Wednesday 25 April 2018

John B always said wife Mary Keane made him

Mary Keane and playwright John B Keane
Mary Keane and playwright John B Keane

Emer O'Kelly

A little over a year ago Mary Keane beamed at me and confided: "I'm 85 and I've no right being here. I should be at home with my rosary beads."

She was in the bar of the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, where she had travelled in a Listowel-style convoy, for another opening of one of her beloved late husband's plays.

But it was also the occasion when a portrait of John B was unveiled in the Gaiety parterre bar which is named after him. It was by Cian McLoughlin, a large oil that shows John B Keane's always-mobile face in three different moods, emerging almost surreally from a dark swirl of mystic and mysterious clouds.

And behind, not a shadow, but a formidable presence (something she didn't know before the unveiling) is Mary - "four-square" behind him, as she was throughout his life.

John B Keane died in 2002, and throughout his life he frequently gave his wife credit for having made him the man he was, and therefore the writer he was. The couple married in 1955 and Keane's of William Street, their legendary pub in Listowel, followed immediately, with John B writing upstairs and Mary reigning supreme in the bar.

And after her husband's death, she carried the torch. He had died in the spring, and that September she was in Galway in an almost royal progression, escorted by her three handsome sons, to take her seat at Garry Hynes' Druid production of Sive.

A national first night of a Keane play has always been the signal for half the population of Listowel to take to the charter bus - and Mary continued to be among them, her presence a benediction and a joy for even the most hard-boiled producer.

I know she was 86, but I can't believe she's gone.

Sunday Independent

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