Brother Macartan Keegan

Historical Documents - Brother Macartan Keegan 

Kevin Scott Secretary of the Patrician Brother' Inner Sydney Schools Alumni wrote a comprehensive history of how Brother Macartan Keegan foundered the Glebe District Hockey Club. The article was published last week in the Alumni's February 2007 Journal/Newsletter called The Green Sash. Kevin has given his permission for the Article to be posted on the GDHC Web Site.

Click on this link to view the article from The Green Sash - Brother Macarten Keegan, Founder of Glebe Hockey Club. By Kevin Scott

Brother Maurice Macartan Keegan


Michael Keegan, known to his friends as Maurice, was born in Galway, on the West coast of Ireland, in 1885, into a Catholic working class family. After being educated through the Catholic school system in Galway, he decided he wanted to become a pupil teacher, and after qualification took a post as Assistant in a National School at Drogheda, Ireland. However, he decided after two years of teaching to join the Patrician Brothers, possibly as a chance to educate others around the world. After taking his vows in August 1908, he adopted his religious name Macartan and was told he was to be transferred to St. George's College in the Punjab region of India one month later.

It was a tough call for Br. Keegan, as 1.2 million Indians had died of the plague the year before, with many refusing inoculation as they saw it as a threat worse than the disease it could heal. Also, India at the time was under British rule and unrest was starting to occur in various regions of Punjab. Shyamji Krishnavarma, editor of the Indian Sociologist, wrote in 1909, "I solemnly warn anyone against the risks they run by going to India in these troubled times, since every Englishman who goes there is regarded as a potential enemy by the Indian Nationalist party and its supporters." At only 23 Br. Keegan's job would have been to educate Hindus on the benefits of Catholicism and Western education, something that would have been entirely different to the people of Punjab, and would have been an enormous challenge.

While Br. Keegan would have learnt a lot about himself and other cultures, it was in the Punjab where he learnt a game that he is now famous for playing and establishing: hockey. It is a testament to Br. Keegan that he not only learnt from the people of Mussoorie (a town in Punjab) how to play hockey, but he became so good that he was selected in the All Indian hockey team, a great effort considering India at the time were undisputed world champions.

Br. Keegan continued to serve the Patrician Brothers during WWI, in which many Indians were conscripted to fight for the British cause, and was in India to see the rise of India's most famous man, Mohandas Gandhi. With the Indian plight against the British continuing, Keegan returned home for a holiday in 1926, only to find the Irish Republican movement in full cry. In his home of Galway, after a British policeman was murdered, three IRA men were seized in the middle of the night, and were shot dead. This was far from an isolated incident and Keegan's wish to return to a peaceful homeland was not granted. However, he remained in Ireland for two years as Principal at the Secondary school at Mallow, before transfer to Australia in 1929.

While Australia may have experienced less violence than Ireland or India, these were not easy times, as the Great Depression hit many Australians hard. During this time, Br. Keegan introduced hockey to the various schools he taught at, no doubt as a way for people to escape the burdens of everyday life. At Holy Cross Ryde, he instituted hockey as a sport for boys and men, and in 1929 both teams reached the semis. Then, in 1930 the A team went through undefeated with Br. Keegan as captain-coach, winning the Premiership 4-0 and scoring 83 goals to 10 against. He was described in the Holy Cross Ryde newsletter as "Centre half and trainer of the team, who employed knowledge of the game which he learnt when playing in India, with extremely good results. Always a hard player, and usually at his best when his team was hard put." No doubt over the years Br Keegan had to come through much adversity. This experience would have helped him enormously on the hockey field.

In 1931 he was transferred to Forest Lodge, Glebe, to teach, and there he established the St. James Sports Club Hockey Team with a group of students, some current, some graduated. Being the only player with experience, he was captain coach, and was described as being "tough crafty and as hard as nails, but always fair." In their inaugural year the team went on to claim the B grade Premiership, winning the Kippax Cup. The team was promoted to A grade 2nd division the next year. Br. Keegan, aged 47, did not take the field, instead focusing on coaching the team. It came as no surprise that they won the competition that year also, this time undefeated. The following year the club was awarded District Status, as it had a first and third grade team, and became known as the Glebe District Hockey Club, thus Br. Keegan became the club's founder and patron, as he continued to serve Glebe until 1937, "providing yeoman service to the club", as one report noted. Br Keegan's influence on Glebe Hockey was; his tough Irish play, but always fair, (let's not forget - he was a man of God!); his belief in short passing and combinations rather than individual brilliance; his determination to instil the notion of 'no train, no game', and his general enjoyment and love of the game, which included having a beer afterwards with team-mates and opposition. The Glebe Club has since flourished, well over 10 000 people have played for the club that has since won 26 first grade, and numerous lower grade Premierships. It is written in Under the Arches, the history of the Glebe Hockey Club that "the hockey tradition in Glebe owes much to Macartan Keegan, who became something of a folk hero in the district". This period of Br. Keegan's time in Sydney would certainly have been his most relaxed, as Australia recovered from the Depression.

However, as Br. Keegan had spent so much of his adult life in India, the desire to return became too much, and he left Australia for St. George's College, Mussoorie, in 1938. He was instantly back into the action, as in the Punjab region there were violent religious clashes between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and continuing protests over the British rule by Muslim tribes. Br. Keegan moved to St. Anthony's, Lahore, where there was demand for an independent Muslim state which meant greater violence in the region, with the death toll nearing 100 a day. With the outbreak of WWII and many Indians jailed for protests against British rule, the violence perhaps became too much for the 56 year-old Br. Keegan, and he died in Lahore of hypertension (high blood pressure) on April 12,1941. There is little doubt he continued to be interested in hockey when he returned to India, and would have told many of the club he established back in Glebe. So much that his gravestone reads, "Introduced hockey into Australia."

Endnote: In a testament to the Brother from Galway, The Glebe Hockey Club established The Brother Maurice Macartan Keegan Trophy for "the Junior Player who constantly plays an unselfish team game, supports their mates, never gives up and is able to accept victory and defeat equally."

Leave a comment