25 June 2006

Proof that Age Does not Always Confer Wisdom

Independent under the headline “IRA gunman who was there as the wind shook the barley”

Attending the premiere in Cork of Ken Loach’s new film “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” was Dan Keating, who at 104 is one of the last surviving veterans of the Troubles (aka "Tan War") and the subsequent Civil War.

"It brought back old memories, all right," he said. "I thought it was very factual now, very good. It worked very well, I thought." Keating, a rifleman, took part in two large-scale "Tan war" actions, at Castlemaine and Castleisland in Co Kerry, in which twelve Black and Tans and other British personnel were killed. As the portrayal of the birth of the Irish state in The Wind that Shakes the Barley divides opinion in Britain, he is one of the few men alive to have witnessed events at first hand.

The "Tan war" is now officially viewed as the triumph of courageous rebels against British occupation, and is commemorated with pride by all political parties in the Republic of Ireland. But the subsequent civil war, in which Keating fought on the side of the anti-treaty rebels, pitted brothers against brothers in a vicious conflict which created internal divisions that are dying out only now. So, while tales of the Tans have always been told with relish, the Irish are mostly very reticent to recall the civil war.

The conflict included the execution of prisoners by both sides, those who favoured accepting a treaty with Britain and those who opposed it. In some cases leaders ordered the deaths of once close friends. In one instance, a commander signed the death warrant of the man who had been best man at his wedding. Mr Keating said of his civil war opponents: "They were worse than the Black and Tans, and they committed some awful atrocities. In one week they murdered 19 people - comrades I knew only too well. They were just gone overnight." One of these actions was carried out on the eve of a truce. "We knew the truce was coming up all right, but I suppose we were all mad for a fight all the time," he recalls.

Mr Keating's life is doubly remarkable in that he has survived not just physically but also in terms of his opinions. These have remained absolutely intact for almost 90 years. He is the patron of Republican Sinn Fein, a small republican party associated with the aptly named Continuity IRA, a splinter group which still uses violence. Its members - preposterously in the eyes of most people in Ireland - regard themselves as the true heirs of the state's founding fathers. Mr Keating has never accepted a state pension because he regards the Dublin government as fundamentally illegitimate. He refused to accept the state's standard €2,000 (£1,380) award to centenarians because he was "stunned" to hear the Irish President saying that her ambition was to walk through Dublin with the Queen.

While one may admire Mr Keating for his steadfastness, his support for diehard terrorists and his pig-headed refusal to recognise the Irish government is proof positive that age does not necessarily confer wisdom. His continuing support of violence is utterly out of step with the vast majority of nationalists in all parts of Ireland who realise that their cause is better advanced through the power of the ballot rather than the bullet. Those that fought the British during the “Tan War” were not usually as inflexible as Mr Keating. For example one of my now dead cousins fought in the North Cork brigade of the IRA and initially opposed the Treaty. During WWII he helped develop new radar systems for the British military. I am sure he would have viewed Mr Keating as an old fool.


Diarmaid the Dub said...

To suggest that a 104-year-old man of Dan Keating's pedigree could be classed as "an old fool" shows that you are a suitable member of what you declare as the "soft left of the Labour Party". You are at home in an organisation which cares little for the views of older people it disagrees with, as witnessed with the ejection from your party conference of 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang who had the timerity to heckle during a "debate" last year.

I might take this opportunity too to wish your party good luck with its war effort in Iraq, a fight your party leadership instigated with lies and now leads with George Bush. Perhaps you too support this war effort - unlike your disdain for Dan's lifelong fight to free Ireland of people with dismissive arrogant views of the right to Irish freedom, many of them Labour ministers and party grandees like Jim Callaghan, Roy Mason and Merlyn Rees.

Dan will be deeply untroubled by your comments, which I intend to forward to Ken Loach.

By the way, given your apparent fondness for Flann O'Brien, the term "Labour left" ranks as oxymoronic a term as anything to be found in even the most eccentric or bizarre of his writings. He would be proud.

jams o donnell said...

Diarmaid the Dub, I will ignore your crass assumptions about my political stance and cut to the chase.

Mr Keating may have participated in the Tan and the Civil War and he must be one of the very last veterans still alive. This is fine and well as he represents a link to an important time in Irish history, the same way that say Henry Allingham does in the UK.

His stubborn refusal even to recongnise the Irish state, his refusal to take a pension or the award to centtenarians may be a mark of ideological purity but to me it is a mark of stubbornness.

I presume that you consider his patronage of a bunch of die hards to be laudable. Again I stand by my view that the support of the bullet over the ballot is out of step with other nationalists. Continuing with violence will not advance the cause of a united Ireland one jot. 44 or 104 I have nothing but contempt for anyone who still adheres to such a view.

Anyway, feel free to pass on my comments to Ken Loach. If he wishes to respond here, he is welcome to do so.