Patrick Kieran Keogh obituary: an officer who distinguished himself with the UN

The young Irish officer played a crucial role when monitoring the ‘truce’ following the Arab-Israeli six-day war in 1967

Brigadier-General Keogh: he was instrumental in the organisation and erection of a memorial at Finner Camp in Co Donegal to the memory of Irish troops lost on duty with UNIFIL

Brigadier-General Keogh: he was instrumental in the organisation and erection of a memorial at Finner Camp in Co Donegal to the memory of Irish troops lost on duty with UNIFIL

 

Patrick Kieran Keogh

Born: April 21st, 1934

Died: April 27th, 2019

Following the Arab-Israeli six-day war in 1967, which saw Israel conquer the Palestinian West Bank and the Sinai peninsula, the United Nations set up UNTSO, the United Nations’ Truce Supervisory Organisation, with personnel stationed along the Suez canal, in Jerusalem and in Damascus. The “truce” proved to be one in name only, and was plagued over the next few years by constant breaches.

It was into this situation in early 1969 that there stepped a young Irish Army captain, Patrick “Pat” Keogh, seconded by the government after a request by the UN for troops from neutral countries to staff UNTSO. Keogh, who died aged 83 last April, was to play a crucial role in monitoring the ceasefire and its troubles over the next 18 months

Keogh distinguished himself so well as an observer [whose job was to monitor all breaches of the ceasefire and use of weapons by UNTSO] that the Norwegian commander of the force, General Odd Bull, came down to meet with and congratulate the Irish officer.

Such was the meticulousness of Keogh’s work he was promoted quickly to commandant at the early age of 32, and became commanding officer of operations for the monitoring group in the canal zone.

“He had tremendous qualities of leadership, cajoling and pleading” with a diverse group of UN soldiers from around the globe, and with the combatants, declining to retire to shelter when fighting broke out, according to Col Stephen O’Grady (retired), who served with Keogh on UNTSO.

He described how Keogh was particularly effective in persuading Egyptians to stop declaring that UN officers, whom they felt had slighted their troops, as “personae non grata,” or PNGs as they became known.

“Pat had the strength and personality to persuade the Egyptians to stop the practice,” added Col O’Grady.

“There was fighting every day. The Egyptians were on the western side of the canal, the Israelis on the eastern side, with only 200 metres separating them, …in 10 minutes the whole canal zone would be a battle zone.”

On each resumption of violence the civilian UN workers whose job it was to provision the UN force often deserted their posts, leaving Keogh and a few UN troops to supply the force. On one occasion Keogh was “nearly killed” after his truck hit a bomb crater. They were also attacked by Israeli jets, with Keogh’s water supply tank riddled with bullets.

Keogh was transferred to Damascus, effectively promoted by Gen Bull, who made him chief of operations in the Syrian capital.

Niemba ambush

Keogh had had another exceptionally difficult time as a young lieutenant when serving with the Army’s 34th Battalion during a UN operation in Katanga in 1961, arriving in the hostile Baluba territory in the northeast of the Congolese province some months after the loss of nine Irish soldiers of the 33rd Battalion in the infamous Niemba ambush of November 1960.

His work then was characterised by another former colleague Lieut Col Terry O’Neill as “difficult patrolling in heavy bush where it was easy to be attacked”.

Later work with international forces – subsequent to his period from 1994-1996 as CO of Western Command, Galway – saw Keogh serve as an acting major-general with the European Community military mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1996-1997, where, very probably in recognition of his UN experience as a peace-making soldier, he was deputy head of the mission.

Throughout his military career Keogh played a number of significant roles, notably as second-in-command of the 56th Infantry Battalion in Lebanon in 1984; as chief instructor of the infantry school from 1987; and as senior operations officer with UNIFIL, the UN Force in Lebanon, from 1988; and as director of intelligence from 1991.

Perhaps in part as a result of his UN experience in the Middle East he was instrumental in the organisation and erection of a memorial at Finner Camp in Co Donegal to the memory of Irish troops lost on duty with UNIFIL.

Conditions

In what today would certainly be seen as a particularly relevant action, he made representations to the Gleeson Commission in the early 1990s, seeking better pay and conditions for service personnel. He retired officially with the rank of brigadier-general in 1997.

Patrick Kieran Keogh was born to a small farming and business background in east Co Galway, one of seven children of Edward and Mary (nee Wall) Keogh. He was educated at Garbally College and the Army Cadet School, where he captained the rugby XV. He later played both for the Army’s First XV and for Athlone RFC when stationed in the town following his commissioning. A keen sportsman, he also loved hurling and wildfowling.

Brigadier-General Keogh is survived by his widow Carmel (nee Murray), his children Orla, Caiman, Cathal and Shane, by his sisters Siobhan, Carmel and Collette, and by his brother Eamonn. His brother Noel predeceased him.