A series with Liam Nolan


One of John B. Keane’s sons, Billy, an Irish Independent columnist, said that his mother, Mary, had “grave misgivings” about her husband’s decision to write The Field.

John Meagher quoted Billy as saying, “She had huge reservations about it. There were a lot of threats made…letters, there was talk of a bomb maybe. My mam was scared of it.

“And when the movie came out, somebody wrote a letter to my dad to say that the whole thing would be dragged up again. Even all those years on, there was still tension over what had happened.”

The movie he referred to was Jim Sheridan’s 1990 adaptation of John B.’s play The Field, which starred Richard Harris, Sean Bean, Brenda Fricker, John Hurt and Tom Berenger.

The film differed radically from the play, and John B. was said to have been “ambivalent about the extensive rewrites by Jim Sheridan”.

Many an author, famous or anonymous, the film rights of whose work was purchased by film makers, has been dissatisfied with the changes film makers have made. Hemingway and Steinbeck are two who immediately spring to mind.

The “what had happened” spoken of by Billy Keane was a Kerry murder that was believed to have been what inspired John B. Keane to write the play in the first place.

“The Field” is about land hunger and hypocrisy, the Irish obsession with land, about resentment and fear and guilt and regret and religion, a play of compelling power and dark humour. It was offered to, and turned down by the Abbey Theatre’s managing director (1941-1967) Ernest Blythe.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own