By Philip Kehoe
For many Irish people, living in Ireland and abroad, 2016 is sure to be a special year as the nation reflects upon one of its most defining eras in recent history – The Easter Rising, 1916. Dublin and all the major cities of Ireland will be a hive of activity this Easter as parades, talks and ceremonies take place in which the pivotal landmarks and influential figures will be remembered for the huge role they played in the shaping of Irish history.
Names such as Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke and their comrades will be hailed for the bravery of their actions throughout the nation’s capital.
Smaller centenary celebrations will also take place in communities around Ireland, as the country remembers the lives lost in ‘The Rising’. Historians in villages and town will recall the tragic and heroic stories of the local men and women who bravely fought and died for the Irish cause. The life of Nurse Margaret Kehoe is a story which is largely untold, but is no less symbolic and emotive.
At the age of 49, Nurse Margaret was killed in uniform whilst on duty in The South Dublin Union, now St. James’ Hospital, on Easter Monday, the first day of the rising.
Regarded now as the first female casualty and the first non-combatant casualty of the rising, Nurse Kehoe’s death embodied the sad struggle of many Irish people at the time in a fractured society.
Margaret Kehoe (sometimes Keogh), daughter of Patrick Kehoe, coroner of County Carlow, and Marion Nolan, was born in Orchard House, Leighlinbridge, County Carlow on 17 March, 1867.
The area at the time was a small rural community in which agriculture was predominant.
Margaret’s mother, Marion, died in childbirth in 1876 when Margaret was only nine years of age. It is believed she was sent to live with relatives, however, much of this early period of her life remains unknown.
The Kehoe family, from Orchard, are famous for many war heroes who died in battle over the years. Margaret was niece of Myles Walter Keogh, ‘Beau Sabreur’, a famous captain in the American Civil War.
Myles Walter, born in Orchard House, also volunteered at the age of 20 to fight for Pope Pious IX in the Papal War in 1860, in which he served as a second lieutenant of his unit. After the Papal War had ended, Myles Walter was recruited to fight in the American Civil War. After the war finished, Keogh was appointed as captain in the American army as part of the US 7th Cavalry in 1866.
Under the command of General George Custer, Captain Keogh was given command of Company 1. It was under the command of Custer that Keogh became most famous. The Battle of the Little Bighorn proved to be Captain Keogh’s last battle as he died in one of the most brutal battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876.
Margaret began to work in the South Dublin Union in 1897. According to the Irish Military historian Paul O’Brien, “The South Dublin Union workhouse catered for Dublin City’s destitute, infirm and insane. The complex was spread over fifty acres consisting of an array of hospital buildings that housed 3,282 people including patients, doctors, nurses and ancillary staff.”
Located near Heuston Station and minutes from the G.P.O., The Union was seen as one of the most important buildings around the city, because of its strategic location.
The South Dublin Union sustained heavy attacks in the early part of the Easter Week, and in particular on Easter Monday, the day on which Nurse Kehoe was killed.