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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 October 2007, 19:33 GMT 20:33 UK
Irish Civil War veteran dies at 105
Dan Keating
Dan Keating was born in 1902 in County Kerry
The last surviving IRA veteran of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War has died at the age of 105.

Dan Keating died peacefully near his home in County Kerry. Diarmaid Fleming looks back on his life.

Meeting the dapper Dan Keating, it could be difficult to reconcile the immaculately dressed man with his revolutionary past.

Looking probably more like a fit 75-year-old rather than a man of 105 years of age, unless you knew his background, it could be hard to imagine the gentlemanly Dan as the last link to the revolutionary violence which gave birth to the modern Irish nation.

But once the pleasantries of tea and brief discourse over the weather or Kerry's latest football victory were over, when visiting him at his home in Castlemaine near where he was born, the subject of politics was never far away.

Eighty six years after the Irish War of Independence, while the mainstream republican movement had embraced compromise through power-sharing with unionists in Stormont, Dan Keating's views had changed little from the days he fought British forces in the hills and towns of Kerry.

In a BBC interview in March, he said that a united Ireland remained his political goal: "You'll have no peace in Ireland until the people of the 32 counties of Ireland elect a government without interference from England."

Dan Keating was born in 1902 on a small farm near in Castlemaine in County Kerry, the eldest of seven.

Easter Rising
Mr Keating said attitudes changed after the Easter Rising

His uncles were militants involved in attacks on English landlords' agents during land disputes in the 19th century.

But he said that in his early youth, Kerry was peaceful until the 1916 Easter Rising.

Relations with the large British military garrison in Tralee were good, where a soldier from Lancashire who enjoyed music was welcomed to sing in the local pubs.

When one of Dan's own cousins who was in the British Army overstayed his home leave, two uncles were arrested after beating up a visiting military policeman inquiring as to his whereabouts.

But the injured soldier refused to give evidence against the two Kerrymen, saving them from certain jail and earning the respect of locals.

"He didn't want any trouble," said Dan.

The execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising rapidly changed the atmosphere to one of hatred and war, he said.

Working in a bar in Tralee, he joined the IRA youth wing, acting as an intelligence agent, and helping move weapons.

He said it was a fervour of revolt and youthful excitement rather than political motivation which got him involved.

"We were mad for it. It was the thing to do at the time. There was a wave and you got caught up with it. All the people you knew were involved," he said.

He graduated to the IRA on turning 18, and took part in ambushes in which men from both his own and the British side died.

He set up one ambush where several policemen were killed near his home, but would not be drawn on whether he himself had killed, saying he did not know in the fog of war.

You had to wipe the enemy off the face of the earth
"When you are involved in an ambush with a crowd of men, you wouldn't know who killed who.

"But the prospect never troubled me. You were fighting for a just cause and once you have that in the forefront, it never troubled you," he added.

He said it was a war to the death for both sides.

"You had to wipe the enemy off the face of the earth, that was your job to do."

A truce with the British ended the War of Independence in 1921, but the treaty led to the partition of Ireland.

The IRA fought on, with Dan on the losing side in the bitter Civil War against the Free State Army which followed immediately.

He was to serve the first of several stretches in prison, interned in the Curragh Camp.

While many IRA men left Ireland for good, unable to gain work in a land run by their civil war enemies, Dan stayed and got steady work as a barman.

He remained active in the IRA in Kerry, and was part of an IRA squad which attempted to assassinate the Irish fascist leader Eoin O'Duffy on his way to a rally in Tralee in 1933.

A disastrous plan by the IRA to cause sabotage in England during World War II - the S-Plan - brought Dan to England where he led the IRA in London, taking part in bombings of commercial premises and power-stations by night, while he worked as a barman in The Strand in London by day.


When detectives came knocking on his door, he told him the Dan Keating they were looking for had already left on a passing bus, and made it back to Ireland after giving them the slip.

But more jail awaited on his return, with a second stretch in the Curragh internment camp.

He left the IRA on his release, he said after a clear-out of the "old guard", and settled down with a new wife who was a regular visitor to him in prison - and who with no hint of irony he said was even more militant than himself.

A non-drinker until his 50s, he took his first drink after a row with the teetotal Pioneer Total Abstinence Association

He continued to fundraise and help republican causes, even storing weapons in his house despite an unsuspecting near neighbour being a senior policeman.

Working in the Comet Bar in Dublin's northside, he was an active trade unionist in the bar worker's union.

A non-drinker until his 50s, he took his first drink after a row with the teetotal Pioneer Total Abstinence Association whose pin he had sported as a lifelong member.

At a consultation meeting called by the government to relax pub opening hours, Dan was shocked when the teetotal organisation backed plans to lengthen pub opening hours in opposition to the barworkers' union.

His response was typically militant.

"I took the pin off and fired it at them. I walked out of the meeting with the union leader Walter Byrne, and both of us had a glass of sherry," he said.

He retired back to Castlemaine after his wife died in the the late 1970s, but continued to visit Dublin for big gaelic football and hurling matches, attending over 150 All-Ireland finals in his lifetime, most likely a record.

Walking several miles a day until just weeks before his death, he attributed his long life to moderation, never smoking, a good diet and lack of stress.

And his secret for living to 105?

"I always kept going and never worried about things. People should live their life and not worry about things, and if they have any favourite pastimes, they should keep at them," he said.

Independent and fit, he travelled on his own by bus on a two-hour journey to Cork to the premiere of Ken Loach's film, the Wind that Shakes the Barley in 2006, meeting the British director afterwards to voice his approval in declaring the film as an accurate portrayal of the fighting he was involved in himself.

While he only drank an occasional Benedictine brandy, and detested swearing, his recommendation of moderation did not apply to politics.

He remained an unreconstructed militant, left Sinn Fein in 1986 when it voted to end its ban on taking seats in the Irish parliament, and became a patron of the breakaway Republican Sinn Fein.

Irish President

He said he refused to meet Irish President Mary McAleese to receive a cheque on his 100th birthday because of her declaration of a desire to invite the Queen to Ireland during her term of office, and attacked the Sinn Fein leadership for entering into power-sharing in Stormont this year.

Shortly before his death, he said he did not mind that his views were in the minority.

"We are passing through a phase, the youth of Ireland - all they want is a pay packet and a good time," he said.

"I don't mind because I meet a lot of people who think the very same as me and we are very happy to be a minority.

"We feel that we have a duty to hand it down to future generations," he said.

His passing marks the end of the last direct link to the turbulent and violent birth of the modern Irish nation, as he was the last IRA veteran of the War of Independence.

The muted response to his death of Irish politicians who would not have shared his politics would probably be, for Dan Keating, a fitting epitaph.

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