Dan Keating 105 years old, one of my favourite people is laid to Rest

October 2nd, 2007
by Weeshie Fogarty

Kerry's oldest citizen 105 year old Dan Keating was laid to rest last Friday week. St Carthage's Church about two miles from the village of Castlemaine was packed to overflowing as the Parish Priest Fr Luke Roche celebrated the funeral mass. The local choir sang beautifully, Maura Begley played some hauntingly beautifully tunes as the eight gifts symbolizing Dan's long and fruitful life were brought to the alter. This exemplary son of Kerry was afforded and rightly so the full trappings of a Republican funeral. The rich slanting Autumn sun lit up the adjoining Killtallagh Cemetery as his Tricolor draped coffin was lowered into the grave. A lone piper played Amazing Grace; we heard stirring orations recalling Dan's service to more than 90 years of service to the All Ireland Republic of 1916 and the first All Ireland Dail.

There was respectful silence as Kerry's queen of song Peggy Sweeney sang one of Dan's favorite songs, Sheannagolden. Following the burial old friends and comrades slow to depart lingered at the grave side recalling stories of Dan's amazing life. While his Republicans was the main topic of the day his deep love for Kerry football and its footballers was also acknowledged. It was through this facet of Dan's life that I befriended him years ago and in a series of recorded priceless interviews and general conversations he would relate to me stories of great games, legendary players and lavish praise for the men who through our country's troubled times kept the flame of Kerrys rich football heritage alive. So this week we recall just a few of those beautiful memories related to me by the man popularly known as Dan "Bally". Memories of great games and great players many of whom are long since forgotten. Some day perhaps all those stories so rich and precious will be recorded for future generations. For me Dan Keating was a man with whom you spend a few hours and came away much richer in mind and spirit. I once asked him what was the secret of his long life and he replied unhesitatingly. "A good bowl of porridge in the morning, a brisk daily walk a true faith and abstain from eating from seven o clock before you go the bed".

Ballygamboon Wood just a stones throw from his home was his heaven. He walked there in the peace and quite everyday, some times twice a day. From the highest point you can see Killarney away to the east and The gap of Dunloe is also visible on a clear day. This was where Dan found his greatest peace of mind. It was here that he could contemplate and look back on what was a packed life. What amazes me about this exemplary Kerryman was his ability to peer back through the mists of time and recall people and events in a way that would shame people much younger. "Active body, active mind", he told me. His memory of people and places was astounding. Mention the name of any Kerry footballer since the early twenties and he would describe for you in precise detail the strength, weakness and personality of that particular player. I firmly believe he had a photographic memory so precise was his recollection.

While his republicanism has been well documented my conversations with him centered mainly on Kerry football and All Ireland finals. He had attended every All Ireland final since 1919. In all150 between football and hurling. He was the only man alive that had seen every Kerry footballer from Dick Fitzgerald to Maurice Fitzgerald. Indeed it was fitting that Maurice's father Ned was present for Dan's funeral accompanied by the legendary Mick o Connell. Dan would have smiled quietly to himself to have seen two Kerry captains from the fifties there to pay their respects at the grave side. So how good was Mick o Connell? Was he the best midfielder he had seen during his long life? "Mick o Connell was a marvelous footballer. He was all skill. He had everything going for him. But you can never say who was the best. He was up there with the best of them. Kerry has been blessed with great midfielders. Paddy Kennedy was something special. A very talented footballer but very prone to injuries. In the old days we had "Airplane's Shea, Bob Stack, and Con Brosnan. Then along came Ambrose o Donovan, Sean Walsh, Jack o Shea, Darragh o Se, No you could never say who was the better. It would be unfair to single out one that was better than the other". Wise words indeed

Dan played a bit of football with Ballymacelligott and while he never played in Croke Park with those famous Kerry footballers of the time he fought along side and against them. His republican activities saw him spent nineteen months in internment, between Portlaoise and the Curragh camp. It was here that he became life long friends with some of Kerry's greatest footballing legends. Great friendships and great teams were formed in the huts in those jails he recalled. Men like Joe Barrett, Purty Landers, and John Joe Sheehy came together and remained life long companions. He is unequivocal in his views that they built the greatest football team that was ever seen. The four in row kerry team of 1929-1932. The present Kerry team he told me "wouldn't keep the ball kicked out to them". Dan's memories of names and events continued to astound and he quickly reminded me that the games played in 1924 between the ex-internees and the Kerry team who had beaten Tipperary in that years Munster final played a huge part in the re-growth of Kerry football following those troubled times. "This should never be forgotten", he strongly emphasized.

The ex-internees threw out a challenge to that winning Kerry team. Once again names of past comrades and great footballers he admired came easily to Dan's mind. On the Kerry side you had Dee o Connor, Con Brosnan, Jack Sheehy, Tom Ryle. Mick Graham and Tom Mahoney. The ex-internees boasted names such as Jerry (Pluggy) Moriarty, Joe Barrett, Jackie Ryan, Bill o Gorman, Johnny o Riordan, and Johnny Tagney. Kery won the game but in a second clash the result went to the ex-internees. In all my football discussions with Dan I always got the strong feeling that John Joe Sheehy was his best friend and most favorite footballer of all. "Sheehy was a great footballer, no doubt" he recalled. "He began his career around 1918; he was very young at the time and was the mainstay of his club. He spend three years on the run and when he came back he continued to play great football. He had one failing, he was too unselfish. If there was one fellow, one of the forwards not scoring or doing badly he'd go out of his way to get that fellow into the game. He was an awful man that way. Oh yes he was a great team man. When I he retired after spending more than fifty years as a barman in the Comet on the Swords Road,("a short walk from Croke Park"), he returned to Kerry. John Joe would collect him a few times a week and they would traverse the county together.

"While they were on opposite sides, Con Brosnan and Sheehy put all their differences aside for Kerry football. Kerry and Clare met in the Munster final in Limerick in 1924. John Joe Sheehy was still on the run. Brosnan an officer in the Free State army guaranteed safe passage to Sheehy if he played in the final. Sheehy was not interfered with, he played the game and straight after the final whistle he disappeared into the surrounding countryside. And I firmly believe from that on the bridge was built". I had began research for my book on Dr Eamonn o Sullivan,(A man before His Time) during the course of one of my interviews with Dan so I asked about Eamonn's influence on the teams in the twenties. "He was one of the best ever, based in Killarney he was a great man for getting the players physically fit. He told me one time that if the skills were in the players then fitness was the next greatest thing. He was always there when Kerry were in trouble, they would get him to train the side. O yes he had a great record as a trainer and should never be forgotten. He had great respect from the players. If the players respect you then its half the battle".

Kerry had won the All Irelands in 1924 and 1926 so I wondered what had happened in 1927 and '28 before Kerry won that historic four in a row. Once again names and dates came tripping from the tongue without a moment's hesitation. It was absolutely fascinating to listen to Dan recalling names and events that we read about in history books. In many ways to me it seemed unreal, as he spoke rolling back the decades as if events had occurred only yesterday. "After 1926 Kerry suffered greatly through emigration. First of all that wonderful Caherceiveen footballer Johnny Murphy died, I think he got meningitis, and died very quickly. Phil o Sullivan our captain from 1924 went to America, the poor man died there and is buried there. Gal Slattery also went to America so did Paddy Clifford, there was no work for them here.

Paul Russell went to Dublin and declared for them. He was a great wing back and he loved to go forward. He was always bulling for a few points and one particular day in a semi-final in the thirties Dublin had them on the rack. They were leading by a goal and Russell let fly a drop kick from about sixty yards. Now it skidded off the ground and into the net, a draw. Kerry destroyed them in Tralee. Bill Landers and Mossie Galvin also emigrated. Half the team went to America. Kerry were badly wrong in 1925 and declared illegal. Kildare won in 1927 and '28. Kerry were building and then we saw that great four in a row side. They were trained by a Tralee man Sean McCarthy, he was great friends with Sheehy and he played a huge part in bringing the players together. No one else would train the side at the time. He was from Blennerville and said he would do it for one year, and then he won the four in a row.

What astounded me most of all in my discussions with Dan was the fact that he could describe say Paul Russell from 1924 with the very same accuracy when I questioned him about Pat Spillane, or any of the modern day players. What I have recounted here is just a fraction of my interviews and conversations with him. People traveled from far and wide to record his memories mainly about his Republican involvements. At least we have saved some of his fondest memories of the secret of Kerry. May the sod of his beloved native Kerry rest lightly on this exemplary man. He touched many lives during his 105 years but for me his greatest attribute was the manner in which he could associate and relate to in equal terms with the very young and the not so old. We were fortunate to have known him.

Dan was predeceased by his wife, Dolly who died in 1977 and to all his relations, friends and old comrades we extend our deepest sympathy.

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