inquest was that he died of accidental poisoning, having drank bird poison while drunk rather than the whiskey he was also carrying at the time.
I occasionally wonder about Jack’s mindset at that point. It looks like he was struggling with alcohol. His family were left behind in Chicago. No doubt local resentments lingered, as much as he might have been lauded by some. If there were rewards to be gained from sacrifices made for his country, they seemed to have passed him by. His brother dead, his family beaten, and he had lost his job as caretaker of the waterworks in the Mental Hospital.
I wonder if in among his books was some Yeats, and did Jack, like many before him and since, ask, “was it for this?”
*Paul Murphy is from Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, and lives in Bray.
Jack Keogh - a timeline
Joined Irish Volunteers (later IRA)
Raided customs and excise office, Ballinasloe
Fired on Dragoon Guards in Garbally
Burned Carrowreagh RIC barracks, Taughmaconnell
Cut woman’s hair for ‘keeping company’ with crown forces
6 months’ imprisonment for ‘seditious literature’
Raided mail cars
Burned tennis court pavilion, Mount Pleasant Ave
Raided Woodlawn RIC barracks
Burned Masonic Hall, Main St
Bombed National (Pro-treaty) forces on Main St, killing 1
Destroyed Eyrecourt barracks
Arrested and imprisoned in Athlone
Escaped and went on the run
Burned Ballinasloe railway station, ambushed railroad patrol
Burned house of agriculture minister
Burned Ahascragh, Lawrencetown and Killimor Civic Guard barracks
Raided Ballinasloe post office
Found guilty and sentenced to 30 years
Entered Maryborough jail
Declared insane and moved to Dundrum Asylum
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