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Book recalls Beirut hostage Brian Keenan's unlikely introduction to GAA

Brian Keenan is mobbed at Belfast City Hall following his return from captivity in Beirut

FORMER Beirut hostage Brian Keenan's unlikely introduction to GAA is recalled in a new book celebrating Cork remarkable achievement in winning the All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships in the same year.

The 68-year-old, originally from east Belfast, was secreted from hospital in the boot of a car to attend the hurling showpiece in 1990 - just a week after he had been freed from captivity after more than four years.

Keenan was teaching English at the American University in Beirut when he was kidnapped and held by a terror group in Lebanon from April 1986.

He spent two months in isolation before being moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy.

Kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, he was chained by hand and foot when taken out of solitary.

Keenan was released on August 24 1990 and driven to Damascus before being reunited with his two sisters who had fought a campaign for his release.

The Double: How Cork made GAA History describes how just days after his release, Keenan found himself in the crowd at Croke Park for the All-Ireland final.

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It tells how "less than a week after being pulled out of a dungeon in the Middle East" he took his place among tens of thousands of hurling fans in the Hogan Stand.

The book, The Double: How Cork Made GAA History is available from tomorrow

The book, written by Adrian Russell, looks back to 1990 when Cork won both the All-Ireland senior football and hurling titles, an achievement "unheard of in modern Gaelic games".

In the prologue, it tells how Keenan's "deeply loyalist" upbringing meant he was "not exposed to hurling’s charms as a young boy".

Brian Keenan was help in captivity for more than four years

"But when he pushed through Queen’s University Belfast’s gates as a mature student later in life, he found himself drawn to the game, as well as to Irish culture and music: 'It all came together', he remembers."

The author recalls Keenan's release from captivity and how "in a highly emotional press conference in front of, literally, the world’s media in Dublin, Keenan began the process of articulating the horrific, monotonous trauma he’d endured for so long".

Former Beruit hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. Picture by Bill Smyth

"When returned to the Mater Hospital, he told doctors he'd like to attend the upcoming game."

The book details how the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted Croke Park about tickets, with a seat quickly secured for Keenan.

"Less than a week after being pulled out of a dungeon in the Middle East, Keenan left the hospital in the boot of a car - because of the intense press attention - to head for Jones’ Road, where a few bottles of Guinness were pressed into his hands and he was introduced to various dignitaries."

The book includes Keenan's recollection of meeting President Patrick Hillery at the game, who he said "was a bit bemused... he wasn’t too sure who I was or why I was being presented to him'."

He also recalled his difficulty suddenly dealing with huge crowds of people.

"'I’d been locked up in a hole in the ground for nearly five years,' tells Keenan.

"'Jesus Christ, the crowds of people! That was the fascination. I couldn’t tune in to the game. I was almost hypnotised by the noise of the crowd rather than the game itself.'"

It tells how Keenan "had to compose himself at various points during the game, leaving his seat every now and then".

"'I had super-tuned ears from not hearing anything for five years,' said Keenan.

'It was like being on another planet to me. Suddenly you’re amongst this sea of noise and it’s overwhelming'."

The Double: How Cork Made GAA History, is published by Mercier Press and available from tomorrow.

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