It was with great sadness I learned of the death of Kevin Keating. I first met Kevin and his partner, Anne Conway, at the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) weekend schools held near Kippure, in the upper Liffey Valley in the Wicklow Mountains, from 2007-9. The political debates were of a very high standard, and the camaraderie and shared meal-making and social drinking very enjoyable (for which thanks must also go the ‘master of ceremonies’ – John McAnulty).
When the first of these weekend schools ended, I stayed with Kevin and Anne in their north Dublin house. I stayed again before and after the following years’ weekend schools. I much appreciated the very informative discussions based on their trade union and community experience in Dublin. Kevin used to take me to The Cobblestone in Dublin’s Smithfield, where he joined the other musicians who played and sang there. It reminded me of Sandy Bells in Edinburgh. I had always hoped that he and Anne would make it over to Scotland, my most recent invite following the birthday greetings Kevin sent me this February. Although I did not know it, Kevin was already seriously ill. My thoughts go out to Anne for whom the invitation still very much stands.
Knowing Kevin relatively fleetingly I am posting the the following two much fuller appreciations.
Kevin was interviewed by the Irish Revolution blog this February about his years of activism. This interview can be seen at:-
A political appreciation from a comrade and friend, Gearoid O’ Loinsigh
A political appreciation from his Socialist Democracy (Ireland) comrades first appeared on the Socialist Democracy website.
A political appreciation from his Socialist Democracy (Ireland ) comrade and historian Rayner O’Connor Lysaght
KEVIN KEATING – PRESENTE!
Our dear comrade Kevin Keating has died.
At his cremation he is recorded singing the Phil Ochs song; “When I’m gone” – a robust rejection of a religious afterlife and a joyous affirmation of struggle and the need to act against injustice in the life that we have.
Interviewed about his decades of struggle and their genesis he remarked matter of factly that he just fell into it – that in the 70s Irish workers led Europe in the number and militancy of strikes and that across the continent many young workers automatically saw themselves as anti-imperialists in solidarity with other workers across the world. He never lost that international perspective, travelling to many countries and linking directly with workers there.
So the political significance of Kevin’s life is not in how he fell into struggle but how, across the decades, he did not fall out again.
Part of the answer lies in his position as a skilled manual worker. Unlike many student leftists Kevin did not romanticize the trade union leaders. From early on he found himself in struggle against them in the union structures to defend workers’ rights and he saw the growth of social partnership with the bosses and government that continues to this day.
The other aspect of Kevin’s early experiences that is of note was his association with the Republican movement. He felt the strong bond that arises among comrades when they confront the State but also the many weaknesses of the conspiratorial and physical force mentality. Lack of political cohesion leaves the movement more open to state penetration and to manipulation by the leadership.
Kevin and his partner Anne fought for women’s rights before it was fashionable and were concerned by the extent to which the experience of working class women was no longer a central focus.
Kevin became a Marxist not through some rush of blood to the head or sudden enthusiasm but through careful consideration of real life experiences. He would not easily abandon the lessons he had learned. He was normally a mild mannered man but became very angry when leftists tried to sell dodgy goods. He was critical of the growing electoralism of the Irish left and of their deference to the union bureaucracy. He had no time for soft soap, once asking a prominent speaker to explain where a social Europe lay between Marx’s choice of socialism or barbarism.
Kevin’s life was a triumph. It was a triumph in the outer world as expressed by the hundreds of messages of regret, sorrow and love from family and friends and those who knew him. It was expressed by him in his last Phil Ochs song played at the cremation – act now against injustice because later is too late.
We all have one life to live. Kevin lived a life of integrity for himself and his class and was able to look back with pride, having lived life to the full.