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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Keane family 'put on a shop smile' as John B's formidable widow laid to rest

Published 18/08/2015 | 02:30

Billy, John and Conor Keane and mourners pause outside the family’s famous pub as the remains of Mary Keane passes through Listowel.
Billy, John and Conor Keane and mourners pause outside the family’s famous pub as the remains of Mary Keane passes through Listowel.
Máire and Siún O Sé, daughter and wife of football legend Páidí
Singer and songwriter Francie Conway
Actress Aisling O'Sullivan

More than a thousand mourners packed St Mary's Church in Listowel, spilling onto The Square to say goodbye to a Kerry "institution", publican Mary Keane.

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A woman of many names known as 'Mary O'Connor', 'Mary the Shop', 'Mary the Pensioner' but the title that charmed her most was 'Mary John B'.

Her daughter Joanna told mourners at her mother's funeral how her parents' great love story began in 1949. Playwright John B Keane was "knocked off his perch" at Walsh's ballroom during Listowel Races when he clapped eyes on his future wife, Mary O'Connor for the first time.

She then became his inspiration and the love of his life.

Mrs Keane (86) died at the Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee on Saturday morning, Pattern Day in her native Knocknagoshel.

Among the mourners were some familiar faces from the worlds of entertainment, politics and sport, including artistic director of the Gate Theatre Michael Colgan, actress Aisling O'Sullivan, singer Francie Conway, Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan, MEP Sean Kelly, and legendary Kerry footballers Mick O'Connell, Maurice Fitzgerald, Sean Walsh, Kieran Donaghy and Marc Ó Sé.

Although her mother was a great raconteur, Joanna said she selflessly gave her father the space and the liberty to work as a professional writer, while she ran the shop and pub on William Street, Listowel and raised their four children.

President Michael D Higgins, who was represented by his aide-de-camp Lieut Cmdr Patricia Butler of the Naval Service, once referred to Mrs Keane affectionately as "that great gate keeper".

"She backed our father through thick and thin," said Joanna. "She coaxed and cajoled him to drive on relentlessly in spite of rejection and unfavourable reviews, and even when threatened with excommunication."

At the same time, her mother was no saint and took no prisoners.

"She could clear a pub better than any guard. She dearly loved Conor, Billy, John and myself but she was always one step ahead of us," she said, adding that Charlie Haughey once said of her: "I'll get the kiss and the welcome from Mary but that's all I'll get."

Chief celebrant and parish priest of Ballyheigue Fr Tom Leane, a first cousin of Mrs Keane, revealed the tragedy that shaped her life.

Her mother Bridget died shortly after the birth of her youngest brother Tim. Her father Con died when she as only 16, leaving five children.

Her daughter finished her eulogy with some "classic Maryisms", sayings her mother used that revealed a sharp wit and tongue such as: "A woman's no good without a bit of temper", "shop in your own town or you'll have no town" and "throw on the coat and go out with your husband or else he'll go astray."

And no doubt this week when faced with adversity, the Keanes will heed their mother's advice, repeated daily: "Put on your shop smile and hoor it out."

Irish Independent

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