Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Billy's tribute to his father, John B. Keane

Because it fell during Writers' Week, I overlooked sharing this gem with you. I'm posting it this week instead, just after Fathers' Day, as a very appropriate time to read it.
Because  The  Irish Independent only puts part of the paper online, I had to type this up myself. I hope there are not too many typos in it.


My father the hero 1953 intermediate final

by Billy Keane

He couldn't watch an all Ireland.  Off with him then.  Out to Dirrha bog, he walked at speed for the 70 and prayed for Kerry until the rosary beads nearly fell off the chain from the constant erosion between his thumb and index finger.

My dad always knew the result of the match before he ever got back to the car.  If Kerry were beaten, walkers would be out on the wetlands within minutes of the final whistle.  They couldn't bear to watch another county lift Sam.  Their forlorn faces and funereal gait told their own story.

If not a soul appeared in the bog, on would go the car radio and Michaél O Muircheartaigh or Weeshie Fogarthy or Liam Higgins would tell him that Kerry won.

Then he would watch the recording.  And he'd watch it again every couple of days after that until the following May when the championship started and there were new games to be savoured.

His 10th anniversary was on Wednesday last.  I'm not as sad as you might think.  Not that I don't miss him.  He was great sport.

It was about a fortnight before dad died that another John Keane passed away.  John's sister Nora is married to Tadhg Moriarty and the Moriartys are our friends and allies.  Eugene Moriarty, who finished fourth in the world cycling championship, is one of the clan and is a true Corinthian.

Dad insisted on going to the graveyard.  He was weak and very wobbly on his feet.  On the way out he looked at me and said: "sure it is hardly worth my while going home."

We broke down laughing even though both of us were fully aware the ref was lifting the whistle to his mouth and that he would be back there for a good, sooner rather than later.

We planted him in the left half forward position.  There is no dice throw of pebbles over his grave.  It's grass, like the small square in the football field over the wall.

On Monday night he will hear the shouts of players and spectators in the John B Keane League.  He'll be sitting on the arch of a Celtic Cross, legs dangling as he looks out over the graveyard wall into Frank Sheehy Park.  He'd be cheering on his granddaughter.  In continuity there is a kind of here and now immortality.

Listowel Emmetts were always part of his life.  His three sons played for the club.  Conor and John made the Kerry minors and he was so proud, but he never let on in front of me.

On the night I was cut from Kerry minor training, he handed me a fiver and said: "find a nice girl in Ballybunion and tell her your troubles."

He made no attempt to have me restored even though the trainer, Seamus Mac Gearailt was a good friend.  Which is as it should be.

But he was always there to back you up when the going got tough.  I was a senior at 16 and was propelled into orbit with a cowardly punch from an opportunist assassin who specialised in taking out young lads.  Dad ran onto the pitch to save me.

I was mortified.  Someone tried to hold him back but it would have been easier to mop up the Feale and squeeze it into a bucket.  The bully bolted.  He said he was more afraid of what my dad might say to him than any physical punishment.

I was about six and he was coming to the end of his career at 36.  Some lad hit him a shoulder and  down he went.  I started to bawl crying and ran onto the pitch.  And he was mortified.  I'm told he was a very good player.  Fast, if furious, with a great leap for the ball.

He was 70 and was recovering from several courses of chemotherapy and radiation.  Dad invited  a young buck round the back of the stand in Listowel to sort things out.  He was president of Listowel Emmets at the time and  he felt he should avenge  every insult to his beloved club.

He kissed me when I won all of my one North Kerry Championship back in the days when there wasn't much paternal kissing or hugging.  Dad argued with half of Tarbert that day in the stands and 10 minutes after the match he was off drinking and singing with them.

That was him.  The temper lasted no longer than a lightning flash but it was thunderous and spectacular.

He had a dark secret.  Every family has one, but this is very, very bad.  Couldn't be worse in fact.

My dad spent some of the happiest days of his life in Doneraile in County Cork, where he was a chemist  assistant.

Dad played for Cork in the national league game against Waterford.  The game was abandoned when the pitch became flooded -- with blood.  The next round was against Kerry and he retired from Cork football before the game, undefeated.

Somewhere in the everywhere, he is with us.  Exactly where he is , I do not know but I sense his presence.  When I call to dad's allotment in the lea of the stands I feel he's advising me and I tell him my problems.

The days of rapid fire Hail Marys merging like a closing concertina have passed.  Now I talk to him.  Maybe I'm some sort of medium ventriloquist  and it is me talking to me, but I'm pretty certain he is there in that somewhere over the rainbow.

Dad died at 6:27 AM on May 30th, 2002.  On the 10th anniversary of his last act, I was up until nearly 3 getting ready for Writers' Week but I woke early.  At 6:27 AM.  And I didn't set my clock.  I wouldn't mind but never once in his life did he call us for school.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered there was no mention of Oscars or doctorates.  "I wanted to be known as the man who scored the winning point in the Kerry intermediate final of 1953."

Yes, I am happy we had him for so long and for the dad that he was.  He was a great man for bringing small boys to big matches.  It was Croke Park 1963 at the Grounds tournament final between Kerry and Dublin.  My first time.  You never forget even if it was all those years ago.  Dad lifted me up in his arms to show me the long drop from the height of the top of the Hogan stand.

"What if I fall, dad?"
"Don't worry Bill, boy," he said.
"You are safe here with me." 
And I still am.

Irish Independent/Saturday 2  June 2012


Jimmy Deenihan told a little story on the opening night of Writers' Week. He was presenting the inaurgural Con Houlihan young sports journalist award. He said that he visited Con in hospital one time and he said to him, "I think Billy Keane is figuring to be the next Con Houlihan." Con's reply was, "He  has a long way to go."
On the evidence of that article, he is well on the way.


2 Team photos both with Keane involvement.


Aung San Suu Kyi  of Burma at the Áras yesterday.

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