Son of playwright John B Keane says spirit of Kickham will keep rural Tipperary alive

Michael Heverin


Michael Heverin

Son of playwright John B Keane says spirit of Kickham will keep rural Tipperary alive

Billy Keane (extreme right) with Eugene O'Meara, Jim White and Teckie Brett.

On the same stage where his father's plays would have received standing ovations in the past, author and journalist Billy Keane earned a similar reception in the Knocknagow Community Centre.

A packed hall at the opening of the Kickham Country Weekend in Mullinahone rose as one to acclaim the son of John B. Keane as he officially opened the event.

Speaking on a theme of 'Rural Ireland Today', he interspersed his speech with anecdotes from his family life in Listowel, growing up with one of the country's best every playwrights as his father and a proud and strong mother who died just over two years ago.

An hour long address full of humour and story-telling, it also touched on the many issues facing rural Ireland today – chief among them isolation.

An event that ended with a standing ovation began with a minute's silence and both were linked to one man, the late Eddie O'Meara, a proud son of Mullinahone who had been actively involved in the planning for the festival up to his recent untimely death.

A long time friend of Billy Keane's, it was he who put forward his name as the person to open the festival. And the reaction that Keane got at the conclusion more than justified that decision.

Eddie would have been proud to have heard his friend mention his name and that of Charles J Kickham in the same breath. They were both men who believed in getting things done – and doing themselves if needs be.

There are many problems facing rural Ireland today, Keane said, and too often the first question is what are 'they' doing about it.

“Who are 'they'? In Mullinahone you don't need any 'they'. As Kickham did, you are doing things for yourself. You are the people who are keeping this weekend festival alive. Kickham didn't wait for anyone else to do something and neither do you”, he stated.

He added that his father's plays touched on many of the issues facing the country today, including isolation, loneliness and emigration.

He urged people to talk to their neighbours, to communicate, to involve them in activities. “I don't have wifi in the pub because I want people to talk, not to be looking into their mobiles all night”, he remarked.

John B was an emigrant himself, spending time in England, and wrote about the pain of it in his plays.

And his son said it's still an issue today, not just foreign emigration, but a form of internal emigration, from the country to Dublin.

“It's all about Dublin today but the prosperity of the country ends at the Red Cow roundabout. We need to keep our children at home. I still feel it when my children return to Dublin after a visit home.”

But while he's sad to see Irish people having to leave home to work, he is happy to see immigrants arriving in this country to start new lives.

“I am all for this new New Ireland and welcoming people into this country. We need new blood. We need to embrace then and give then what they were denied in their own countries. It is a great opportunity for rural Ireland to bring new people in. And don't forget that we were let into America and Australia generations ago”.

Keane constantly used his experiences growing up to illustrate topics that are still relevant today. He said his father struggled at times when writing some of his famous plays – for example trying to explain in 'The Field' how someone might kill for a piece of land.

But how he managed it made him Ireland's greatest writer in the eyes of his son. “But if he could be passed out it would be by your own Donal Ryan from Tipperary who is the best since”, he told the audience.

Billy Keane said he was delighted to be in Mullinahone, happy to honour the memory of his dear friend Eddie O'Meara, and privileged to be speaking at an event honouring Kickham.

Addressing the people of Kickham country, he stated - “You are holding the community together but you need to keep it going. Mullinahone will never die as long as that spirit lives on”.