Select Keane Miscellany

Here are some Keane stories and accounts over the years:

Keane and Kane in Ireland

Keane and Kane were ranked as the 65th and 67th most common names in all-Ireland in 1996.  But their rankings were very different in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland (Ulster).

Rest of Ireland
   181st            37th

The Keanes at Cappoquin House in Waterford

Cappoquin House is an 18th century Georgian mansion built on the site of an old Fitzgerald castle.  It dominates the Blackwater river at the point where the river turns south and ploughs its way through the hills to the sea.  The five-acre south-facing garden, a combination of formal and informal planting, offers fine views over the Blackwater valley.

The Keane family have lived at Cappoquin throughout that time.  George Keane had leased the town of Cappoquin with extensive farm and mountain land from the Earl of Cork under three 999 year leases. Cappoquin House was built by George Keane’s grandson.  It is little changed today even though it was burnt to the ground during the Troubles in 1922.  Sir John Keane, a senator in the new Irish Free State but someone who narrowly escaped being shot by the IRA, decided to restore the house.  The walls were too solid to be damaged by fire but the Adams period plasterwork was carefully reproduced using old moulds available from London.

The garden was laid out in the middle of the 19th century but there are vestiges of earlier periods in walls, gateways and streams.  It was taken in hand by Lady Olivia Keane in the 1950s and expanded by her in the late 1970's.  It reflects much of her taste and extensive knowledge of plants. 

The village of Cappoquin was home to R & F Keane’s factory in the late 19th century which made ploughs. Tivoli House, built in the 1820’s, was home at one time to Harry Keane who founded the original Cappoquin bacon factory in 1907.  It ran until 1980.  The writer Molly Keane, who was married in 1938 to a member of the Cappoquin House family, lived for a time at nearby Belleville House.

Aspects of John B. Keane, Playwright

John B. Keane was steeped in the traditions and lore of his native Kerry, which formed the basis of much of his work.  For some, his plays had an uncomfortable reality at a time in Ireland when the raw side of rural life was frequently ignored for the more acceptable version of Eamon de Valera’s vision of happy maidens and cosy homesteads.  Loneliness, greed, and sexual repression were themes he explored with considerable skill and courage.

Keane was influenced by the people of Lyreacrompane in Stacks Mountains between Listowel and Castle Island where he spent his early childhood summers.  He found their language to be an eloquent mixture, half-English and half-Irish.  “It had an extraordinary influence on my early plays and on my own speech after.  For all its raciness it was still a very measured language."

Keane also gathered material while working in London as a roadsweeper and barman before returning to Listowel in 1953 to buy his own bar.  He wrote his first popular play Sive in 1959.

The Keans in New Jersey

John Kean the Charleston merchant was the patriarch of the Kean family in New Jersey.  He had married into the Livingston family and William Livingston had become the first Governor of New Jersey.  But the Kean family entry into New Jersey politics had to wait until the late 19th century and Kean’s great grandson, also named John. 

Born in the ancestral home at Liberty Hall near Elizabeth, New Jersey, John Kean worked in banking and manufacturing before entering politics and being elected to Congress in 1883.  He failed to become Governor of New Jersey in 1892 but was its Senator from 1899 to 1911.  Keansburg in New Jersey (formerly Granville) was named in his honor.

His brother Hamilton Fish Kean was New Jersey Senator from 1918 to 1934, his nephew Robert Winthrop Kean was a Congressman from New Jersey from 1938 to 1958 (Kean University in New Jersey was later named in his honor), and his great nephew Thomas Kean was Governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990.  The Keans over this period married into some of the most prominent families of early American history, Stuyvesant and Winthrop as well as Fish.

Liberty Hall served as the family home until 2000 when it was converted into a museum.  Mary Alice Kean was the last family member to live in the house.  After the death of her husband in 1949, she devoted the rest of her life to preserving the family's legacy and preparing her home for its future as a museum.  A family collection of heirlooms and documents, many of them dating back to colonial times, was handed over to Kean University in 2007.

Abram Kean, Seal Hunter

Abram Kean was hailed as a master mariner but was also called "Killer Kean."  The archetypal sealing captain, he was accused, in legend and in popular mythology, of responsibility for the loss of 77 lives in the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914.  He was said to have acted irresponsibly in leaving 132 men from his son's ship on the ice where many froze to death during a violent storm.

Exonerated by a court of inquiry, Kean kept his formidable reputation as "the greatest seal killer of all time." In 1934, when he surpassed his personal goal of more than one million seals killed, he was fêted by the Board of Trade and awarded the Blue Ensign.  He wrote his autobiography, Old and Young Ahead, in 1935.

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