A father to so many

De Facto

MAN OF MANY GIFTSMartin Keane at his home in Westport with gifts collected during his 2011 annual toy appeal. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

A tribute to the late Martin Keane

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

When news of Martin Keane’s untimely death filtered out, one woman commented, ‘No one group can claim exclusive rights on Martin’. She was right. Martin Keane was all things to all people. He wore a coat of many colours. He was a part of each one of us.
We all knew him from somewhere – on his sports lotto crusade for soccer and GAA, his annual Fuel Appeal for the Elderly, his Children’s Toy Appeal, gathering youngsters for football, youth choir, work, a Pioneer or Church usher.
He knew all the young and not so young. He had an uncanny knack of channelling the energy of youth into positive outcomes. Sometimes, speaking with Martin, he would suddenly excuse himself and slip away. His eyes were everywhere! Hand around the shoulder of a nearby youngster he would utter words of encouragement before returning to your company to continue the conversation.
He was a great man to pick up on something in young people. He knew when they needed cheering up. He could sniff out the suffering because he once suffered himself. He was forever lifting people up rather than putting them down. He was the classic embodiment of the Irish proverb, Mól an óige and tiocfaidh sí.     
Martin Keane had no children of his own yet he was a father to so many. He was full of honesty, integrity and dignity, with a wicked sense of humour! He was not into making judgements on people.  
Faith was what kept Martin going. He had a profoundly deep yet simple faith. He loved the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. On many occasions he reminded me of its opening verse – ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.’
He experienced both redemption and salvation. His faith was childlike but never childish. He took the Word of God for what it said. He believed what he read in the Scriptures. It changed his life.
Martin would be the first to admit that his life once ran out of control. In the end, he had no choice but fall to his knees. That he did and was graced with a deep inner strength that defied all negativity that life threw at him. He had a deep experience of being loved and accepted by God. He knew then that what he had to do was live a life of acceptance and love, not judgement and selfishness.
Martin Keane was nobody’s fool. He was often a ‘fool for Christ’ allowing others to joke at his expense. His awareness of himself ran much deeper than what some people thought. “Let them laugh,” he would say.
His days as an independent councillor were among his happiest, especially when he was elected Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council. Some days later, he called to share his joy with my mother, who had taught him in Letterbrock School, knowing that she was as proud of him as anyone could be.  
Occasionally, I received a call to make sure I would be attending the next council meeting. Needless to say, Martin would use the meeting to lash out at some policy that favoured a political party ‘and their cronies’. He would have to withdraw his remarks for the meeting to continue, which he always did. Speaking afterwards, he would whisper, “Sure won’t ye journalists cover the issue now!” thereby ensuring that his intervention got reported! There were no flies on Martin Keane!
Last year, he spoke to me about writing a book, his autobiography. We were due to meet. “After the summer. Leave it until October,” said he. It never happened. Tempus fugit. He assured me that a few things were written down. Regardless, for those of us who knew and loved this man, his words are written in our hearts. Brendan Mulroy said he was as great a man as ever walked the streets of Westport.
Little did we know that in our midst, the happy, smiling, jovial, inside out plastic-bag carrier was a walking saint. A man for all seasons. Go ndéana Dia trócaire air. Rest in peace Cove.