Bio: James Bernard Keenan
James Bernard KEENAN was born on 13 Sep 1934 at Rotunda Hospital in Dublin 1. Both his parents were from Meath and were living in Rathfarnham while his father ran a dairy-yard in Rathmines. He was christened by Rev L Kelly CC at Rathfarnham Church on 30 Sep 1934. Some of his birth documentation shows his name as Bernard James, others as James Bernard. Either way, he was named for his father, James Keenan, one of the Keenans of Battramstown.
Although born in Dublin, he considered himself a Meathman, Shortly after his birth, the family moved back to Meath were they lived close to other Keenan family members.
Shortlived Emigration to England (1954)
In 1954 (aged 19) Jim decided to go to England to look for work and opportunities. At the time, Ireland was going through a very tough economic period and England was full of Irish looking for work. He moved to Birmingham, England, living on Coventry Road.
However, there were strong rumours that the British Government was thinking of introducing conscription as they were involved in several potential military conflicts, particularly in Africa. Jim decided to go back to Ireland rather than take the chance, all in all he was back in Ireland within a year.
Return to Ireland, move to Dublin, Marriage
On his return from England he did a variety of jobs, and spent a good while of the first summer back in Ireland as a road labourer. He moved to Dublin, living on the North Circular Road and became an egg salesman servicing the Dublin area. By early 1955 he met Christina Cavanagh and by May 1955, they began stepping out. She worked in a shop that he was selling to, and she bet her boss that she could get a date with him. She won the bet, and little over a year, on 11 June 1956, they were married at St Michans Church, Church Street, Dublin.
By 1957, the couple had their first child(of seven)** and Jim is listed as a shopkeeper on the birth cert. The couple had moved to Mount Pleasant Terrace in Rathmines, and ran a grocery shop. Essentially Christina looked after the shop, while Jim was a van driver and salesman for a well known Dublin meat wholesaler, Lynch Brothers.
Keenan & Kennedy Butchers Ltd
Jim was very successful in Lynch Brothers job and became the leading saleman in his area for several years. It was here that he met Dennis Kennedy, his future business partner, who was also a leading saleman for the company. By 1969, with several years of successful sales behind them, they decided to join forces and form Keenan & Kennedy Butchers Ltd, which is still in existence today. Also in 1969, the Keenans decided to move their young family to the northside of the city and found themselves a home in Artane.
So,What Was He Like ?
When researching people, its often very easy to forget to round out the character of the person and just stick to facts. I obviously am trying to bring some ‘life’ to the people by remembering them and so its nice if we can remember some traits about the individuals. I was quite young when Jim died, but I have very fond memories of a man that seemed to be in a permanent good humour, always working, with a cigarette in his mouth. This has pretty much been backed up by the number of people I’ve met over the years who have broadly agreed with my impressions.
Firstly, he was a very nice man, who would do a turn for anyone if possible. I met a man several years ago who told me of how Jim Keenan had given him a start when nobody else would touch him. He was covered in tattoos, a no-no in the 1970s, but Jim gave him a chance and a start. 30 years later, when he recognised my name, this man [who I don’t remember] went out of his way to tell me the story and to express his thanks.
Secondly, he was an extraordinarily hard worker, something that he shared with his wife and instilled into his children, so much so that even now this remains a well commented on trait. He made the point that anything worth getting was worth working for.
Thirdly, he had a fierce sense of humour and was often involved in pulling pranks [Again, he shared this trait with his wife]. On one occasion, he and his son where doing a delivery in a van when they got stopped at the lights. Jim saw a man in another van, got out and started to shout and abuse him. The driver got out and the two men got into a fight. The lights changed, and both men jumped back into their vehicles laughing, leaving bemused spectators all round. It turned out that the other driver was a friend of Jims and this was one of their pranks.
The Bog – Derrymacstur (places very special to him.)
Jim was known as a hard worker, but he made time for his family. Nearly every Sunday was spent visiting the Keenans at The Bog, Battramstown, Meath. These were his aunt and uncles [his dads family] and this tradition continued after his death by his children until the last of the family (Agnes Keenan) passed. Even now, when someone visits Clonalvy Graveyard, a short diversion to pass the spot where ‘The Bog’ stood.
The other destination was his wifes birthplace in Roscommon, Derrymacstur. He was as home here as in Meath and the Keenans stayed at Derrymacstur in the house, camping, or in a caravan. Summers, Easters, any gaps in the schedule were spent relaxing in Roscommon, fishing, visiting people, or doing very little!
Both venues really show that family was a real priority with him.
Illness and Death
Sadly, in late 1980 while at a party in Roscommon Jim fell ill and shortly after was diagnosed with lung cancer.
He died on 23 July 1981 in Mercers Hospital in Dublin after a short illness. On 26 July 1981 his funeral mass took place in Our Lady Of Mercy Church in Artane, and he was buried back in his native Meath in Clonalvy Cemetery, the family graveyard in the same plot as his mother Kathleen.
His burial site is easily identified. It is towards the back of the cemetery in a large plot, with a headstone dedicated to his mother. Jim left instructions that this headstone be placed on the plot after his passing.
** In total the couple had seven children. However, for the sake of privacy I am not detailing the children. References may be made elsewhere. If you have any queries, please contact me.