Papers of John B Keane

Repository: Trinity College Dublin

Identity Statement

TitlePapers of John B Keane
Archive ReferenceIE TCD MS/10403
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1866-1990
Extent Medium88 Boxes


Creator(s): Keane, John B, 1928-2002, playwright

  • Administrative History ↴

    John Brendan Keane (1928–2002), writer, humorist, and publican, was born 21 July 1928 at Church St., Listowel, Co. Kerry. He was educated at Listowel national school and at the local secondary school and diocesan seminary, St Michael's College. In 1952 he took the emigrant boat from Dún Laoghaire and worked for two years in different jobs in Northampton. Returning to Ireland, he worked for some time as a pharmacist's assistant in Doneraile and in his home town, Listowel. He married Mary O'Connor early in 1955 and they purchased the Greyhound Bar at 37 William St., where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. He developed a pattern of writing into the small hours after the pub had closed. A light radio play, ‘Barbara Shearing’, was accepted by Radio Éireann but it was ‘Sive’, a startling melodrama, that first brought him recognition. Rejected by the Abbey Theatre (a reflection, perhaps, of the comprehension gap between the Dublin cognoscenti and the pre-modern rural culture of the far south-west), it was first presented in Walsh's ballroom, Listowel, on 2 January 1959 by the Listowel Drama Group.‘Sive’ then gained Dublin ‘respectability’ when it was produced on 25 May 1959 at the Queen's Theatre, the Abbey's temporary home after its own premises were destroyed by fire. Meanwhile, Keane had formed an agreement with the Southern Theatre Group (STG), an important development giving him an independent professional base in Cork. It was the STG that produced his next play, ‘Sharon's grave’ (also rejected by the Abbey), on 1 February 1960, as well as much of his subsequent work. A stream of plays followed ‘Sive’ and ‘Sharon's grave’. These included the effective music-drama ‘Many young men of twenty’ (1961), a poignant and trenchant commentary on the evils of emigration; ‘The highest house on the mountain’ (1961), where the characters struggle with their sexual demons; ‘The man from Clare’ (1962), with its portrait of a veteran footballer coming to terms with himself and those around him; ‘The year of the hiker’ (1963), depicting the tension between the wandering hero and his settled family; ‘Big Maggie’ (1969) – in which the title role was written for the actress Anna Manahan – about a formidable, outspoken widow, determined to protect her interests in a hostile world; and the poorly received ‘Moll’ (1971), a farcical piece about a priest's housekeeper. While the output of Keane plays fell away from the 1970s, with a corresponding deterioration in quality, his classic creations continued to be brought by professional companies to wider national and international audiences (‘Big Maggie’ was performed off Broadway in 1983 and ‘The field’ in Moscow in 1988). Keane wrote short stories and essays as well as newspaper columns, and he made regular contributions to radio and television, his commentaries on social issues being courageous and provocative. His novels included The bodhrán makers (1986); Durango (1992), described as a manic Kerry ‘western’; and The contractors (1993). Indeed, his critics would claim that he was far too prolific. He died at his home in William St., Listowel, on 30 May 2002, and is buried in the old cemetery there. Source: John A Murphy, Irish Dictionary of National Biography
  • Archival History ↴

    This collection was purchased directly from John B Keane and brought from his house 7 January 1990; later additions (eg Durango) were presented by the author 31 October 1991 and a number of items (10403/115,116,126,144) were presented by Barry Cassin. There was a further purchase in 2004 but the most recent papers are not available for consultation as yet.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Keane, John B, 1928-2002, playwright ↴

    The collection contains material relating to the life and career of John B Keane covering his plays, music, stories, novels, articles and literary criticism. The collection includes a substantial sequence of correspondence concerning Keane’s business activities as a literary man as well as correspondence of a general and private nature; topics covered include his plays, books, newspaper columns, royalties, contracts and permissions. There is much correspondence asking him to use his influence and status especially to publish other people’s stories and verse in his newspaper space. Much of the correspondence is incompletely dated, entirely undated and some of it unsigned, especially as to surname. The collection of literary papers includes manuscripts and drafts of plays including ‘Big Maggie’, ‘The Buds of Ballybunion’, ‘The Captain’, ‘The change in Hannie Madden’, ‘The change in Mame Fadden’, ‘The Chastitute’ , ‘The Crazy Wall’, ‘The Field’, ‘The First Lady of Loonlock’, ‘The Highest House on the Mountain’, ‘The Man from Clare’, ‘Many Young Men of Twenty’, ‘Moll’, ‘No More in Dust’ and ‘Pishogue’ amongst other writings and untitled works. Ephemera including playbills, posters, leaflets and theatre programmes relate to both his own works and those of others such as Brian Friel, Norman Mailer, Sean O’Casey and William Philips. The section of photographs contains images of John B Keane both solo and with company in addition to photographs collected by him and images relating to performances of his plays. The collection also includes financial accounts including royalties and financial papers relating to John B Keane and Mary Keane’s public house in Listowel, Co. Kerry.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    All items retained permanently
  • Arrangement ↴

    The collection is arranged as follows:
    Correspondence – Business, Private and General
    Literary Papers – Plays, Verse, Music, Stories and Articles, Novels, Literary Criticism and Reviews etc
    Photographs collected by John B Keane
    Financial Papers

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Please contact in advance of your visit
Conditions Governing ReproductionPlease contact for guidance.
Creation Dates1866-1990
Extent Medium88 Boxes
Material Language ScriptEnglish and Irish
Finding Aids A full descriptive list can be consulted in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library, Trinity College Dublin and a summary list is available online Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

There are no Allied Materials

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteNatalie Milne, February 2014
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottowa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997.
Date of Descriptions41671