My dad, John B, was a battler all his life but yesterday he lost an eight year struggle against cancer.
My dad loved his own dad as I loved him. Years before my granddad Bill Keane died in 1963, John B wrote:
“I am terribly proud of my
father, / Bitterly, faithfully
proud. / Let none say a word
to my father. / Or mention
his name out loud. /
I adored his munificent
blather. / Since I was his
I am terribly
Proud of my father /
For he was a loveable man.”
As he lay dying this week, I held his frail hand in mine as I told him how terribly proud I am of my father and he said he was terribly proud of his sons and his daughter.
He died a happy man, with his family tending to his every need; he died defying the indignities imposed by the cancers which were slowly sapping the life out of him before our tear-filled eyes; he told us he had no regrets and was ready to meet his maker. These were not just empty words to console us but John B, as usual, telling the truth as he saw it.
There were many tears shed in the Keane household in recent days and not all were shed by the family. Dear friends of many years who came to say goodbye cried their tears. These were hard men he grew up with, in whose eyes I never before saw the slightest hint of moisture over the decades.
Their loss, I could see, was as great as mine. They were losing a great, ever loyal, ally who always stood by his friends, no matter what the cost, and they stood by him.
It was heartbreaking to watch some of these old and young friends weep but enormously rewarding to see my dad had impacted their lives to such a degree that they loved him to the very end.
Christ, I am terribly proud of my father for he was a well-loved man.
For some of his friends it was too much and, as they climbed the stairs to his bedroom, emotion overcame them and they left, vainly fighting back the tears, saying: “I want to remember him the way he was.” Those who could not bear to say goodbye in person phoned every day to inquire how he was.
It is a time of mourning for the Keanes.
I know hundreds will come to the funeral and many more, who would like to be there, will not be able to make it. But all they have to do is raise a glass in tribute sometime today and celebrate the life that was. John B had a great life, lived to the full in the midst of the people of Kerry he adored, in the town of Listowel he loved so well.
John B loved Listowel, its neighbouring rivals on the football field and the people who populated the villages of north Kerry. These were his people, the men, women and children whose lives inspired and inhabited the plays, novels and short stories he wrote.
His fierce honesty was tinged with an affection that left them in no doubt he held the vast majority – from the respectable to the rapscallion – in nothing but the highest regard. Those he could not abide were also left in no doubt as to his feelings.
Everyone is entitled to a special dad, most of us get just that and I was no exception.
My dad was more like an older brother that anything else. It was he who first introduced me to the delights of porter at post match sessions when, as a neophyte, I was allowed a few half pints. The cute hoor knew my capacity to the fluid ounce and was able to ensure that my teenage imbibings did not get out of hand.
On these trips to far foreign fields like Croke Park, Thomond Park, Fitzgerald Stadium and Ballylongford I got to know his contemporaries – the men he liked and loved and above all respected.
He schemed to select small meitheals of my friends to work in the bog so that, afterwards, he could bring us on visits to special haunts like Lynch’s Oyster Tavern in the Spa. There, the labourers were rewarded — with all we could drink and eat — for our day’s hire.
Happy as Larry, we sang our way home to Listowel.
Consequently, the close friends I grew up with became John B’s friends too and were as comfortable in his company as they were in mine. Likewise, dad’s friends are mine. With an ease that never ceased to amaze me, he successfully, and seemingly effortlessly, contrived to weave webs of friendship that span all generations.
In his friends he has left his offspring with a mighty legacy that we are quickly learning is a treasure trove so valuable as to be incalculable and one we will guard dearly.
Some may say my dad was cantankerous because of the views he held so strongly in an Ireland that was very different to today.
Thankfully, these were views too that I held with some enthusiasm. I find it strange that the rare hostile reaction I get comes from people who have long ago lost the war in debates which engaged the country decades ago.
Young people today would find it hard to understand the era of ‘the ban’, when GAA members were prohibited, on pain of expulsion, from playing or even attending so called ‘foreign games’ like soccer and rugby.
John B fought this nonsense tooth and nail and, it has to be said, I saw the inside of Lansdowne Road before I saw Croke Park but, then again, that probably had more to do with the fortunes of the Kerry team at the time than anything else.
John B loved sport; gaelic football was his greatest passion followed by rugby. All the hugging, kissing and diving in soccer spoilt the game for him but he loved it too.
John B’s generosity and sense of fair play never ceased to amaze me. He seldom judged people but did not suffer fools gladly.
Shortly after I was born in 1960, John B penned a poem with the title A Young Father’s Advice To His Sons. It was a long time ago but these stanzas seem to be more apt now that they were then:
They say to walk away is
Ignore the brawl and fast
by-pass the frown.
But what if men are kicked
when they are down —
Jew, Catholic, black men,
white men or brown?
Never walk away,
my beloved few.
Turn the deaf ear to the
Christ was crucified.
Where was faithful friend
To ambush the unwilling
wrought His end?
I hope these few words of mine, and his, help explain why I am proud, terribly proud, of my father, John B.
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