Willie Keane Memorial Weekend: The life of Willie Keane, Irish set dancer from Doonbeg Willie Keane Memorial Weekend: The life of Willie Keane, Irish set dancer from Doonbeg

in my father's time

- John Keane, Doonbeg

Born on May 26th 1927 to parents Patrick and Ellen Keane, Willie was one of four children, the others being Mary, Conor and John - only Mary is still alive.

Growing Up in Doonbeg

From an early age Willie showed a keen interest in culture, nature and of course traditional music and dancing. Willie attended Doonbeg N.S. and in particular had a great love of the Irish language. During weekends and holidays he farmed with his father at home and developed a great love for the land. Farming was poor in those days and Willie went to London to get some work and make a few pounds. Willie had spent nearly 12 months there before being called home due to his father’s ill health. His father died shortly afterwards and with John in America, Mary in London and Conor being in ill-health, Willie took over the house and farm and spent the rest of his life here.

Learning to Dance

This was a time when television wasn’t as dominant in houses as it is nowadays, so people had to make their own entertainment and they went to their neighbours’ houses and told each other stories by the open fire. Willie’s neighbours, the Carthys, O’Briens, Dillons and the Taltys were very musical houses, and it was here that Willie’s dancing career took off. Willie never took dancing lessons but practiced a lot on his own. He used to take a shed door off its hinges and lay it on the floor as a stage!

As well as farming Willie took to fishing with Mickey O’Brien for a number of years, a tradition he continued when he fished with Mickey’s son, Pat. In the early nineties Willie joined the Doonbeg Drama Group and played a number of parts. He is most remembered for his interpretation of 'The Bull McCabe’ in John B. Keane’s “The Field”.

Married Life

Willie met and married Susan Linnane from Lismuse, Kilkee in the 60’s and their first child, John was born on 2nd August 1969, and their second child Packie was born on 27th May 1971. At this time Willie was part of the famous Mullagh Set with fellow Doonbeg man Anthony Talty. They went on to win many awards including the All-Ireland. They performed many times on RTE. They also toured America in 1978. Willie’s wife Susan also danced but never competed at the same level as Willie. She got sick in the late 70’s and had a long battle with cancer but sadly passed away at the age of 52. Willie didn’t dance much in the following years as he tried to cope with his wife’s death.

Call of the Sea

Willie started to put his life together again in the following years and went back to fishing again with Pat O’Brien and Flan Donovan. Willie loved the sea and often recalled the many, many laughs and stories they had on that boat. Willie had a great love for dogs, birds, donkeys and horses, all of which he kept himself. He loved to watch a good sheepdog at work. He also loved to go shooting and he prided himself in his hunting terriers. Every Sunday in his earlier years a group of local men used to go out shooting and the stories afterwards of “the one that got away” were always very funny. He loved to keep birds and always liked to hear a good canary or linnet singing. He always had his donkeys ready for the Donkey Derby during the Doonbeg Family Festival and for other Donkey Derbies held in nearby towns and villages around that time of the year.

The Late Late Show

Willie’s dancing brought him back again to RTE and Gay Byrne’s Late Late Toy Show at Christmas where he danced with Deirdre Comber from Milltown, People say that Willie’s style of dance would be almost impossible to emulate but Willie tried to pass on that style “the Battering” in his teaching at the world famous Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay. Willie loved to see young people dancing and tried to encourage them whenever possible. This was evident in one of the celebratory concerts at the end of the Willie Clancy Summer School when he danced with seven year old Caitlin Smith from Dublin. Willie again went back to RTE, this time with Clare musicians Noel Hill and Tony McMahon along with Iarla Ó Lionárd to record the CD and cassette entitled Aishling í Ceoil, Music of Dreams.

The Final Fling

In 1995 Willie’s health took a turn when he was diagnosed with a form of cancer in his lower jaw bone. He underwent an operation to have this removed in Cork University Hospital. The Keane family would like to thank the Fleming family from Boherbue in Cork for their kindness to him during his time there and to everybody who visited him and sent him ‘Get Well’ wishes during his time there. They say that everyone is born with natural gifts, Willie’s were his two feet. He made a lot of friends through his time dancing, each of whom he held in high regard. Willie had great friends and neighbours in Doonbeg through times of difficulty and sadness.

The Keane family would like to acknowledge the kindness of Tommy and Ann Comerford to them over the years and also to everybody who showed kindness to Willie at all times.  Willie's last dance was a waltz at The Igoe Inn, Doonbeg on December 6th, 1998 where he attended the Old Folk's Party.  He was tragically killed on his way home that evening.

Willie had a wonderful Funeral Mass with beautiful music.  Young Caitlín Smith, with whom he had danced at the Willie Clancy Summer School all those years earlier, danced to open the Mass.  I am sure that Willie danced his way to heaven that day!



Willie Keane Memorial Weekend Irish Music Festival
Willie Keane Memorial Weekend Irish Music Festival

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