Kerry Writers

John B. Keane


John B. Keane

Brendan Kennelly




John B. Keane, dramatist, novelist, poet and raconteur, was born on 21 July 1928 in Listowel, where he resided with his wife Mary over their much-frequented public house, until his death. John B. Keane has contributed greatly to both local and national theatrical life.

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Early Work

1959, Sive

His first play, Sive, presented by the Listowel Drama Group, won the All-Ireland Amateur Drama Festival in 1959, and its enormous impact immediately made Keane’s reputation. Sive is concerned with the traditional theme of the made marriage. It was followed in 1960 by Sharon’s Grave, one of the author’s favourite plays. His next plays turned away somewhat from the folk past of North Kerry and depicted some of the elements of change in rural Ireland at that time. Many Young Men of Twenty (1961), is a musical about emigration and portrays the lack of jobs and opportunities which forced the people of Keane’s small town to depart for the modern world of England.

Film Adaption

The Field, 1965

Other plays penned by Keane include The Man from Clare (1962), Hut 42 (1962), The Year of the Hiker (1963), but a stronger plot and characterisation make The Field (1965) one of Keane’s best plays. This play was subsequently adapted for screen by Noel Pearson and Jim Sheridan in 1996. Big Maggie (1969) dealt with a familiar Irish phenomenon, that of the domineering mother, and provided material for an actress to play a strong formidable central character on stage. Moll (1971) is another woman’s play, the main character being a canny and domineering housekeeper of the local parish priest. Next came The Crazy Wall (1974), The Buds of Ballybunion (1976), and The Chastitute (1979).

Keane’s imagination and humour are unique and surreal – as anyone who has had the privilege of hearing him speak wIll testify. His wit and talent are also evidenced in his many journalistic compositions, some of which have been collected in volumes of short, chatty essays.

Brendan Kennelly


Letters of a Successful T.D, 1967

In 1967, the Letters of a Successful T.D., Keane began a series of epistolary novellas. The other titles include Letters of an Irish Parish Priest, Letters of a Love-Hungry Farmer, Letters of a Country Postman, Letters of a Matchmaker and Letters of an Irish Minister of State. In his mid-fifties, Keane wrote a series of best-selling works, including The Contractors (1993), The Bodhrán Makers (1986), and Durango (1987), which was filmed by Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1999.


2002 , Listowel Writers’ Week

J. B. Keane was president of Irish PEN, a member of Aosdána, and the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from Dublin University, University of Limerick and Marymount, Manhattan College, New York.

John B. Keane died in May 2002, during his beloved Listowel Writers’ Week, of which he was a co-founder. When asked how he would like to be remembered in the 1994 RTE ‘River of Words’ documentary he replied – “as a player who scored the winning point in the Finals of the North Kerry Intermediate Football Final against Duagh in 1959”.


Discover the stories and immerse yourself in the rich literary history of Kerry and book a tour today.



What people are saying about us
  • Popped in here to escape the rain and get a cup of tea and cake. Very reasonable prices and great service. Then noticed the little hare jumping around on the wall when I used the toilets! Looked very intriguing and prompted us all to buy tickets to the museum. Wow! So worth it as the exhibits and the way it was presented was lovely, really unusual. So informative and so different to other museums. Really good value for money and a real highlight to the town.

    Great Service (Trip Advisor Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Most impressive is how ingrained in both The Creative & local communities The Seanchaí is, from the workshops, coffee mornings & plain old drop ins, To Book launches, poetry recitals, projects & engagements with the local schools. The Seanchaí is a much loved and universally treasured cultural icon. By the inhabitants of Listowel, most of Co. Kerry and West Limerick.

    Mark Ollerhead (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • We had requested the 30-minute tour, but happily lingered for an hour longer than we had planned. As we exited, we looked at each other and laughed out loud at our good fortune. We could have so easily missed this experience that left us feeling moved, intrigued and a bit more educated about the Kerry writers. In our delight, we failed to tip our guide but I will be going to your donations page to make a modest pledge in gratitude for our host whose name we did not record to memory.

    Jane Braswell (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Our visit to the Kerry Writers Museum was a very memorable experience from beginning to end. Cara, who was working at the centre that day, was very welcoming and most helpful. The exhibition of the Kerry writers was imaginative and most engaging. The seanchai relating the background stories each writer was magic! A wonderful experience all round.

    Cara (Google Review)

    – May, 2021

  • This museum has been developed with great care and meticulous attention to detail. The audio elements are matched perfectly to the installations which are beautifully presented. The option to activate the audio guides in each room without resorting to the use of handheld devices worked very well. This is a must see/hear for anyone with an interest in Irish writing. There is also a little coffee shop and gifts on sale.

    Beautifully Curated (Trip Advisor Review)

    – July, 2019


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