The First Martyr of the Easter Rising

Patrick Pearse stood by the steps of the General Post Office (G.P.O.) on O’Connell Street and declared that “the Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman.”

Masses of people lined the streets to celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising this weekend, and pay tribute to the brave individuals that were responsible for driving the rebellion. Whilst the actions of Connolly, Pearse, Macdonagh, Diermada, Ceannt etc. were rousing, there are other unsung heroes that tend to be overlooked in these celebrations. Of course it is the same with every memorial and mass act, but I feel that it is always the responsibility of someone to remind the people of these unsung heroes.

On this occasion, I would like to inform you of a brave Irishwoman from Co. Carlow. Margaret Keogh – who was dubbed the ‘first martyr’ of the rebellion – was a nurse in the South Dublin Union who was killed whilst risking her life to care for the wounded. It is said that during a momentary lull of gunfire, Nurse Keogh entered a corridor to aid those that were wounded; only to be shot and killed instantly by two riflemen.

Regardless of the intentions the riflemen had – whether it was an instinctive reaction to shoot at a moving target, or whether it was deliberate – the fact still remains that Nurse Keogh lost her life by attempting to ensure others were treated. She put the lives of others before her own, because the civilians in Dublin had not expected this sudden rebellion. If I were in a hostile environment surrounded by gunfire, I’m not sure that I would have the courage to risk my life to check on a wounded stranger. Yet Nurse Keogh did exactly that because – and this is so very true in the present day and current warzones – who else is going to do it? Who else is going to step up to protect the injured whilst everyone else resumes firing death at each other?

There are debates over the causes and intentions of the shooting, with the main outrage deriving from the fact she was wearing her nurses uniform, and therefore that should have notified soldiers not to shoot. But today I choose not to indulge in these details, and instead focus on the bigger picture. Nurse Keogh’s actions were undoubtedly heroic, and Eamonn Ceannt recognised this by ordering his garrison to remember Keogh and her tragic martyrdom.

Unfortunately, it was only in 2009 that Keogh’s story seemed to resurface, as the account of her death seemed to become overshadowed by other actions and deaths. But now, we can remember her for the compassionate and selfless woman she was. Her bravery was, and forever shall be, inspiring; and her legacy may serve to strengthen the representation of noble Irishwomen, both throughout history and in the future.

The Nightingale of the Nation
As you remember the brave men
who stirred a terrible beauty,
spare a thought for a brave woman
murdered for doing her duty.
Walking beside the underdog
in the slums of Dublin city,
Nurse Keogh was a true emblem
of peace and equality.
She wore her uniform proudly
as she fought in her own battle,
branching off her family tree
above Captain Keogh’s title.
A soldier for the innocent
who was martyred for compassion;
we should mark her magnificent:
the Nightingale of the Nation.

In memory of Margaret Keogh, the forgotten first victim of the Easter Rising.

Photo by: Photocall Ireland


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