IRA gunman who was there as the wind shook the barley

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The Independent Online

Ken Loach's prize-winning portrayal of the Irish Civil War may have had its critics in the comment pages of Britain's more conservative newspapers, but as The Wind that Shakes the Barley opens in cinemas throughout Britain and Ireland, it has already won the admiration of one centenarian Kerryman.

It took Dan Keating two hours to travel by bus to Cork City where, in the presence of Loach, the film premiered last Wednesday. Even at the age of 104, it was a trip that Mr Keating, who fought against the Black and Tans in the struggles of the 1920s, was determined to make.

"It brought back old memories, all right," he told The Independent. "I thought it was very factual now, very good. It worked very well, I thought."

Keating, a rifleman, took part in two large-scale "Tan war" actions, at Castlemaine and Castleisland in Co Kerry, in which twelve Black and Tans and other British personnel were killed. As the portrayal of the birth of the Irish state in The Wind that Shakes the Barley divides opinion in Britain, he is one of the few men alive to have witnessed events at first hand.

Although many newspaper columnists in Britain have heatedly condemned Loach's film as anti-British and pro-republican, Irish viewers have tended to regard it as thought-provoking and complex rather than purely propagandist. This is mostly because the film, in addition to portraying violence carried out by the Black and Tans, also depicts the civil war which followed British withdrawal in the early 1920s.

The "Tan war" is now officially viewed as the triumph of courageous rebels against British occupation, and is commemorated with pride by all political parties in the Republic of Ireland. But the subsequent civil war, in which Keating fought on the side of the anti-treaty rebels, pitted brothers against brothers in a vicious conflict which created internal divisions that are dying out only now. So, while tales of the Tans have always been told with relish, the Irish are mostly very reticent to recall the civil war.

The conflict included the execution of prisoners by both sides, those who favoured accepting a treaty with Britain and those who opposed it. In some cases leaders ordered the deaths of once close friends. In one instance, a commander signed the death warrant of the man who had been best man at his wedding.

Mr Keating said of his civil war opponents: "They were worse than the Black and Tans, and they committed some awful atrocities. In one week they murdered 19 people - comrades I knew only too well. They were just gone overnight."

One of these actions was carried out on the eve of a truce. "We knew the truce was coming up all right, but I suppose we were all mad for a fight all the time," he recalls.

Did he ever shoot at a Black and Tan? "Oh yes, we were opposed to them of course." When asked if he had killed anyone, his reply is slightly evasive: "I couldn't, wouldn't make any claim like that," he says. "It's speculation now, no one knows. They were a very arrogant force, absolutely ruthless. They tried to keep down the people."

Mr Keating's life is doubly remarkable in that he has survived not just physically but also in terms of his opinions. These have remained absolutely intact for almost 90 years.

He is the patron of Republican Sinn Fein, a small republican party associated with the aptly named Continuity IRA, a splinter group which still uses violence. Its members - preposterously in the eyes of most people in Ireland - regard themselves as the true heirs of the state's founding fathers. Mr Keating has never accepted a state pension because he regards the Dublin government as fundamentally illegitimate. He refused to accept the state's standard €2,000 (£1,380) award to centenarians because he was "stunned" to hear the Irish President saying that her ambition was to walk through Dublin with the Queen.

He describes the current Irish peace process as "a joke", saying his views have "never changed" over the years. "All the talk you hear is about peace," says this unregenerate rebel, "but the only time you will ever have peace is when the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament."

Ireland reacts

* IRISH INDEPENDENT

A masterfully drawn story of patriotism and rebellion, absolutely righteous in its commitment to exposing the barbaric colonial oppression by the British. It is not, however, a paean to the IRA or a call to arms for modern-day republicans. Although republicans might flock to see this film they will not find any comfort here.

* IRISH TIMES

Thoughtful, powerful and moving Irish political drama, it is, unsurprisingly, politically loaded. The Black and Tans are depicted as callous, belligerent oppressors, and there is, perhaps, one scene too many to emphasise their sadism. The film proves more complex than that on just about every level, however.

* LORD MAYOR OF CORK, DEIRDRE CLUNE

It was very real, it was pretty gruesome, violent in places. I thought, Oh God, do we need all this again, we've come so far, do we need it? We just should move on.

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