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1. What is Identity?

Anzac Digger McHugh in uniform

Anzac Digger Mick McHugh

Gerald Keogh in Volunteer uniform

Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh



Mortal Enemies

Irish Volunteer Gerald Keogh was killed in Dublin by Anzac diggers (soldiers of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) at dawn on 25th April 1916 (insets)


Kevin sings of Gerald and Michael

Kevin sings Digger in Dublin

The clash of revered traditions becomes the starting point for our examination of identity 


Songwriters Kevin McCarthy (left) and Geoff McArthur wrote Digger in Dublin – Mick McHugh’s lament for the killing of Gerald Keogh

Listen here:


Starting Point for an Examination of Identity

Dublin GPO

Dublin GPO – headquarters of the Irish rebellion 1916

The 99th anniversary of Easter Tuesday 1916 has passed. It was the day that Gerald Keogh was gunned down at dawn by Anzac troops who were defending Trinity College Dublin against Irish freedom fighters.

Anzac Day 2015 was also the 100th anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This event is often described as the birth of nationhood of these countries.[1]

Given that the 1916 Rising is also considered symbolic of Ireland’s birth pangs into nationhood, Gerald’s death represents a double irony: an accidental clash of potent national symbols, executed through the heroic figures of Irish rebel and Anzac digger.

The collision of revered traditions becomes the starting point for our examination of identity, which is named after Gerald, the victim of this unintended clash.

We begin with the question:

What is Irish Identity?

Responses are often diametrically opposed, polemic or trite, but not necessarily enlightening.

The Irish Times asked readers to tweet their definition of “Irishness”.[2] Their selection included: #beingirishmeans …

  • Having freckles Niall
  • You can mime the whole national anthem Colm Keegan
  • Nothing really. Other than buying into the view that there could possibly be an all-encompassing national stereotype Cathal McQuaid

Academic notions of Irish identity

Academic notions of Irish identity do not guarantee that they are more informative than off-the-cuff tweets. Fintan O’Toole contends that: For very long time now, being Irish has meant negotiating between lots of different allegiances, experiences and contexts.[3] Perhaps this is why the Irish … seem to lack a clear sense of themselves and their own culture.[4] Desmond Fennell takes the argument to its extreme, contending that Ireland has become … a nothing mosaic with no binding identity.[5] In a milieu of cultural confusion it is understandable why Dermot Casey would make the comment that he … never had a good answer to the question ‘What does it mean to be Irish?’’[6]

What a sad fate—many will say—if the Irish emerge after a century of freedom, only to find that they have lost the very essence of what they set out to establish in the first place: their own identity. But what is IDENTITY?


Roof of Trinity College Dublin

Roof of Trinity; location of Anzac marksmen 1916

Overall Aim of The Gerald Keogh Identity Series


The aim of The Gerald Keogh Identity Series is to examine afresh, the enigmatic notion of Identity in a universal sense, beginning with an exploration of Irish identity.

It also aims to provide an innovative understanding of the concept without falling into the trap of dragging up and reworking hackneyed arguments.

Short articles will appear at the start of each month during two years of the Irish Decade of Commemorations and Centenaries, beginning today.


Forgotten Sacrifice

25 Elm Grove Ranelagh

Respectable street – home of Gerald Keogh (left)

Despite giving his life for “the Irish cause”, most authors of the 1916 Rising have no idea who Gerald Keogh was. They often refer to him simply as a “dispatch rider”.

After he was killed Elsie Mahaffy, daughter of the Provost of Trinity College, wrote in her diary that he was … well dressed and from a respectable street. Her comments accurately portray Gerald’s background in that he belonged to a family of drapers (the Keoghs of Ranelagh) and lived in Elm Grove in that suburb.[7]

Anniversaries focus mainly on well-known characters and the 1916 commemorations in Ireland are likely to be no different.

However, Gerald’s life, and that of his family, provide many forgotten vignettes about the Easter Rising but—more importantly—an analysis of the contradictions thrown up by his society becomes the portal that leads to a surprising conclusion about the nature of identity. Follow this Series to find out how.


Coming Next

There Has Never Been a Single Irish identity here


[1] Keogh, R. M. 2015. Anzac Digger and Irish Rebel in a Clash of Potent National Symbols. Independent Australia. DATE

[2] < http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/generationemigration/2012/03/14/freckles-fries-and-philandering-at-mass-what-beingirishmeans/ > 14 Mar 2012

[3] O’Toole, F. 2002. The Clod and the Continent: Irish Identity in the European Union. Essay published by EurUnion; p. 15.

[4] Interview of Finbarr Bradley by Frank Hughes < http://frankarchitecture.ie/wordpress/tag/strong-cultural-perspective/ >

[5] Fennell, D. 2013. Ireland has become a nothing mosaic with no binding identity. Irish Times (opinion; Fri. Jan 25th).

[6] Casey, D. < http://storyful.com/dermot/1000001948-what-does-it-mean-to-be-irish > 30 Mar 2011

[7] Keogh, R. M. 2009. Well  Dressed and from a Respectable Street. History Ireland. Vol. 17 (2): 32-33.

Photos: Gerald KeoghKeogh’s of Ranelagh family archives; Mick McHugh – with kind permission of William Joseph (Bill) McHugh; other photos – R. M. Keogh

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