[Marxism] Death of Dan Keating

paul illich 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
Dan Keating

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 
electoral majority.

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 
on offer.

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 
the period.

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 
hang him.

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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