Thursday, 20 June 2013

John B. Keane, Flavin Sweeney wedding 1946 and Listowel shops 2009

This following is an article from a recent edition of The Irish Independent.


She gave Dad his best lines



ANDREA SMITH – 09 JUNE 2013

'I often say that if my mother got six weeks at the economy, she'd straighten it out," laughs Billy Keane, eldest son of Mary, 84, and the late, great writer, John B Keane. "She is amazing with money and would cut out all unnecessary spending, but she also has a great heart. I may be running the pub, but my mam is still the boss and she has a great work ethic. I always say that I'd give her redundancy, but I couldn't afford it as she's been here since 1955."

'I often say that if my mother got six weeks at the economy, she'd straighten it out," laughs Billy Keane, eldest son of Mary, 84, and the late, great writer, John B Keane. "She is amazing with money and would cut out all unnecessary spending, but she also has a great heart. I may be running the pub, but my mam is still the boss and she has a great work ethic. I always say that I'd give her redundancy, but I couldn't afford it as she's been here since 1955."
He's only joking, of course, and indeed the fun flows throughout my gorgeous lunch at the family-run John B Keane pub, in Listowel, Co Kerry. Then again, laughter is fitting as it is here that some of the funniest and most moving plays in Irish history were written including plays like The Love-Hungry Farmer which returns by popular demand to the Gaiety.
The warm and welcoming Mary lost her beloved John B to cancer in May 2002, and Ireland lost one of its most celebrated writers. And none felt it as keenly as his wife, three sons Billy, Conor and John, and daughter Joanna.
"He was too good to lose, which made it very difficult," says Billy, while Mary says that John B was her best friend and they were inseparable in his final years. They met at a dance at the Listowel Races when both were 20. He was a chemist's assistant who also wrote poetry, not that Mary knew that when they met. Her dad had a shop, selling everything from bread to methylated spirits, and she worked there, and also went on to train as a hairdresser- cum-beauty therapist.
"I thought John was fine," she said. "People said to me, 'Do you know that he's a poet?' and I said 'What?' And a while later, a girl at work said, 'There's a poem in The Kerryman today and you're mentioned in it'. That was the only paper that would take him, but he used to write lovely poetry. He wrote very nice letters to me, and one day he asked why I never wrote back, and I said, 'Sure what have I to say to you?'"
Eventually, what she did say was yes, of course, and they were married in 1955, the year they bought the pub, which is also their family home. Mary grew up just outside Castleisland, as the second-youngest of Cornelius and Bridget O'Connor's five children, but her mother tragically died in childbirth aged just 36, when Mary was two.
"My dad was always crying after her, so I didn't know what marriage between a man and woman was like," she recalls. "The first argument I had with John was a fine one, and I said, 'Oh my marriage is gone. It didn't last long at all.' But we made up and it lasted another 47 years."
The first child, Billy, was born in 1957, a lively child who hung out with boys from local families like the Sextons (he is godfather to rugby star Jonathan Sexton.) "We were cracked young fellas," he says. "My mother wasn't that strict and my dad wasn't strict at all. He had a bit of a temper, but never with us and he never slapped us. Although he gave me a mild kick in the arse when I came home at five in the morning one Christmas Eve. Mam called the shots and she was, and still is, a great businesswoman. I think she wanted to be the best mother in the world because she grew up without her own mother, and she did a great job. She is very funny and comes out with amazing statements, and I always think my dad plagiarised some of his best lines from her."
Billy studied law after school and became a solicitor, but found that it wasn't the career for him. He took over the running of the pub at 34, and is married to teacher Elaine. Of their four children, Anne, 26, and Laura, 24, are studying law, while Lainey, 21, is training to be a teacher and educational psychologist. John, 17, is still at school.
Billy also writes, and is a newspaper columnist.
"Billy is a great son, and I love him dearly, like the others," says Mary. "He is maturing to my satisfaction," she adds, while Billy says that the process will probably be complete by the time he's 98.
John B famously wrote 18 plays and 32 works of prose and poetry sitting in the corner of the bar. His first break came in 1959 when the Listowel Drama Group won first prize at the All-Ireland Amateur Drama Festival with his play, Sive.
"John always wanted to be a writer, but had no luck at all at first," says Mary. "We went to a play and afterwards, he felt he could do better than that, so he got a copybook and had Sive almost ready in a week. He sent it to The Abbey and they wouldn't look at him, but when it won the Esso trophy, it changed our lives."
Billy says that he got his imagination and ability to move on from the past from his father, as well as his sense of fair play and anarchic sense of humour. His dad was brave, he says, often taking stances on political issues, while his mum was tough and he attributes his ability to see things through to her.
"There is great humour in his plays, such as The Love-Hungry Farmer, and at the time my father felt that Ireland was a sexually repressed society," he says. "While he sometimes got himself into bother with his stances, he realised that laughter was the best weapon. He and my mother were always out for the underdog, and you couldn't meet two more decent and generous people."
Des Keogh will return to the Gaiety Theatre for one week only in 'The Love-Hungry Farmer' from June 17.
Tickets: 0818 719 388 or www.ticketmaster.ie.
Visit John B Keane's pub, 37 William Street, Listowel, Co Kerry.
Irish Independent



Mary Keane at the door of John B.'s

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Businesses no longer in business



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Flavin Sweeney wedding  1946

 2nd, lL to R, Maureen Flavin Sweeney Blacksod Bay, 5th L to R Theresa Flavin Kennelly Knockanure, 6th L to R, Peg Connor Moran, Knockanure 

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Signs of hope!



This sign which was just being put up beside The Mermaids said Fantasy Room. It appears to be a new function room.


Mr. Signs, Martin Chute was painting a new sign at Fitzgeralds.

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