Sainted before his time

Dissing the Famous: Fergal Keane

by Donal Kennedy

IF YOU look up Fergal Keane on the internet you'll find him garlanded with honours.

In this secular age it might be prudent to adopt an old Catholic custom whereby nobody is declared a saint until a "Devil's Advocate" has highlighted their faults, if any.

For a journalist, Keane's faults and uttered falsehoods are so crass that I believe he might be, without injustice, dubbed Fergal the Faker and Fount of Disinformation.

Some years back he called in London's Independent for a truth commission for the north of Ireland on the lines of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

His piece was headlined: "Ireland has paid a high price for its dishonest mythmaking."

In various broadcasts and written pieces Keane has asserted:

  • Michael Collins had attempted to sell partition to the Irish people.
  • British television began to be be received in Dublin in the late 1960s, nearly a decade after RTE's establishment in December 1961.
  • The Eucharistic Congress in Dublin was held in 1936.

In fact:

  • Collins's words, published on his death in 1922 in the collection The Path to Freedom occupy seven pages to his argument that the Partition Act of 1920 had failed.
  • From the early 1950s British television was received in Dublin. A classmate, living in Raheny stayed home to watch the Coronation in June 1953. Before the 50s were out BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland, Independent TV from Wales and Ulster Television reception in Dublin was excellent. In 1960, enjoying a pint in Howth's Royal Hotel, I watched a stampede of women from a Fianna Fáil Cumann meeting rush to the lounge to watch the wedding of Princess Margaret. Half of Dublin watched Sunday Night at the London Palladium and repeated its catchphrases.
  • For 1,500 good reasons the Eucharistic Congress was in 1932, as St Patrick's mission in Ireland is believed to date from 432 AD. Most Irishmen of my generation know that. Apparently Keane doesn't.

Mr Keane expressed unhappiness in 2001 at the public ceremony honouring the Christian burial of Kevin Barry and nine other patriots who been hanged by the British in 1920 and buried in quicklime. He seemed to call for a public ceremony to honour Royal Irish Constabulary men killed by the IRA between 1919 and 1921.

In fact the RIC and other anti-democratic forces had public funerals and Christian burials shortly after their deaths. Men who didn't remove their headgear risked violence from their comrades, unshuttered shops risked being burned down.

Keane's begrudgery doesn't end there.

In another piece in the Independent he quotes the Belfast-born poet Louis MacNeice, who chided his fellow Irishmen for deluding themselves that the world cared who was the king of their castle.

The context was the rise of Hitler. MacNeice "from the vantge point of London" gazed "scornfully on Ireland".

In fact, in 1930s, the King in London was very jealous of his Irish holdings, and law made in London proclaimed his supremacy over "every person, matter and thing" in "Northern Ireland." And his military and paramilitary police and specials were there to hold it for him, and draconian laws and gerrymandered elections.

When the Irish, in 1938, became masters of Cork Harbour, Bantry Bay and Lough Swilly, it vexed Churchill mightily, and he angrily denounced British withdrawal in the Commons.

After Hitler's downfall, and when NATO was being founded in 1949, Clement Attlee noted a memo from the Cabinet secretary declaring that "for strategic reasons" "some part of Ireland" should "remain within His Majesty's Dominions."

Apparently, Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman and Attlee were mere Lilliputians who did not share the Olympian disdain of MacNeice and Fergal Keane for strategic real estate.

Mr Keane is celebrated for his travels in Africa, including South Africa. It does not occur to him that the democratisation of South Africa and progress towards democracy in the North of Ireland are as much the fruits of changed global strategic imperatives as the withdrawal of American missiles from Greenham Common.

From 1841 to 1957 Britain held a naval base in Simonstown, South Africa, and thereafter was guaranteed access to it by the apartheid regime. Before the emergence of the internet the USA had secure communications from nearby, via Ballykelly in the north of Ireland, to the USA, according to a 1970s report in The Wall Street Journal.

It would appear that Pentagon strategists and their allies were less myopic than the late Mr MacNeice and the breathing Mr Keane.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2009-09-08 14:14:39.
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