On Saturday, this past June 2nd, the day of the unveiling in Listowel’s Small Square of John B. Keane’s statue created by father-and-son sculptor team Seamus and James Connolly, famous for their 2006 Kilkee sculpture of Richard Harris, the entire town and half of Dublin’s literary elite stood in tribute, listening to the words of, among others, Listowel’s mayor Anthony Curtin, who proclaimed proudly, ”He put us on the map.”
Niall Toibin, famous comedian and John B.’s favorite Bull McCabe, gave an emotional oration about his dear friend: ”When all is said and done, the best debt of gratitude you can give an actor is a job, and boy did he give us jobs! Several generations of thespians owe an enormous debt of gratitude to John B.”
Jimmy Deenihan, a politician, spoke, then Joanna, John B.’s daughter, with typical Keane charm, pronounced, “Here John B. has a bird’s eye view of his town, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of our one-way system,” referring to the quaint and often inconvenient way one must drive through the whole town to backtrack one’s path, surely an encouragement to stroll by foot for the human touch John B. so loved instead.
Joanna Keane O’Flynn is Chairperson this year of Listowel Writers Week, the festival John B. helped to initiate 37 years ago with Tim Daneher, Bryan McMahon, Nora Relihan, and others. His close friend Father Kieran O’Shea launched the Mercier Press collection of John B.’s poems, ”The Street,” at Listowel Writers Week in 2003, on the ﬁrst anniversary of John B’s death.
In spirit stood his dear cohort, Bryan McMahon, co-organizer of the festival, who had passed away the year previous. He was locally known as the “Master,” and wrote an award-winning novel, The Master, but in reality he shared that unofficial title with John B. In their plays, Bryan McMahon captured the voice and spirit of the intelligentsia, while John B. captured the colorful language of the local farmers.
John B.’s son Billy now runs the famous literary pub with John B’s wife Mary, carrying on its splendid atmosphere of true outpouring of heartfelt creative effort. Two other sons, Conor and John, and cousins and grandchildren and other family members crowded around the statue of John B, sauntering into the square with his hand extended in an outward gesture of greeting, like you might see him coming down the street from a distance. Everyone, especially the children, seemed to want to reach up and touch the spirit of the man inside the bronze.
See www.writersweek.ie to join in the fun next year. ♦