Keogh, John (1740-1817) (DNB00)

KEOGH, JOHN (1740–1817), Irish catholic leader, born in 1740, the son of humble parents, began life as a small tradesman in Dublin. He prospered in business, and acquired, as a zealous Roman catholic, considerable influence among his co-religionists in the Irish metropolis. In 1790 or thereabouts he was elected a member of the catholic committee, at that time under the leadership of Lord Kenmare. His efforts to promote a more active agitation on behalf of catholic emancipation were not at first successful. Early in 1791 he obtained the sanction of the committee to lay the grievances of the Irish catholics before the English ministry, and after three months' sojourn in England he returned to Ireland with a favourable answer to his petition. Meanwhile, however, ‘the Kenmareites,’ acting, as was supposed, under the influence of the Irish government, had resolved to refrain for the time from further petitioning, and to leave the matter in the hands of the Irish parliament. To this policy Keogh was altogether opposed, and on a vote in general committee he succeeded in carrying the majority with him. The defeat of the Kenmareites was followed by their secession, and by the reconstruction of the committee on a wider and more popular basis. Keogh himself, by every means within his power, strove to rouse the catholics from their lethargy, and it was mainly owing to his enthusiasm that the catholic convention assembled in Dublin on 3 Dec. 1792. Acting under his advice, the convention appointed a deputation, of which Keogh was a member, to present to the king a statement of the grievances under which the catholics of Ireland laboured. The deputation was favourably received, and a direct consequence of it was the Relief Act of 1793. The measure owed much to the judicious management of Keogh while it was passing through parliament. Notwithstanding his sympathy with the objects of the United Irishmen, he steadily refused to allow the catholic claims to be compromised by any connection with them. The Relief Act was the great triumph of Keogh's life. When it had passed he felt that the convention had done its work, and forthwith prompted its dissolution.

Keogh had several ardent friends among the United Irishmen, and Wolfe Tone speaks in his letters of sympathetic meetings with Keogh at the latter's house. The Irish government had long possessed certain information that Keogh was in the habit of attending the meetings of the committee of United Irishmen, and shortly before the French expedition sailed in December 1796, he and others of the United Irishmen on whose co-operation the French had counted were placed under arrest. He was subsequently liberated, but the rebellion of 1798 greatly depressed him. Bodily infirmity also confined him to his residence at Mount Jerome, and he gradually ceased to take any active part in public affairs, though he occasionally spoke at catholic meetings. He lived to see the revival of the catholic agitation by O'Connell, but was strongly impressed with the impossibility of obtaining complete emancipation until the catholics could secure the return to parliament of one of their own body. He died on 13 Nov. 1817, and was buried in St. Kevin's churchyard, under a stone erected to his father and mother. Eight years later his wife was laid in the same spot.

Keogh was a man of rough manners, but possessed much natural ability. He was somewhat vain of his personal appearance, and his conduct on the occasion of the catholic deputation to London caused much merriment to his companions; but ‘when he returned home he laid aside his court wig and his court manner, and only retained his Irish feelings.’ His enemies charged him with insincerity, but the charge was unfounded. To Keogh's boast that it was he that had made men of the catholics, O'Connell replied with some truth: ‘If you did, they are such men as realise Shakespeare's idea of Nature's journeymen having made them, and made them badly.’ But the Relief Act of 1793 was very largely due to his generalship of the catholics at a time when they were sunk in apathy and despair.

[Webb's Compendium; Wyse's Catholic Association, i. 123, 137, 144; T. Wolfe Tone's Autobiography, i. 48; Grattan's Life, iv. 81; MacNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 18; Fitzpatrick's Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell, i. 160, ii. 430; Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century; Dublin Evening Post, 22 Nov. 1817.]

R. D.