Edward Keegan – Sudan War veteran with a Republican son

Name of soldier : Edward Keegan

Descendent : Marie Fitzgerald

Edward Keegan had a military career which took him far from his home in the Liberties in Dublin city. A member of the Royal Irish Regiment, be fought in the Egypt and Sudan campaign in the 1880s and was part of the Nile Expedition of 1884-5. Back in Ireland, however, Edward Keegan he would later see his son, Thomas, join the Irish Republicans.

Perhaps Thomas was inspired by his father”s military adventures. Or maybe it was an act of fillial rebellion. Or more likely, Thomas was just caught up in the revolutionary fervour which had developed in Ireland.

It is a fascinating story and we are grateful to Thomas’s Granddaughter Marie for the details and photographs. Keegan is here pictured in his Royal Regiment with blue faced collar and cuffs, and wearing his campaign medals, including the Egypt medal with a clasp for the ‘The Nile 1884-85’ and the Khedive’s Star – the Khedive was the ruling British ally in Eqypt.

The Egypt – Sudan campaigns were a significant series of military operations which secured the British Empire in north east Africa : especially important given that this cornerstone region oversaw the Suez Canal and the naval journey east to Asia. But it was not without difficulty, especially in Sudan where there was an ongoing Mahdi resistance to Egyptian – and British – rule.

The 1st Battalion, Royal Irish had been stationed in Meerut in India when they were ordered to Egypt in August 1884.

The Battle of Tamai in the Sudanese War, 13 March 1884

Apparently, the regiment had originally wore an ugly grey serge similar to that of convicts, and issued from store. But a new fighting kit was devised by their commanding officer Colonel M.J.R MacGregor.

This consisted of a Khaki coloured frock and trousers of cotton drill, and a helmet covered with the same material. Under Colonel MacGregor they were considered ‘the best dressed regiment in India’, where one of their first duties had been to attend a durbar in Rawalpindi.

In the extract below, from a history of the Sudan campaign, the Royal Irish are described as ‘intensely Irish’ and ‘…..easily brightening into excitement when their own stirring national airs are played by the band’.

However, their appearance, on return from Africa, was a different matter. They sailed on the SS Stirling Castle from Alexandria to Plymouth on the 24th August 1885 and on their arrival, ‘want of sleep, and prolonged exertion’ had put its ‘stamp upon every soldier in the campaign. The account describes them looking like’ tramps when they marched in : ragged clothes, almost no boots at all, dusty and very thirsty’.

The whole campaign had been a mixed success. Part of its purpose was a managed withdrawal from Sudan in the face of Mahdi pressure, including the rescue of an ill-fated evacuation mission by General Gordon in Khartoum. However, in the 1890s, the British and Eqyptians tried to reassert control, leading to new hostilities, such as the infamous Battle of Omdurman in 1898, led by the Kerry-born Lord Kitchener.

Your own name : Marie Fitzgerald

Your relative: Great grandfather Edward Keegan

Period of activity: Egypt-Sudan campaign 1880s, Nile Expedition, 1885-86

Specific regiment: Royal Irish Regiment

Area served in : Egypt, Sudan

The Battle of Abu Klea, September 1885, painting by William Barnes Wollen.

Do you have any mementos of Edward, or of his Republican son Thomas ?

Just the photograph of Edward above, in his uniform. And the correspondence relating to Thomas below.

Where are they buried?

My grandfather Tom Keegan (IRA) is buried in Deansgrange cemetery. My great grandfather Edward was apparently buried near St. Nicholas church in Francis Street.

Edward’s son Thomas joined the Anti-Treaty Republicans

Anti Treaty rebels in the Four Courts, under attack from Pro Treaty forces., 1923

Edward’s son Thomas would later join the Irish Republicans and fought in the Irish Civil War, on the Anti Treaty side. He was aged about 19. He lived in North King Street, itself a scene of significant conflict in 1916. His pension details are below. Edward had been living with his family at 54 Francis Street, before moving to North King Street.

Reproduced beneath is the 1911 Census return for 54 Francis Street. James’s mother Elizabeth is listed as a fish dealer and his brother William as a porter at the Abbey Theatre.

Reproduced below is the application form from Thomas Keegan for an Irish War of Independence pension. There was some controversy about the applications for such pensions from Anti-Treaty Republicans, who had, after all, opposed the State and taken up arms against it.

2 thoughts on “Edward Keegan – Sudan War veteran with a Republican son

  1. Interesting, the photo in this post shows a veteran of the Egypt/Sudan campaign. The glengarry badge and collars look like those of the Royal Irish Regiment. There is also a ‘Edward Keegan’ on the medal roll for the Egypt medal with clasp Tel-El-Kebir, born in Dublin in 1862. Can’t find anyone on the medal rolls with the name Keegan who served in the Dubs during the Boer War.

    Liked by 1 person

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