John B Keane and the Importance of Home

The Kerryman


In Tanganyika, yes, my boy, that’s very far away,
But wait you lad that’s nothing, for I haven’t had my say,
In Singapore, Sumatra, or where would you like to go
You’ll find them tough and rugged and they’ll never say you no.
These Kerrymen are hearty men and handy men, and handsome men,
And a man is wise to watch himself when dealin’ with a Kerryman.


When I was young in London once, but that’s some time ago,
I met them good, I met them bad, I met them so and so,
The worst I knew of anyone, some wise guys called his hand,
And asked him where was Kerry found in Holy Ireland.
Not versed in glib responses my friend could only smile,
And whisper to the Englishmen, I’ll tell you in a while.


He was a bony mountain man in Kenmare coat and breeks,
He thought perhaps of foaming seas and wind along the Reeks.
The wise men smiled and laughed awhile, but when they turned to go,
He rose and went among them, and he stretched them toe to toe.
In quiet voice he muttered, ‘Ye should have let me be,
And ye’ll not forget where Kerry is in time to come,’ said he.


You’ll find them out in ‘Frisco, in the Bronx or old Salt Lake,
Some reek of hard-won opulence, some touch you for a stake.
Some from Cathedral pulpit in sepulchral tones proclaim
The grace of God, o’er evil, and the glories of His Name.
And the others, all the others, all the beaten men, the merry men,
Wherever men are free you’ll find a circle of these Kerrymen.


Now maybe you’re a business-man above in Dublin town,
A bishop home on holiday, a writer of renown,
A sober staid executive, a man who’s down and out,
Or a navvy home from ‘Blighty’ who’s most likely knocked about.
I’ll bet the shirt upon my back, you’ll shout the very same,
When the green and gold are out there, fighting back to win the game.


That’s it, that’s what I’m getting at, you’ll beat them ‘til they’re done,
But they’ll finish up on top, as sure as you’re a mother’s son.
The mountain men are mighty men, the lowland men are steady men,
The fishermen are weather-beaten, rugged, rough-and-ready men,
And a man is always welcome there, but most of all a merry man,
For laughing hearts, and mighty hands, and glory go with Kerrymen.


‘The Kerryman,’ which appears in the O’Donohoe Collection, expressed the importance of home to the late North Kerry playwright, John B Keane (1928-2002).  It was published in 1954, on the writer’s return home to Ireland after a few years working in England.


With the money saved from this period, John B Keane was able to marry and buy a public house in Listowel.  This lifestyle was conducive to the budding writer; it afforded him time to put pen to paper, and more importantly, gave him a constant supply of material for his famous character sketches.


Landmark: 37 William Street, Listowel.  Photo courtesy Nuala Stewart


The papers of the late John B Keane, founder of the Listowel Leader newspaper, are held in Trinity College Dublin, ref IE TCD MS 10403.


Note: Over 900 copies of the single edition Listowel Leader were published in the late 1940s/early 1950s.  The O’Donohoe Collection would be delighted to receive a copy of same for its archive if one can be traced.