by Tommy Mooney:
John Francis Keating was born on 26th October 1899 in Ballyragget, Co.Kilkenny, Ireland. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and succumbed, with thousands of other young Irishmen, to wartime propaganda and Redmond’s urgings. He left home in 1915, then being around the age of 15, and joined a Cavalry Regiment in Waterford. He was transferred as a `replacement’ to a “Corps of Hussars” in France, there being obviously little requirement for mounted troops in trench warfare.
On being de-mobbed, he was given work at DublinCastle, as a civilian, but had already joined the DublinBrigade IRA. He is believed to have been helpful with extra carbon copies of DMP documents from therein but his involvement in the `Bloody Sunday’ shootings necessitated his going on the run.
He was attached to Collins’ GHQ as a Staff Captain and sent as an organiser to County Laois, where he was captured by a British Patrol and incarcerated in Mountjoy Gaol until the Truce of July 1921.
He remained with the “Republic” in the Civil War and fought in O’Connell St.until the surrender and death of Cathal Brugha at the hands of Free Staters in July 1922. He was then re-imprisoned in Arbour Hill for a while and also Mountjoy.
On release in 1924 he took ship to Canadaand it was here, in the Montrealof that era, that his socialist ideals were honed. There was a significant amount of Labour unrest in that city at the time and Jack had been `sponsored’ into Canadaby a J McIvor, seemingly a figure of some import to north American Communists.
Jack returned to Ireland on the accession to power of De Valera in 1932 and, during the following year’s snap election, even worked on behalf of his Fianna Fail political party, with other IRA veterans, in the attempt to re-accomplish the defeat of the Cosgrave-led “Cumann na n Ghaedhal / Fine Gael” opposition.
Jack’s disillusionment with politics as practised then in Irelandsent him back to the `physical force’ approach and he resumed as an IRA organiser / training officer in the Dublinarea. In 1937 he was appointed Adjutant to General Tom Barry (of Crossbarry and Kilmichael fame), briefly the Chief of Staff of the IRA. They both, with many others, resigned because of Sean Russell’s proposed bombing campaign in Britain’s chief cities, but, he maintained his connections with Dublin.
He then emigrated to England in 1937 and spent around a decade in Birmingham, which remain unclear. He may have worked as a clerical worker, although whether this was throughout is uncertain. He is believed to have worked at the BSA, although this is not confirmed. He is almost certain to have joined a trade union and possibly the Communist Party, locally, also; although more information would be very welcome on this point.
During his annual holiday to Ireland, he was always dressed in a fashion reminiscent of George Orwell, complete with checked shirt and plain narrow necktie, tweed jacket and hat.
Jack came home again in 1947 to attend the funeral of “Big” Jim Larkin, a former friend in Dublin. Keating’s presence was noted in the Irish Independent column reporting the make up of the cortege. His own mother’s funeral was held in Dublinsome weeks later and he stayed for that, also.
Jack died in a Dublin hospital on 21st September 1948, although it is uncertain whether he had actually returned to Birmingham in the meantime, or not. His own interment in Ardmorewas massively attended by old comrades and he was rendered full military honours with an oration by Con Lehane, a friend and another ex-Chief of Staff of the IRA, during the 1930s. A colour party was present and three rifle volleys were shot over his coffin by trench-coated men who appeared through the crowd at the graveside and as quickly vanished again afterward.
I have always been very proud of that uncle and the part he played in our history. Jack was invariably good for a half-crown when ever he visited us – a king’s ransom then for his young nephews; mind you, I had to sing for it first!