John Keogh (1740-1817)

Life
b. Dublin 1740; Dublin tradesman and silk-merchant; part of Catholic Committee delegation to London, 1792, meeting Edmund Burke on that occasion; formed Catholic Convention in Tailor’s Hall, 1792, leading to Catholic Relief Act for freeholders under the terms of the Act of 33 George III. c. 21, passed mainly through his efforts, 1793; he was respected by Wolfe Tone and associated with the Dublin United Irishmen, hosting them at his mansion at Harold’s Cross; inclined to revolution though differing with their Republican sentiments; arrested by the Govt., and released in 1796; led delegation to see Pitt; d. 13 Nov. 1817; bur. St. Kevin’s Church, Camden Row; he is mentioned in John Mitchel’s History of Ireland (1869); there is a life by Denis Gwynn (ca.1905). DIB FDA WJM

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Works
  • Thoughts on equal representation; with hints for improving the manufactures and employment of the poor of Ireland. By John Keogh, (Dublin: printed by T. Heery 1784), 14pp, 8° [NLI]. See also A Letter to John Keogh, Esq. on the subject of a late meeting. By a Roman Catholic (1795), 14pp. [NLI].
  • A Sequel to the Serious Examination into the Roman Catholic Claims ... with remarks on some late publications of Mr. Keogh, Mr. Quin, etc. By T. Le Mesurier, in T. Le Mesurier, ed., Tracts on the Roman Catholic Question, &c., Pt. 2 (1809), 8º.  [BL]
  • Sketch of a speech delivered by John Keogh, Esq. at a meeting of the Catholics of Dublin, held at the Star and Garter, Essex Street, January 24, 1807 : and published at the desire of a subsequent meeting, held at the same place, the 7th of February inst / reported by Edward Hay [Secretary of the Meeting] (London: London : printed by T. Collins ... for J. Booker 1807), 20pp., 8°/20cm. [Oxford]. 
 

See also George Croly, Popery & the Popish Question, being an exposition of the political and doctrinal opinions of Messrs. O’Connell, Keogh, Dromgole, Gandolphy, &c. &c. (London: G. B. Whittaker 1825), 147pp., 8º; and note [?unrelated] series of House of Lords hearings involving Mary Frances Lincoln, widow, appelant, and John Keogh [fl.1773], respondent.

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Criticism
Denis Gwynn, John Keogh: The Pioneer of Catholic Emancipation (Dublin: Talbot Press 1930), 76pp., ill. [19cm.].

C. Litton Falkiner, Studies in Irish History and Biography (London: Longman & Co [1901]), writes of speaks Keogh’s ‘modified Catholic claims’ and his ‘agitation loyal to Constitution’ as ‘first plebeian leader of Catholics’.

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Commentary
Henry Grattan, Jnr., Life of Henry Grattan (1839-46): ‘He [Keogh] was the ablest man of the Catholic body; he had a powerful understanding, and few men of that class were superior in intellect, or even equal to him. His mind was strong and his head was clear; he possessed judgment and discretion, and had the art to unite and bring men forward on a hazardous enterprise, and at a critical moment. He did more for the Roman Catholics than any other individual of that body. To his exertions the meeting of the Convention [held at the Tailors’ Hall, Back-lane, 2nd December 1792] was principally owing, and their success in procuring the elective franchise. He had the merit of raising a party, and bringing out the Catholic people. Before his time they were nothing; their bishops were servile, and Dr. Troy, Archbishop of Dublin, though an excellent man, was under the influence of the Castle ... At the outset of life he [Keogh] had been in business, and began as an humble tradesman. He contrived to get into the Catholic Committee, and instantly formed a plan to destroy the aristocratic part, and introduce the democratic. He wrote, he published, he harangued, and strove to kindle some spirit among the people... When Keogh went to London [as a delegate of the Catholics in 1792] he was introduced to Mr. Burke, who liked him, and said that he possessed parts that were certain to raise him in the world. The account of that mission afforded Mr. Burke and Mr. Grattan much amusement — seeing Keogh and the other delegates on their journey to London, admitted to the first court in Europe, going in great state, and making a splendid appearance... He was highly delighted with his position, looked very grand and very vain — he seemed to soar above all those he had left in Ireland. But when he returned home he had too much good sense to preserve his grandeur; he laid aside his court wig and his court manner, and only retained his Irish feelings.’ (p.154; quoted in Alfred Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878.)

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Wolfe Tone wrote of Keogh: ‘I can scarcely promise myself ever to see him again, and I can sincerely say that one of the greatest pleasures which I anticipated in case of our success was the society of Mount Jerome, where I have spent many happy days, and some of them serviceable to the country. It was there that he and I used to frame our papers and manifestoes. It was there we drew up the petition and vindication of the Catholics which produced such powerful effects both in England and Ireland.’ (Quoted in Alfred Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography, Dublin: M. H. Gill 1878; but see Tone’s remarks quoted by Maureen Wall, as infra.

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Maureen Wall, ‘The Making of Gardiner’s Relief Act, 1781-82’, in Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, Collected Essays, ed. Gerard O’Brien (1989): At the time of the first Relief Act 1872, the Catholics were pressured into withdrawing from the Volunteers [see Henry Grattan, supra.] John Keogh was summoned by the Castle and threatened with a renewal coercion - in short, ‘new penal laws’. He counterthreatened that the Catholic gentry would conform to the established Church (a ‘menace of conformity’), and in that character would seek to ensure that the Catholics ‘receive some share in the constitution’ ... An account of the preceedings is to be found in Matthew O’Conor’s manuscript continuation of his History of the Catholics. [160].

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Maureen Wall, ‘John Keogh and the Catholic Committee’ (in ibid., 1989, pp.163-70): John Keogh, b. son of a Connaught spalpeen; apprenticed to an Isle of Man smuggler (possibly apocryphal), then employee of Mary Francis Lincoln, and next her partner when she moved from Francis St. to the eagle in Dame St., in the 1770s. Keogh set up as a silk-mercer on his own account at the Sign of the Peacock in Dame St., in 1772; he made money from brewing also; and by 1775 he leased 3,000 acres in County Sligo, later adding property outright in Sligo and Leitrim after the first relief acts. Made his first appearance as representative to the Catholic Committee for the town of Enniscorthy, in July 1782. He occupied a mansion at Mount Jerome. He quickly showed himself of a different metal from the founders, who had confined themselves more cautiously to pamphleteering (pseudonymously) and to preparing addresses and petitions placating lords lieutenant and the king. When the newly constituted and less obsequious Catholic Committee decided to refer their cause directly to the English government in 1791, Keogh went to London and formed a front with Edmund Burke. The evidence they presented convinced Pitt, who pressed the lord lieutenant to make concessions, so necessary in the context of growing French influence.’ [Cont.]

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Maureen Wall (‘John Keogh and the Catholic Committee’, 1989) - cont.: ‘The Irish establishment - Fitzgibbon, Foster, and Sir John Parnell - dismissed Keogh as an upstart; the Catholic Committee set about constituting itself a a fully representative body, or parliament, and petitioned the king in 1792. Wolfe Tone was now acting directly for Keogh as secretary of the Committee, in succession to Richard Burke. Keogh travelled the country stirring up enthusiasm and - as Tone put it - ‘converting’ Catholic bishops to the idea of a Catholic Convention in Dublin. Under the name of ‘Gog’, Keogh comes alive in Tone’s diary; ‘gog is jealous of everybody ... Gog is insufferably vain and fishing for compliments ... Gog determined to shine ... Gog has not the strength of minde to co-operate fairly; he must do all, or seem to do all, himself.’ Self-effacement was to be Tone’s role, ‘It would not be to his advantage to be thought wiser than Gog. Much Better to stand behind the curtain and advise him.’ in spite of government dissuasion, the Catholic delegates to the number of three hundred assembled in the Tailor’s Hall in Back Lane - the so-called Back Lane Parliament. John Keogh was one of the five delegates sent to London to present the petition asking for complete emancipation which emerged from their week of debate, speeches, and resolutions. Crossing to London via Belfast, they were fêted by the United Irishmen. Keogh was engaged in private by the English ministers, and would not divulge what had passed, causing bad feeling. On their return to Dublin, he advised accepting a diluted proposal. Tone recorded, ‘And so Gog’s puffing has come to this. I always though, when the crisis arrived, that he would be shy.’ [Cont.]

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Maureen Wall (‘John Keogh and the Catholic Committee’, 1989) - cont.: Keogh was warm for revolution when the Dublin government passed the convention Act of 1793, preventing further gatherings of representative Catholic bodies after the weak relief measure of 1793 which gave franchise but not right of membership of parliament. A Castle record shows however that he ‘made his peace with government’ in 1797, although he was probably preening himself for the role of head of the provision government if Hoche’s landing had come in 1796 as first intended. Keogh disociated himself completely from Tone’s mission to France, and was the only one of Tone’s old associated to come through the events of 1798 unscathed. Keogh emerged from Mount Jerome in 1805 when talk of a pertition to parliament was again mooted, but his insistence that he alone understood diplomacy was dismissed angrily by the younger generation led by Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell, however, never failed to flatter him, calling him ‘the venerable father of the Catholic cause’. By 1809 O’Connell succeeded in challenging his pre-eminence in the Catholic councils. It was Keogh, however, who conceived the plan of putting up a Catholic candidate in the Clare election of 1829. [163-69].

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Maureen Wall (‘John Keogh and the Catholic Committee’, 1989) - cont.: Wall remarks in summary: ‘As far as aims went, the two men [viz., Keough and O’Connell] had much in common. Neither was a nationalist in the modern sense of the word. Neither was a republican. Both paid frequent and fulsome tribute to the Crown and to the British Constitution, asking only to be admitted to all the priveliges guaranteed to subjects under the constitution. They did not desire to separate the two countries. What they desired for Irish Catholics was what today would be called integration. It had been the constant demand of Irishmen since the twelfth century and of Irish Catholics since the Reformation - a demand for English law, or for the equality of all the inhabitants of Ireland before the law.’ [169-70]. [Cont.]

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Maureen Wall (‘John Keogh and the Catholic Committee’, 1989) - cont.: A savage attack on John Keogh appeared in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 29 March 1792; other charges were made in Watty Cox, Irish Magazine (1812), p.404. Keogh claimed to have 2,000 tenants on his estates in 1792; see his speech printed in Report of the debate at a general meeting of the Roman Catholics of the city of Dublin held at the Music Hall, Fishamble St., Friday 23 1792 (Dublin 1792). See also the speech of Keogh [idem], in which he defends his self-made status with the assertion that it is no disgrace to be without ‘a hereditary estate in a country where robbery, under the form of confiscation or the penal code, had deprived all the ancient Irish of their property’ (see Francis Plowden, History of Ireland, 1801-10, iii, app., p.43). Though he refers to himself as ‘the humblest of Milesians’ (Keogh to Charles O’Conor in The O’Conor’s of Connacht, p.298), it is interesting to note that his land purchases were mostly in and around the ancient seat of the Keogh [mac Eochaid] family in Co. Roscommon [see Edward Lysaght, Irish Families].

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody (1992), John Keogh writes offering Burke ‘truly informed’ intelligence about the Irish situation, Nov. 1796. Burke warns Keogh against his Protestant friends in the United Irishmen, ‘a strong, Republican, Protestant faction in Ireland, which has persecuted the Catholicks as long as persecution would answer their purpose; and now the same faction would dupe them to become accomplices in effectuating the same purposes; and thus either Tyranny or seduction would accomplish their ruin.’ [570] For correspondence with Keogh in which Burke expresses his distress at finding Theobald Wolfe Tone acting as Secretary for the Catholic Committee, see Tone, RX. FURTHER, Burke describes Keogh as ‘a man that on the whole I think ought not to be slighted, tho’ he is but too much disposed to Jacobin principles and connexions in his own nature and is a Catholic only in Name, &c’ (Corr. IX, p.120; letter of 18 Nov. 1796 to Laurence). Writing to Fitzwilliam, Burke described him as a ‘franc Jacobin’ &c. (Corr IX., p.120) [571]

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Marianne Elliot, Wolfe Tone (1990) notes that he was a successful silk merchant and a leader of the new initiative of the Catholic committee, his house being its chief meeting place.

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 1, Remarks, 816 [The lethargic Thomas Browne, 4th Viscount Kenmare (1726-95) replaced by much more energetic John Keogh as leader of the Catholic Committee in 1783, acc. Seamus Deane, ed.]; 1075, 1077 [in the changing balance of power with the Catholic Committee in the years before 1812, the unease felt by John Keogh (1740-1817) in relation to the relentless genius of the young Daniel O’Connell was focused at least once on the Irish that O’Connell’s greater agression might result either in the unfortunate achievement of catholic ascendancy or (more likely) in inflaming the more than adequate fears of the Protestants; thus inside the committee in Jan. 1811, Dr. Thomas Drumgoole (c.1750-c.1826) begged ‘leave to inform Mr Keogh that the committee disclaimed any such ascendancy’ (Life and Speeches of Dan. O’Connell, ed. John O’Connell, Duffy 1846, p.69). ... [With reference to Edward Byrne, chairman of the Catholic Committee in 1792] John Keogh reminded his audience of their economic power, ‘My respectable friend near me pays the revenues of this country 80,000 l. a year’ [Proceedings at the Catholic Meeting of Dublin duly Convened on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at the Exhibition Room, Exchequer Street .., Dublin: H. Fitzpatrick, 1792). Keogh was himself a merchant of very considerable wealth, a model Dublin bourgeois (though highly radicalised) but for the laws that excluded him, as a catholic, from participation in the councils of the city; acc. W. J. McCormack, ed.]; 1105 [John Wilson Croker makes reference to Keogh among a list of the ‘furious, shallow, and bigotted’, in A sketch of the state of Ireland, past and present (1808)]. See also FDA2, 277 [John Mitchel, Fall of Feudalism (1904), Chap. XI: ‘Keogh and O’Connell reaped to some extent the fruits of Emmet’s, Fitzgerald’s and Tone’s sacrifices’; and ftn., Keogh sympathised with United Irishmen but feared their revolutionary violence would compromise Catholic claims]; 932n. [Keogh owned a fine house at Harold’s Cross, ftn. to Yeats’s Words Upon the Window-pane].

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Notes
Portrait: There is an account of John Keogh, together with a portrait [permission of William Keogh, Esq.] in in Jacob, The Rise of the United Irishmen 1791-94 (1927), p.50 facing; etc.

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