By Breda Joy
Kerry-based journalists, including myself, were occasionally tasked with ringing John B Keane’s bar in Listowel to get a quote or comment from the great playwright. This involved the herculean hurdle of ‘getting past’ his wife, ‘Mary John B’. Whenever I heard Mary’s voice at the other side of the line, my heart sank because, in the words of President Michael D Higgins, she was ‘that great gatekeeper’.
“Dad was not to be disturbed at all costs,” said Mary’s daughter, Joanna Flynn. “If the Pope himself called, he was not to be disturbed.”
Delivering the eulogy at her mother’s Requiem Mass on Monday, August 17th, 2015, Joanna related how Actors Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Birkin were once refused access to the author. Mary did not recognise them but, in any event, no interruption of the flow of inspiration in the room above the bar would have been brooked.
In an interview in the 2013 Cork Literary Review, Mary told Writer and Family Friend Gabriel Fitzmaurice, that it was a hard task to protect John (he was always John to her) because he was a ‘divil out of hell’.
“With all the hiding, I’d have him in hiding for four hours and at the last minute he’d appear and get me made into a liar,” she said.