The Last Soldier

by Ken Ferguson

Dan Keating, who was the last surviving republican soldier of Ireland’s epic War of Independence of 1919-21, has died aged 105.

Ruairí and Dan Keating 2007

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh & Dan Keating, 2007

Keating, who died in his native Kerry on 3 October, refused to recognise the legitimacy of any Irish government, North or South, maintaining his loyalty to the all Ireland Republic proclaimed on the steps of Dublin’s GPO in Easter Week 1916.

Across the decades Keating watched successive fissures in the republican movement from Michael Collins to Gerry Adams veer from the path set out in 1916, but remained committed to the view that the Easter Week republic existed and continued to need to be defended.

At the time of his death Keating was Patron of Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), the party led by Ruairi O Bradaigh from which the Sinn Fein of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness split in 1986, to take up seats in the Dublin parliament.

Speaking to the BBC last March, he described the Northern peace process as “a joke”, adding:

“All the talk you hear these days is of peace. But there will never be peace until the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament without British interference.”

Keating was born on a small farm near Castlemaine in Kerry in 1902. The family was well respected for its active role in attacking landlords’ agents and defending the rights of tenant farmers.

He joined the youth wing of the IRA at 14 while working a in Tralee, and moved on to the adult movement in 1920 as the War of Independence flared and he took part in a series of fire-fights and ambushes. He always refused to comment on whether he had killed, saying:

“When you are involved in an ambush with a crowd of men, you wouldn’t know who killed who.”

In common with the vast majority of the Kerry IRA, he rejected the partition Treaty of 1921.

The majority of the anti-Treaty forces left, mainly for America, after losing the Civil War. But Keating stayed, found work as a barman in Dublin and became a leader of the Bar Workers’ Union.

He took his first drink at the age of 55 as an expression of disgust at the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association’s “treachery” in refusing to oppose longer hours for pub workers.

Kept under constant surveillance by the Irish Special Branch, he served stretches in prison, and in de Valera’s internment camp at the Curragh, and spent a year in London during World War Two trying to organise a bombing campaign.

He returned to live in Kerry in the 1960s with his late wife Mary, whom he had met in the visiting room of Mountjoy Prison, and remained active in republican politics.

“He had opinions about everything until he drew his last breath,” says one RSF figure, “especially about football and hurling.”

He died in his native county still refusing the pension from the Dublin government which was due to all war of independence veterans on the grounds that the Irish government was not, he still insisted, legitimate.