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.

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Christina Cavanagh Keenan

Matriarch of the family that this site is honouring, Christina Cavanagh from the start lead an interesting life and whilst it may be a little confusing looking back on the facts of her birth, it doesn’t take much imagination to feel the joy, confusion and tragedy of that day.

8 December 1932: A Birth and Two Deaths at Derrymacstur

December 1932 was supposed to be a time of joy for the young Cavanagh family.  The young couple had been blessed with three children in 3 years and the fourth was due before Christmas.  The last child born Eileen had a twin who didn’t survive, so the new baby was to be an extra blessing.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  Although we were brought up knowing the story, it is only when you look at the facts as to what happened that you realise how tragic and life changing the events of the day actually are.

It all started well enough and when Mary Keeffe sent for the Doctor everything seemed OK.  However, Mary had a difficult delivery 14 months before when she gave birth to twins, with one of them dying. This may be partly the reason that when she gave  birth to Christina, she continued to hemorrhage badly and consequently died of heart failure.  Another tale is that Dannie Cavanagh believed the Doctor, who was not the normal one, had taken drink.  He was so distraught after the death of his wife that he considered going after him with his shotgun but was talked out if by other family members.

Nearly unbelievably this was not the end of the tragedy for the day.  Dannies mother, Ellen McGuire lived with him, and she also died later that day.  Records indicate that she died of old age, she was 87 after all, but there is absolutely no doubt that her health had to be effected by the events in the house at Derrymacstur.

So Christina Philomena CAVANAGH was born on 8 Dec 1932 in the house at Derrymacstur, Roscommon, the same day her mother Mary Keeffe, and grandmother Ellen McGuire, died in the same house.  Her name Christina Philomena was chosen by her uncle, Michael-Thomas Cavanagh.

The Family Splits

So the 8 Dec 1932 is a key day to the future of the Cavanagh family. Instead of the joyous Christmas they were preparing for all year, the family was temporarily split up.

Each of the children were given out to family to mind. One of the sisters, Mae, went to the Maison family in Renefarna, who were first cousins to the Keeffe family. The other sister and brother, Eileen & Jim, were given over to the Mahon family, where Dannies sister Jane (nee Cavanagh) looked after them. The newborn child, Christina was given over to the Duignan family of McLoughra, Annaduff, Leitrim, where Dannies eldest sister, Mary Anne (nee Cavanagh) looked after her.

Return to Derrymacstur (Except Christina)

By early 1933 Dannie had recovered enough to be able to cope with the return of the children. However t,he family decided that the youngest, Christina stay with the Duignans for the foreseeable future to allow him to try and raise the rest of the family.

Christina Cavanagh – Living With The Duignans

The Duignans were Patrick Duignan and his wife Mary Anne Cavanagh (Dannies sister) who had already raised their own family by the time Christina came along.  It is likely that the arrangement for Christina to live with them was to be a short term thing as  they both were relatively old to take care of a newborn, being in their late 60′s at the time. However, the arrangement worked, and when it was decided to extend Christina’s separation from the family she stayed where she was. Despite their age, they proved to be good parents to Christina and she was very fond of them.

The Duignans liven in McLoughra, Annaduff, in Leitrim, which was a good distance, especially in them days away from Derrymacstur homestead.  However Dannie would visit on a regular basis, normally every week, rowing over the Shannon to get to the house.

By the time she was calling herself Christina Philomena Cavanagh Duignan, but did not know that her favourite uncle Dannie was actually her father. However, she was known locally as ‘The Orphan’, so it is likely she was aware something was up.

She was educated in the local school in Annaduff and proved to be very academically bright. This was to be a reoccurring theme of her life, where she was often shown to be far smarter than her formal education level.

However, with a smart child can come some difficulties and Christina was super confident and competent and soon she had the Duignans around her little finger. Her sisters remember hearing stories of Christina ‘running the house’, deciding not to go to school (as she was ahead of everyone anyway) and even getting her clothes tailored in the local town. Dannie took the decision that this wasn’t on, and explained to her the situation and that she was coming back home to Derrymacstur.  She was about by this time, and in truth the Duignans were struggling to keep up with her. Christina remembered that she was very fond of Dannie, but the news was a complete shock to her at the time.

She wasn’t separated very long from the Duignans as shortly afterwards Mary Anne and Pat Duignan also moved to Derrymacstur. All her life Christina maintained close relationships to both the Cavanagh and Duignan branches of the family.

Silly Tales

Anyone who got to know Christina was quick to acknowledge that she had a sharp wit and a mischievous sense of humour, and there are several example stories given.

Mae related a story where on a whim, Christina told Tommy Keeffe that word had reached town that his brother was back from the USA, and was in Dublin. Tommy went home and declared the same to the family who proceeded to get the place ready for the visitor.  Tommy had decided that he should go and meet the brother, and had already left to go to the train station before being persuaded that it was all a joke.  Christina, who was a decent poet, wrote a poem about it.  This has been recently rediscovered and I will transcribe it at some stage.

After meeting her future husband Jim, every time she went back home to Roscommon from Dublin she was pestered as to when they family would meet the man, or even see a picture. This was especially the case with Bridgie Keeffe who insisted on seeing a photograph. Christina cut a picture of an actor from the newspapers and presented him as the boyfriend and Bridgie declared herself impressed. It was only later Bridgie realised the deception, although it is not known as to her first impression of the ‘real’ Jim Keenan.

Even with her children she could extract some fun from unusual circumstance.  When her son got drunk at an early age with two of his friends, they made the mistake of coming back to the house.  In fairness, she did take care of them, until about 6 in the morning when she rousted them from bed for breakfast, only to present them with very lightly fried eggs.  Luckily, she has already opened the back door for the rush.

Adult life, Family & Death

Although she had been picked out as having the potential to further her education, she left school early like so many others at the time.

Her first job was at Carnadoe Dairy, a job she got by writing as essay as to why she deserved the job.

Christina and her sister Eileen, were sent to work in a house in  Listowel, Kerry for a short-time.  This was reported in the local papers, but I haven’t been able to find a copy (hint).

From May 1953 Criss was an a post office assistant in Aughnasheelin Post Office, Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim.

She was ill with having her appendix removed on 9 Aug 1955 at County Hospital, Roscommon. living in Dublin at the time, she went back to Roscommon to have the operation.  Her boyfriend at the time, Jim Keenan came to visit Criss on the 15th, travelling with their friend Mick Lyons in a blue van from Dublin (and bringing a present of cigarettes!!!).  This would have been one hell’va trip, especially with the roads, in a van at the time.

Marriage & Family

She met James Keenan in about 1954, when he delivered product to a store she was working in at the time.  She put her on him, and used thev excuse of a bet to get a date with him.  By Dec 1955 they were engaged, and marriage followed in Jun 1956.

The couple lived in Rathmines and Christina ran a grocery store “Keenans” while Jim continued his job as a van salesman.  The family lived above the shop. They maintained the shop until 1969, when the family (now with five children) moved to Artane, Dublin 5.

In 1966 Keenan & Kennedy Butchers Ltd was formed, and Jim & Christina were part owners and directors of the company.

Christina Philomena Cavanagh died of a brain aneurysm on 29 Jun 1996 at the age of 63 in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9, after collapsing at her home in Artane.  She was buried on 1 Jul 1996 at Clonalvy Cemetery in Meath. Her funeral took place on 1 Jul  from the Our Lady of Mercy, Artane, then she was buried beside her husband in Clonalvy Cemetery in Meath.

One of her poems was used on her memorial card.



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