John B. Keane
be elected all right if he gets the Jewish vote in Lyreacrompane".
of the many memorable quotes of the late John B.
B. Keane was born in Listowel on Saturday 28th July 1928. He was
fourth in a family of five boys and four girls. Those who knew him in later life
were surprised to learn that he didn't speak until he was three.
a child, living in the town, he had a great love of the countryside. In "Self-Portrait
" he says, "Always as a small boy I had a longing to go to the
mountains, particularly on sunny mornings when the air was fragrant and the
skies were blue".
the end of his life I interviewed him for my radio programme, "The Story
and The Song". He told me about how he was dispatched "on the
Creamery lorry" to his relatives in the Stacks Mountains during the summer
holidays. " . . . I was dropped off at the Ivy Bridge which for
me was to turn out a magic bridge, because the minute I crossed over that bridge
I became a new man. I began to know something about country people. And they had
a beautiful language, all of their own; half Irish, half English .
. . and when that was fused with the language of Elizabeth . . . it became a
beautiful language altogether, with great range. You'd never be stuck for a
phrase or a word. It's such a beautiful language. I was never as happy as when I
was up there. If I hadn't crossed the Ivy Bridge on that day long ago . . . I
wouldn't have been a writer".
met and observed some very interesting characters in the Stacks. He told a story
about a German named Karl Gutthind who acted as technical advisor to Bord na Mona and, "When the second World War came he left for Germany. The Russians, I'm sure, must have been surprised at his Lyreacrompane accent
and wondered what strange business a Stacksmountainman might have in Stalingrad. He gave me a small flashlight which I swapped a week later for ten Woodbines . .
was to become his life. One early experience would probably have turned a lesser
person against the pen. During an elocution class in school each pupil was asked
to recite a poem. John B. recited "Church Street" which was his
own composition. When asked who wrote it he replied,
"I did Father". " . . . there followed the worst beating of all
and ejection from the class". During
school holidays he worked at many jobs from fowl-buying to toiling on a farm in
wrote a one-act play, "The Ghost of Patrick Drury" which was
performed on the top floor of the Carnegie Library, Church Street, Listowel.
After leaving school he worked as a Chemist's Assistant in his native
town for five years. When he said that he wanted to be a writer and that he was
going to England his boss pointed out a fact that John B. was
to fully agree with later in life, " It's as easy to write here as
was about this time that, with Stan Kennedy, he started a local Newspaper, The
Listowel Leader. The first edition sold 960 copies. There was no
second edition simply because the Editorial, in the first edition, told the
truth about some local Councillors.
Prior to the 1951 General
Election he set up a fictitious political party, the Independent Coulogeous
Party, complete with a fictitious candidate, Tom Doodle, who appeared in
(It's a long story but if enough readers petition the Editor I may be
permitted to tell it in a future edition)
Writers' week 2007 a life-size statue of John B. was unveiled in the small
Square, Listowel by his friend Niall Toibin. (John B's son, Billy, told me, with
true Keane solemnity, that "the statue moves at night"
this year a limestone monument by Kerry Sculptor, Padraig
Tarrant was unveiled in the European Garden by Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker.
(left)Billy Keane with father's statute
following is by no means a comprehensive list of his works but it gives an idea
of his prolific output:
(first staged 1959)
Highest House on the Mountain (1961)
More in Dust (1961)
Young Men of Twenty (1961)
Man from Clare (1962)
Irish Plays (1967)
Year of the Hiker
Field (adapted later as a film of the same name starring actor Richard Harris)
Buds of Ballybunion
of a successful T.D
was always fond of quoting from his works and once
when I was spouting a piece from "The
Chastitute" the motley gathering listening to me shooting my mouth off
thought I was making a boastful autobiographical utterance.
The line in question was, " I was seduced by a sixty-two year old
deserted wife when I was fifteen. After that auspicious beginning I never looked
he could be hot-headed in matters such as Gaelic football, in the area of
understanding the shortcomings of others and forgiveness he was out on his own.
Didn't one of his Characters in "The Bodhran Makers" point out
that no man should be penalised because he had an industrious penis? He laughed
heartily when a person, who hadn't seen "Sive" condemned it on
the grounds that, "'Tis all about bastards isn't it?"
Writer's Week 2002 I walked behind the coffin of
this, the humblest of men, who only wanted to be
remembered as.." . . the player who scored the winning point in the
North Kerry Intermediate Football Final against Duagh in 1951".
was moved to take up my pen and make a feeble effort to commemorate him:
you went you told us not to cry.
that sad night.
the show go on" you said and then "goodbye".
shouldn't question why you had to die
you went you told us not to cry
Writer's Week had opened,
it's thirty-second year,
poet and peasant mingle
absorb Listowel's good cheer.
cloud crossed hill and valley
Carnsore to Malin Head,
news went 'round our island
great John. B. is dead"
who walked with King and beggar
lift his pen no more,
bring out the hidden Ireland
no one did before.
put insight in their stead.
world stage is brighter
The "Kingdom's King" is dead.
dialogue of two Bococs
known in every town.
the Ivy Bridge links Broadway
the hills of Renagown.
men of twenty emigrate
Sharon's Grave is read,
a Chastitute 's forlorn
memory won't be dead.
stepped out from the pages
The Man From Clare and Sive
walk behind his coffin
Soul, with One-Way Ticket
The Highest House has sped,
this world has lost a genius;
great John. B. is dead.
Mattie Lennon 2002
to music by John Hoban.)
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