The family origins and early life of John Keogh (1740–1817), who was among the more important figures in the Catholic politics of his day, are obscure. By the time he began to make his name as a member of the Catholic Committee in the 1780s, he had accumulated a considerable fortune in trade and land. In the last two decades of the eighteenth century some sought to integrate the Catholic community into the established order, while others sought to use the Catholic question as an instrument to induce fundamental political change. Keogh's adherence to the latter position quickly became clear when he joined in agitation for the admission of Catholics to political power. In the early 1790s, as a member of the United Irishmen, Keogh played an important part in displacing the conservative leadership of the Catholic body, which now adopted a more aggressive stance. A substantial Catholic relief measure followed in 1793, but this owed its enactment chiefly to the desirability of conciliating Catholics as the war with republican France began. After a brief adherence to Wolfe Tone's revolutionary conspiracy, Keogh withdrew from political life and his attempt to reenter it in 1805 was ineffectual.
Keogh was treated with deference by his fellow political activists: they no doubt found it useful to accommodate his vain self-image as the undisputed and triumphant champion of Irish Catholics. In reality, he showed an aptitude for quick retreat from the extreme positions he had adopted, when subjected to persuasion or pressure by those in power. Such was his conduct as a Catholic negotiator in 1793 and again as a republican conspirator in 1797. Whatever gratitude the Catholic body owed to Keogh for its political advances, it owed just as much to other leaders and far more to the circumstances of the times.
SEE ALSO Catholic Committee from 1756 to 1809; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1778 to 1795—Parliamentary and Popular Politics; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1795 to 1800—Repression, Rebellion, and Union; United Irish Societies from 1791 to 1803
Bartlett, Thomas, The Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation: The Catholic Question, 1690–1830. 1992.
Wall, Maureen. "John Keogh and the Catholic Committee." In Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century: Collected Essays of Maureen Wall. 1989.
C. D. A. Leighton