[Marxism] Death of Dan Keating
paul_illich at hotmail.com
Sat Oct 6 16:11:25 MDT 2007
A longer interview appeared on bluegeenearth.com and irelandfrombelow.org,
run from their magazine Island (winter 2006/7). Same picture is used. The
appears below, preceded by a brief overview. A linked story, on Sean Clancy,
who died in September 2006 a little ahead of publication, is also on the
Last of the Volunteers
by Derry Chambers and Deirdre Clancy
When Padraic Pearse stepped under the portico of the GPO in Dublin on Easter
Monday 1916 and proclaimed an Irish Republic he set in motion a chain of
events with farreaching consequences, which still impact on Irish society
Following on from the execution of the leaders of the rebellion, nationalist
fervour gripped the country. In the December 1918 General Election, Sinn
Féin, campaigning on an independence platform, won 73 of the 105 seats and
declared Ireland a Republic. This new state was modelled on the ideals of
the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, and established the first independent
Irish Parliament, Dáil Éireann.
When the British attempted to suppress this assembly, the War of
Independence commenced in defence of the Republic and the institutions of
the first Dáil. During the following three years the Irish Republican Army,
led by Michael Collins, engaged the British forces in an oftentimes vicious
guerrilla battle that culminated in a truce on July 11, 1921.
During the truce, negotiations between Éamon DeValera, as President of the
second administration of the first Dáil, and British Prime Minister David
Lloyd George, it became evident that the British were not prepared to cede
to the Irish demand for a full independent Republic.
The divisions on the Irish side as to whether talks on a negotiated final
settlement should be entered into are evident from the exchanges among the
At a full meeting of the Government, Cathal Brugha, President of the first
Dáil administration and a leading opponent of the treaty negotiations, made
his position clear: "We have proclaimed a Republic in arms, it has been
ratified by the votes of the people, and we have sworn an oath to defend it
with our lives". DeValera responded by saying, "The oath never conveyed to
me any more than to do my best in whatever circumstances arise".
During negotiations following the Truce, the British forced a treaty on the
Irish delegation by threatening total war against the new Irish Nation if it
was not accepted. This Treaty would grant dominion status to the southern
twenty six counties of Ireland, which would be known as the Irish Free
State, while the remaining north-eastern six counties formed part of the
United Kingdom. This resulted in a split among the members of the first Dáil
and pending the outcome of fresh elections, a Provisional Free State
Government was formed by the pro- Treaty side. This was later ratified by an
There followed a bloody civil war, which matched, and some would claim,
surpassed the savagery of the War of Independence. The pro-treaty, Free
State forces, though at first vastly outnumbered, with the assistance of
Britain, eventually emerged victorious. However, there was never a
negotiated settlement and the civil war never officially ended.
In the latest (Winter 2006/7) edition of Island, the last two veterans of
those times, Colonel Sean Clancy and Dan Keating, recall those turbulent
times in Irish history and reflect on events, both public and personal,
during the ninety years since the 1916 Rising. Below Blue runs Dan's
interview in full.
[Sadly, since these interviews were conducted Col. Sean Clancy has passed
away. Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam]
Dan Keating: "Sure we achieved nothing, the British still hold part of our
Dan Keating was 14 years old and working in Tralee as an apprentice to the
bar and grocery trade when the 1916 Rising broke out in Dublin. Following on
from the execution of the the leaders of the rebellion there was a major
shift in public opinion in favour of those seeking independence from
In Kerry support for Sinn Fein rose above 90%. Towards the end of that year
Dan had joined Fíanna Éireann - the youth wing of the Irish Republican Army.
By 1919, having purchased his own rifle for £1 from a profiteering British
soldier at the local barracks, Dan became a fully fledged member of the
Farmer's Bridge (Boherbee B) Company of the local IRA. Very soon, having
been wrongfully accused of involvement in the shooting of Denny O'Loughlin
in Knightly's public house in Tralee, he was on the run, and so began his
full time service as an active participant in the War of Independence.
Sitting in Dan's kitchen in Ballygamboon, a few miles outside Castlemaine,
it is difficult to imagine that this frail old man once formed part of a
ragtag army that engaged and very nearly defeated the world's only
superpower of the time.
No doubt many are certain today that the War of Independence was a success
and, indeed, all the official history books tell us so. Not so for Dan
Keating. His refusal to accept an IRA Veterans' Pension is a testament to
his feelings on the matter. As he says, "Sure we achieved nothing. The
British still hold part of our country".
For Dan's cause, and that of many of his comrades, was the upholding of the
aspirations of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence. In short, nothing less
than a thirty-two county Republic. For him that cause was betrayed by those
who accepted the terms of the Anglo Irish Treaty of December 1921, which so
radically compromised the ideals of the 1916 Rising.
Dan's recall of the various engagements during the fight against Britain is
astonishing in the amount of detail he has at his fingertips. Instantly he
can reel off dates, participants, casualties inflicted, arms and equipment
captured and losses suffered by the IRA.
Dan's war is not the one we know of from the history books or from the
roadside memorials or commemoration ceremonies for men long forgotten. The
names of these soldiers trip off Dan's tongue as though they were still out
there working in the fields and could just as easily saunter up the road and
call in for a chat at any minute. Soldiers of the revolution like 'Sailor'
Dan Healy and Jimmy 'Nuts' O'Connor are very much alive in Dan's kitchen.
Listening to him recount the personalities and events of the time is a rare
privilege and a virtual treasure trove of information for anyone with an
interest in the history of the period in Co Kerry.
The actions at Lispoole, Headford Junction, Castlemaine, Castleisland, etc.,
are brought to life in Dan's retelling. The latter engagement, fought on the
very eve of The Truce, saw, in Dan's words, "four good men lost". It is easy
when listening to his recollection of that ambush to juxtapose those men,
dying for a thirty-two county Republic on some laneway or field at
Castleisland, with Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and the rest over in
London signing away the cause for which those four were, practically at the
same time, giving up their lives.
Given these experiences it was inevitable that Dan would take the Republican
side in the ensuing civil war. "Kerry, almost to a man, was anti-treaty". he
recalls. His version of the progress of the civil war is that the Free State
was facing an uphill battle and could easily have been defeated but for the
collusion of the British and General Mulcahy, Minister of Defence in the
Free State Government at the time.
Seeing things were going badly for the Free Staters in the Civil War, they
decided that the Munster, Dublin and Leinster Fusilier regiments of the
British Army should be abolished. Demobbed and with their severance pay of
£10 per man soon gone, thousands of these ex-soldiers, with no other
employment available, joined the Free State army for the 30 shillings a week
Hardened by the brutalities they had witnessed in France these men showed no
mercy in their dealings with anti-treaty forces. "They were far worse than
the Black and Tans" asserts Dan. "They murdered nineteen republican
prisoners at Ballyseedy Cross, Countess's Bridge and elsewhere in Kerry in
three days. The Tans never did anything as bad as that", he says. "It was
very easy to get killed at that time", remembers Dan.
But civil war or no civil war, there was an All Ireland football final to be
played with Kerry facing Dublin. The only sticking point was that Kerry's
star player, John Joe Sheehy, was commandant of the IRA in Kerry at the time
and liable to be shot on sight by Free State forces. At this stage, Dan
remembers, "in steps Con Brosnin, a junior Free State officer from North
Kerry who went to Dublin to arrange a safe pass for John Joe. The pass was
for the two weeks preceding the final and the week after, from which time on
he would again be regarded as a legitimate target by the Free Staters."
"But" Dan recalls appreciatively, "Brosnan wasn't a Free Stater at all,
"After the civil war most Republicans in Kerry found no room for them in the
new Free State. Jobs were practically impossible to find for a Republican",
Dan recalls. The vast majority of those who fought on the anti-treaty side
left for America.
Dan himself was lucky enough to find a job as a barman in Dublin but soon
ran into difficulties when a sergeant of the new civic guards took Dan's
boss aside and told him, "You should never have employed that fellah." The
employer saved Dan from the certainty of the emigrant ship by claiming that
Dan was a good worker and, as he was a union member, he couldn't fire him as
"there would be blue murder" with the Bar Workers Union if he did.
Dan, a lifetime teetotaller, was union representative in 1957 when Minister
for Justice Cooney introduced legislation extending pub opening hours. The
Bar Workers Union was opposed to these longer working hours and fought the
"Cooney held a seminar at which all interested parties were represented"
recounts Dan. "It eventually came down to a ballot and the deciding vote was
with the Pioneers". (Pioneers Total Abstinence Association) "I was sure we
had it won," he recalls, "but the Pioneers voted for it. I took off my
Pioneer's pin and flung it across the room in disgust. Cooney demanded that
I apologise, but I refused and left the meeting. I went next door with the
secretary of the Union and had my first drink, a glass of sherry" Dan says,
and continues with a chuckle, "but you know, I never could drink. One small
glass of Benedictine is all I can manage."
According to Dan, Michael Collins was a confirmed "Free Stater" before he
died but "he knew in his heart" he was wrong. He describes him as "a man at
war with himself" in the months leading up to Béal na Bláth and recounts
widespread rumours at the time, rumours he was at pains to point out he
couldn't confirm, "that Collins had taken to the drink". He discounts the
notion that Collins was on a mission to end the war when he undertook his
ill-fated journey to Cork in August 1922.
On De Valera, Dan pulls no punches. He says Dev began to lose respect among
Republicans very soon after the Civil War. He becomes animated when
describing the emergency legislation enacted by Dev during World War Two,
which resulted in the execution of up to eighty Republicans active during
It is with some relish he recounts the story of Dev's attempt in the 1940s
to execute the son of Tomás Mac Curtain, the former Lord Mayor of Cork,
murdered by British forces in 1920. Mac Curtain had shot a policeman in
Patrick Street in Cork City some months earlier and Dev was determined to
But, according to Dan, he hadn't reckoned on Martin Corry, an East Cork
Fianna Fáil TD and former soldier in the Troubles. Corry gathered together a
group of likeminded TDs and they marched into Dev's office, without
knocking, and told Dev in very unparliamentary language that if Mac Curtain
was hung, they would resign their seats and stand as independents.
Dev, with a majority of two seats in the Dáil, had to back down and Mac
Curtain was reprieved. Dev, however, soon had his revenge by engineering
Corry's electoral defeat. "But Corry was soon re-elected. The people of East
Cork respected him. He was a great man, Martin Corry", says Dan.
It was at this time too that Dev's government recruited the Chief of Staff
of the IRA, Stephen Hayes of Wexford, as a Free State spy. Under state
supervision Hayes directed the IRA to carry out numerous acts which turned
public opinion against the Republicans.
One such plot, it is alleged, involved the infamous raid on the Phoenix Park
Magazine during which practically all the ammunition of the Free State army
was seized by Republicans. Though all the munitions were recovered within
days, the IRA were tarnished in the public mind and emergency powers were
easily invoked by Dev's government.
Dan, who at this time was interned in the Curragh with six hundred other
Republicans was reprimanded by his commanding officer for stating that a man
shot by the IRA as an informer in Co Wexford was innocent and a victim of
the Hayes/De Valera conspiracy. "I was eventually proved right when Hayes
was unmasked", affirms Dan.
Dan's vision of what he and his comrades fought and died for is undiminished
and at the age of one hundred he refused the customary President's cheque.
"I voted for her you know" he says.
"Sure, there was only someone from Fine Gael besides her, but as I sat down
to listen to her postelection speech the first thing she said was that her
number one priority was to walk down O'Connell Street with the Queen of
England. How could I take money from her?" he asks.
"Ah but she comes from a different climate from us. She spent an awful lot
of her time in Queen's University in Belfast and nothing good ever came out
of that place" he says with an impish smile.
A lifelong devotee of the GAA he is scathing in his comments on the
direction the organisation has taken of late. The abandoning of Rule 21 is a
particular bugbear for Dan. "But," he says, "there's a lot of money floating
about now and that can change an awful lot of people's minds".
Speaking of the country today he seems resigned to, but not accepting of,
the realities of Celtic Tiger Ireland. "I see young people now and they
couldn't give a toss if they ever heard of Fermanagh or Tyrone. There was a
time in the early 70s when there was a great revival of national pride, but
that was lost. All they're interested in now is money and porter. The
attitude in the country is terrible. The attitude is just rotten" he says.
When asked if he'd do it all again, there's not a moment's hesitation before
he answers, "Oh Christ I would! You met great people and made great friends,
you know. They were great times," he laughs, and adds, "as long as you kept
your head low enough."
Derry Chambers & Deirdre Clancy, Ireland
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