Some thoughts on Fergal Keane OBE by Donal Kennedy

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Picture by Rob Lee

Fergal Keane has been garlanded with so many honours one might imagine he’d need a battalion of porters to carry them all but I saw a photograph of him recently taken at Liverpool University where he has been made a Professorial Fellow, flanked by Dame Professor Marianne Elliott OBE who is the Director of Irish Studies there.
Some years ago a piece of Keane’s in THE INDEPENDENT (of London) was headlined “Ireland has paid a high price for its dishonest mythmaking.” He called for a truth  commission for the North of Ireland on the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’ve read, heard and seen Keane’s works in print and on radio and television  for many years,and for the life of me would find them difficult to reconcile  them with the truth.
For example he has claimed that Michael Collins had attempted to sell Partition to the Irish people; that British television began to be received in Dublin in the late 1960s, and that a Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin in 1936.
All these statements are false.
On the death of Collins in 1922 his most recent speeches and articles were published by The TalbotPress, Dublin, under he title “The Path to Freedom.” I have that original edition and a seven pagesection is headed “Partition Act’s Failure.”
A classmate of my own stayed home in Blackbanks, Raheny, Dublin, in June 1953 to watch the
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and my mother watched the 1956   Monaco  wedding of Grace Kelly in the house next door on Howth Hill, courtesy of the BBC. I can clearly  remember having a quiet pint in the old Royal Hotel in Howth in 1960 when there was  virtual stampede of women into the lounge to watch a recording of Princess Margaret’s Wedding to Anthony Armstrong Jones. I particularly relished the fact that they had come from a Fianna Fail Cumann in an adjacent room and included veterans of the Anglo-Irish and Civil Wars.
By that time BBC TV was coming to us from Wales and the North of Ireland, and ITV was clearly received from Britain and UTV from the North of Ireland. Half of Dublin watched Sunday Night at the London Palladium and its catch phrases had gone “viral” as today’s expression has  it. My contemporaries will, for example, remember”Swingin’ “
 It was the impact of British Television in Ireland that prompted the Government to set up a Commission to inquire into the desirability of establishing an Irish TV service (in 1958 or 1959) before actually establishing one in December 1961.
The Eucharistic Congress was held, not in 1936, but in 1932, for fifteen hundred good reasons, once known to every schoolboy and schoolgirl in Ireland, if not every Professorial Fellow. For Ireland’s National Apostle, and Patron Saint, (commemorated in Fergal Keane’s second name) started his Irish Mission in 432 AD.
If Mr Keane is economical with the truth, he can also be a Begrudger of Epic proportions. Again in
The Independent (of London) in 2001 he expressed displeasure at the public ceremony and Christian burial of Kevin Barry and nine other patriot soldiers who had been hanged by the British and buried in quicklime in 1920 and 1921. He seemed to call for  for public ceremonies to honour Royal Irish Constabulary killed by the IRA between 1919 and 1921. In fact the RIC and other anti-democratic forces were given public and Christian burial shortly after their deaths, and woe betide/betode?  any man who didn’t remove his hat, or any shopkeeper who didn’t shutter his premises when the funerals of these gentlemen passed by.
The British funeral of the “Auxiliary Police Cadets” killed at Kilmichael can be viewed by Googling
British Pathe and entering the word Macroom. The captions tell us that those attending are
from the various units of the British Army’s Aldershot Command from which the “Police Cadets”
were drawn, and there’s not a Bona-Fide Bobby, Kosher Kopper nor Pukkha Plod to be seen.
 His Economy with the Truth and Begrudgery are trumped by Keane’s astounding arrogance as
 he surveys the rest of us Irish from an Olympian height.In “The Independent” (of London) in
 another piece he quotes the Belfast-born poet Louis MacNeice, who, in the 1930s, chided his fellow-Irishmen  for deluding themselves that the world cared who was king of their castle.
The context was the rise of Hitler. MacNeice, said Keane, “from the vantage point of London” gazed scornfully on Ireland.”  In fact at least two of the three Kings who reigned in London in the 1930s were very jealous of their Irish holdings, and law made in London proclaimed  their supremacy over “every person matter and thing in Northern Ireland.” And those Kings’  military, paramilitary police and specials were there to keep those holdings for them, helped by draconian Special Powers Acts and gerrymandred local elections.To this day in Britain the Treason Felony Act of 1848 is still in force and it provides for life imprisonment for anyone advocating the abolition of the Monarchy, even by peaceful means. A High Court Action by The Guardian a few years ago did not succeed in having that provision removed.
When Cork Harbour, Bantry Bay and Lough Swilly were ceded to Irish control in 1938 Winston
Churchill, in the House of Commons on May 5th launched an attack on the Government and on
the impertinence  and ingratitude of the Irish for wanting their ports back. Say what you like about Churchill, but he knew more about kings, castles and the deployment of power than MacNeice or Fergal Keane.
The concern for these things didn’t expire with the defeat  of Hitler, nor Attlee’s defeat of Churchill in 1945. They remained in 1949 when Attlee was co-founding NATO and after John A Costellodeclared an Irish Republic. The British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brooke,prepared a memorandum outlining  Ulster Unionist  arguments which he regarded as not really weighty, but declared that “for strategic reasons”  “some part of Ireland should remain within His Majesty’s Dominions.” Attlee   marked the Memo “noted” and a new IRELAND ACT was passed by Westminster that year. It purported to cede the determination of Nothern Ireland’s status to the Parliament at Stormont, but when push came to shove  the British Government  removed that  “Parliament” with less ceremony than it later abolished The Greater London Council.
It is no mere coincidence that Britain  first declared no further strategic interest in Northern Ireland after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and that the Western Powers withdrew support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa at the same time.Nor that US missiles were withdrawn from Greenham Common at that time. From 1841 until 1957 Britain had a naval base in Simonstown, South Africa, and was thereafter guaranteed access to it by the apartheid regime. The Wall Street Journal in the 1970s revealed that the USA had secure communications nearby, to Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, as part of a global  military communications system.
Great powers and their satellites have interests, not  sentiments, and ordinary humans whatever
their religion or colour don’t  weigh much in their calculations. “Some part of Ireland”, North or South, Orange or Green, could equally serve their strategic interest. When Ireland had an independent-minded  Government in Dublin, the North served Imperialist strategy. But since Dublin lost its  Moral Compass and settled for a Moral Shat-Nav, Shannon Airport servesthat strategy quite nicely.
But journalists don’t get OBEs for telling such truths












15 Responses to Some thoughts on Fergal Keane OBE by Donal Kennedy

  1. neill November 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    In fact the RIC and other anti-democratic forces were given public and Christian burial shortly after their deaths, and woe betide/betode?

    That sums up Donal.

  2. Iolar November 2, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    Dublin by Louis MacNeice

    “Grey brick upon brick,/Declamatory bronze/On sombre pedestals/O’Connell/Grattan,

    Moore/And the brewery tugs and the swans/On the balustraded stream/And the bare bone

    of of a fanlight/Over a hungry door/And the air soft on the cheek/And porter running from

    the taps/With a head of yellow cream/And Nelson on his pillar//Watching his world collapse.”

    Order of what empire?

  3. ANOTHER JUDE November 2, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    Brilliant piece Donal, the more I hear of Keane the less I like. A touch of the self hating Irishman, a condition noted in the likes of Wogan and Geldof.

  4. BYC November 2, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    This reminds me of Ciaran’s article telling us that unionist resistance led to the rising as if that were new or even something that would be contested by unionists. The facts aren’t the argument – it’s the motivations and justification for parties’ decisions that we’re quarrelling about.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union led to withdrawal of support for apartheid? Well yes – because it mean that White South African’s could have more faith that a black majority government would retain a capitalist economy and they could keep their property. Closer to home – did the collapse of the Soviet Union also lead to the Irish pace process? Did the end of international revolutionary socialism in Europe change Republican mindsets?

    Were Northern Irish seaports important to the WW2 effort? I hope so and if they were that more than justified maintenance of British/NATO interest in NI as the suffering ended by the defeat of Nazi Germany more than compensated for any local discomfort we suffered.

    How would our understanding of our history be improved by a UK admission that it did see a strategic value in retaining a foothold here?

  5. Brian Patterson November 2, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    ‘Briseann an dúchas trí súile an chait’. The boul’ Fergal is nephew of notorious West Brit. and peddler of highly entertaining but lightweight pieces of touch the forelock Paddywhackery such as The Field and Many Young Men of Twenty, JB Keane The fact that these sometimes dealt with social themes (eg MYMOT was about emigration) did not stop JB being a rabid Blueshirt. He was, besides, a leading proponent of the ‘Language Freedom Movement’, a coterie of mainly Blueshirts dedicated to the extirpation on of the Irish Language. JB has of course been posthumously canonised by the Free State Meedja for loyal services to West Britonism. Seems like young FK has inherited his Grandad’s genes. Like Terry Woebegone, Bob Gelding,Bobo, Eamonn Homeless, Ethan alia he is proof positive that the wild Celt can be tamed, housetrained and made jump through hoops providing the price is right.

    • Jude Collins November 2, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

      I think I must put in a word for J B Keane. He was a gifted playwright.

  6. john Patton November 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    May not always be accurate but he reports lies with superlative stye and flair.

  7. Donal Kennedy November 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    check if I’m wrong but I believe Keane got his OBE when he was 35 and
    Colonel Wilford of the Parachute Regiment had to wait until he was 38.

    Keane is a better propaganda asset.

  8. Jim.hunter November 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm #


  9. Dickens November 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    Many thanks Mr Kennedy for a great article. Chomsky & Herman would no doubt agree re FK being the better propaganda asset. Also very interesting from Mr Patterson re John B Keane. Although he wrote great yarns I’d never have thought of him as a West B. And thanks Jude; keep up the great work.
    Ádh Mhór oraibh. D

  10. Donal Kennedy November 2, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

    Just remembered, Fergal Keane, like a latter-day Lord Chesterfield, published a letter to his son.Some of you may have heard “Letter to Daniel” broadcast on the BBC.

    If I were writing to the boy I’d be very brief – Full fathom 5….

  11. Perkin Warbeck November 3, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    Fergal Keane first attended a Gaelscoil before St.Mary’s and Terenure Collges kicked all that leprechaun buckleppery out of him to touch.

    Not that the earlier brush with the ersatz double dutch was entirely without use, as such.

    In 1999 when the Interviewer Extraordinaire condescended to turn mere interviewee, in those measured, mellifluous tones of his, so replete with pauses for melodramatic causes, had this to intone in the manner so authentically phoney:

    -‘The grounding in the Irish language I got at Scoil Bhride has never left me. In a foreign country when I’m on the phone and don’t want people to understand what I’m saying I speak Irish and no Serbs listening can get to crack the code’.


    And to whom, pray, was he conversing through his Erse? Not revealed. Though one is free to speculate that there is actually a Leprechaun Desk somewhere under the radar if not the rainbow in Thames House, home of the M’s, I5 and I6 adjacent to Lambeth Bridge.
    Where they do be doing the Lambeth Talk with the spooks speaking a lingo the bingo-players do not know.

    And why the sudden, illogical leap from the unspecified ‘foreign land’ to the rather acerbic specific of ‘Serbs’? Again, alas, we are not told, as the teasing weasel words are tolled in the familiar Fergallian tones. Whose soft yet high-blown windiness regularly results in something painfully akin to the billowing of a galleon’s mainsails.

    .Who knows, perhaps as a result of this revelation in inverted coma-inducing commas, those who fail to make the cut in the Belgrade School for Moles have been tally-sticked into learning the leprechaun as a log-grade information-gathering goal.

    This pragmatic view of the lingo has led to a new coinage in the German Q’s English: prigmatic. The acknowledged boss of which was the utterly frank Frank Ross.

    Who never weared of repeating how he was to stick with Proinsias de Rossa (a result of a youthful indiscretion) on account of how it bumped his name up the ballot paper from a lowly R to a de-lightful, de-licous, de-lovely D.

    (Offcially composed by the de-commissioned IRA Gershwin).

    Fergal still aiming Earagail high

    Fergal Sharkey is the rhyming slang for malarkey
    Fergal K longs for his name to be more marquee
    While F.K.’s OBE
    Flashes as strobe
    He still aspires to be a Squire or indeed a Marquis.

  12. Colmán November 4, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    It is hard to argue with the fact Dónal and you are supplying us with them in bucket loads – keep them coming!!!

  13. Colmán November 4, 2015 at 7:02 pm #