Dan Keane (1919 – 2012)


North Kerry was saddened to hear of the passing of renowned poet and storyteller Dan Keane from Moyvane on January 4th, 2012. The former insurance salesman was best known as a great writer, entertainer and teller of jokes and stories. He was described by Minister Jimmy Deenihan as “an institution”. “He was one of the last of the great rhymers and had a great way with words”. Former Mayor of Kerry Pat Leahy said “The county is all the poorer for his passing”.

“But you cannot kill a rainbow nor turn back the rising sun
Nor undo the works of gifted men even though their day is done
For they always walk beside us when the things they had to say
Are a part of what we were and are and form the centre of our ways.”
— Mickey MacConnell

What is a Poet?

by Mattie Lennon (2006)

What is a poet? And how do you know one? Dan Paddy Andy O’ Sullivan once, doubting the credentials of a would-be-rhymer, said; “He hasn’t the arse of a poet.” According to Patrick Kavanagh; ” A poet is not one of the people…..a poet is an institution.”

Well. Not being well versed in the “phrenology” of the southern regions of the anatomy, I’m not qualified to comment on the diagnosis of the man with the triple name. However, of Kavanagh’s assertion I would say that Dan Keane is one of the people and an institution. As John Dewey said about Ralph Waldo Emerson he is; “The poet of ordinary days.”

Dan Keane was born in Carraueragh, Co. Kerry, in 1919. He tells the story of local woman Kate Casey taking him across the shortcut in her “gabhall” to have him baptized in Knockanure Church. Breige Fitzgerald, an Irish speaker, who lived with the Keanes nicknamed him “Maoinin.” (When I went to consult my offspring’s Gearrfhocloir Gailge Bearla it wasn’t in it’s usual place, between the Wicklow People and the butter. So I contacted Kerry journalist Mike Joe Thornton who translated “Maoinin” as “Little Treasure.”) Mike Joe went on to say; “Dan Keane loves poetry, life, the world and children. Briege Fitzgerald, bhi an cheart agat, Dan is indeed a little treasure.”

This sprightly 87-year-old has more hair than me, covering a head which, in the words of Michael Drayton, .”.. rightly should possess a poets brain.” 

If you spot a similarity of style between “The Last Rose of Summer” and “Heart and Heritage,” you could be witnessing a genetic connection; Dan is related to Thomas Moore, the National poet. Thomas Moore’s father, a close relative of Dan’s great-grandfather, William Moore, hailed from Clounbrane, Moyvane. 

Both of Dan’s great-grandfathers were evicted from their farms during the struggle for agrarian freedom. And such deeds are not forgotten. Just listen to Dan’s song “Daybreak O’r Rathea.”

Everything from world catastrophes to a neighbor dozing off on a Kerry bus has inspired Dan. His works range from “The Plea Of the Unborn” to “Ice Cream Suds.” “A Tribute To Eamon Keane” is as moving as “When Mammy Makes A Pie” is entertaining. 

The late Bryan McMahon had this to say about him: ” ……his sensitivity as a poet and ballad maker, all mark, and indeed hallmark him, as a true son of his environment and one in complete harmony with the rural background from which he sprang.”

Many of his compositions have been put to music. And he who always met disappointment with fortitude and welcomed each challenge with open arms. A Limerick woman told him (no Kerry person would dare) that because nothing rhymes with Tournafulla he couldn’t write a song about it. Dan went to work straight away on the first verse: 

The snow on Tournafulla’s fields
Was falling gently down,
To passing gales each bare bough yields,
The Allaghaun flows brown.
The flood flowed fierce by Barber’ bridge,
Its white foam tossing high,
When Lo! From Glengorth’s stormy ridge
Was heard a plaintive cry.

In 1996 he won the All-Ireland for the best newly composed ballad, at Fleadh Ceol Na hEireann, with “Famine Years.” It was sung by Peggy Sweeney. 

According to Wilfred Owen; “all a poet can do is warn.” But this one can be a Master-of-Ceremonies, Shanachi, Comedian and a Historian who will not tolerate any inaccuracies in the writings of others. 

If you have even a passing interest in Irish songs and/or history you will be reasonably familiar with “The Valley of Knockanure”. This tragic ballad tells the story of three young men, Paddy Dalton, Jerry Lyons and Paddy Walsh, who were shot by the Black and Tans at Gortagleanna, Co. Kerry on Thursday, May 12, 1921. There are several versions of the song; some of which are victims of excessive poetic license. The imagination of the songwriter was in overdrive when he wrote: 

One shot from Dalton’s rifle put a machinegun out of play
And turning then to bold young Lyons he said, “you get away”.

Dan Keane told me, ” . . . other songs came which corrupted the story . . . it was lost . . . it was trí-na- ceile . . . and even today people make a mistake in singing it, they say, ‘Side by side they fought and died . . .’, which is wrong. The men were unarmed”.

The octogenarian songwriter is not one to complain without taking action. He has written a new song to the traditional air. On Sept. 17, 2005, Dan’s 86th birthday, he wrote this song to fulfil a promise which he made to Jim Walsh, Clounprohus, more than 50 years ago. Jim Walsh has gone to his Eternal Reward and Dan says,” God rest you Jim, it has taken a while, but I’ve kept my promise.”

The bells of St. Bartholomew’s rang in the morning air,
The mission bells were pealing to summon souls to prayer,
Three rebel sons of Ireland their fear of danger shed,
To kneel before God’s altar and receive eternal bread.
Paddy Walsh and Paddy Dalton and their companion Dee,
Because they loved their Motherland they strove to set her free,
They little knew that morning what they shortly would endure,
As they took the road towards their last abode in the Valley of Knockanure.

The sun of May was rising, casting shadows to the west,
On a bridge in Gortagleanna those men sat down to rest,
They chatted there with Jerry Lyons their comrade from duagh.
But, alas! Too late to make escape when the Black and Tans they saw,
From lorries three in fiendish glee the Tans did leap and roar
With rifle-butt, with fist and foot they beat their prisoners sore,
Nought could they gain, the poured in vain rough language and impure,
No fear they showed in their last abode in the Valley of Knockanure.

They put them in the lorries and travelled towards Athea,
But there, again, they turned west and went the other way
Beyond the Gortgleanna cross a fort came into view
The Black and Tans hatched evil plans in a field behind Lisroe.
Again, their captives gave their names but nothing more they’d tell
Within their breasts beat hearts as brave as e’er for Ireland fell,
The tans foul breath or threats of death could nothing more procure,
For valour glowed in their last abode in the Valley of Knockanure.

With love undying they stood in line, clasped hands and said goodbye,
They shouted prayers for freedom when they knew they were to die.
No order had been given,they fired in random glee,
One dared to dash for freedom; a rebel called Con Dee.
In that lonely dell three comrades fell their tortures were all o’er,
In tale and song they still live on and will for evermore.
They met their God on their own green sod with stainless souls and pure
And their red blood flowed in their last abode in the Valley of Knockanure.

The Tans were raging furious as Dee kept gaining ground,
The hills around re-echoed the rapid rifle sound.
Though wounded early in the chase he held both head and feet
On towards the wild wide mountain where green and purple meet.
He prayed to those he left in death that they his life would spare, *
God bless the hands that found him and took him in their care.
They nursed the worn weary limbs that bore him o’er the moor
As he fearless strode from death’s abode in the Valley of Knockanure.

The bell of St. Bartholomew’s still speaks in solemn tone,
The Patriot hearts who gave their all are still in memory known.
The graves that hold their fleshless bones a veil o’er life has drawn
But their souls have flown to that bright home of God’s eternal dawn.
May they look down from Heaven’s crown on the land they died to save,
God grant that we might ever be as fearless and as brave. 
There’s a cross to tell where those men fell our freedom to secure
And the sun of May shines bright today o’er the Valley of Knockanure.

* When they clasped hands they made a promise that the first one into Heaven would help the others.
(c) Dan Keane. 

Louis McNiece said; “I would have a poet able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions.”

He would have found his man in Carraueragh. 

dan keane
Dan Keane and Michael Dowling - RIP to both

Opening of Knockanure Community Centre in 2010

Tribute to Dan Keane

by Brian McMahon
Dan Keane of Carrueragh occupies a rare place in the esteem, admiration and affection of North Kerry people for very many reasons. His genial personality, his racy-of-the-soil competence as a Master of Ceremonies on festive occasions, his sensitivity as a poet and balladmaker, all mark, and indeed hallmark him, as a true son of his environment and one in complete harmony with the rural background from which he sprang.

Rhyming is in his blood. On one side, his great-grandfather William Moore of Clounbrane, Moyvane, was close kin to Thomas Moore, the National Poet of Ireland, whose father hailed from that townland; on the other side his great-grand-uncle, Andy McMahon, of Tubbertoureen, also appears in local folklore as a poet. Both great-grandsires were evicted from their farms in the dark days of the fight for agrarian freedom.

His only education was on primary school level at Knockanure, where the name O’Callaghan figured prominently in the roster of his teachers.

Having left school before reaching fourteen, he worked for eleven years as a farmer’s boy, all the while educating himself by every means available to him. This dedication to self-education was rewarded by his appointment as an Insurance Representative, a post which brought him into contact with a wide circle of people in North Kerry and beyond.

His poetry reflects the thoughts, reactions and experiences of this simple yet complex life-style.

Every reader will have his or her favourite pieces among the poems that follow. They reveal a spirit highly attuned to the joys and sorrows of the people amongst whom the poet spent his life. Some like “Daybreak O’er Rathea” cry out to be set to music while others like the whimsical “The Cruel Deed” should find a place in any anthology of poetry for children. Others have a religious or social resonance so that each facet of human emotion is accurately portrayed.

It is a pleasure for me to go before him and ring a bell to call attention to the merits of a rare and poetic spirit.

Some Poems by Dan Keane

Stories and Articles by Dan Keane

The justice of God is an issue sublime,
And He’ll weigh by the measure He gave.
The trouble, the trials and the crosses of life,
Are, but jewels on the hearts of the brave.
There’s a sunbeam to steal through each cloud overhead,
There was never a storm to last,
There are gems of remembrance to garland the soul,
Shining out of the days that are past.
There’s a flower for each weed, there’s a smile for each tear,
There is rapture for grief to atone.
So pour me the joy that I drank as a boy,
From your hornpipe, Mickey Malone.
— Dan Keane