John B. Keane and Irish Drink

The subject of Guinness comes round and round, in palavers of beer historians and other beer fans. And of course among aficionados of the black stuff in thousands of bars around the world. (That time will come again).

Guinness, of which I have written many times, is an old and important brand. The relative blandness of the current brew can’t unseat that basic interest and respect.

The company offers, too, a few more characterful brews, for stout and beyond, perhaps in part to keep its legend alive and healthy. They can be hard to find though.

I live in hope Guinness will re-present to the world one day an all-malt, bottle-conditioned stout as it once made, and for that matter a cask-conditioned form, too. Even if the cask is sold only in Dublin, what a great way to bring tourists to the Emerald Isle once the pandemic pall lifts.

John B. Keane, now. The writer. Do you know the name? Most Irish reading me do, at least of a certain age. He was one of Ireland’s best-known writers of the postwar era. Primarily a playwright, he was also a novelist and essayist.

Keane wrote in 1986 a novel on 1950s life in Dingle, The Bodhrán Makers. In the book he describes the two-cask system of dispense then used by Guinness, but the extract I recall reading on Google Books seems no longer available.

[Source of image stated below].

I think Keane stated the glass was filled with mostly flat stout and then a little lively, younger beer was added. Some accounts of “two-cask” have it the other way – two-thirds or more is young beer and the rest older flat stout. Probably varied depending on locality, or as recommended by different brewers. It is easy to forget that in Keane’s day (and still) Beamish and Murphy stouts were available in some parts of Ireland, to compete with the famous black wine of Guinness.

I intend to buy the book soon anyway, for its inherent interest. A bodhrán is a drum, a traditional instrument in Irish music, and in part the book is about that music and its makers. John Keane was beloved for his warm, sometimes sentimental portrayals of Irish people and their ways.

He died in 2002 ,at 73, but can speak to us today via Youtube.  Here he is, some years before his death, speaking frankly yet disarmingly of drink in his life. The unvarnished opener: “No man was ever born in this world with such a passionate love of liquor as myself”. Having read of his life, it sounds to me like he enjoyed drink without actually abusing it, but as befits a good storyteller the tale here beguiles even if it took a toll.

A bar in Listowel is called John B. Keane in his memory, a fact as endearing as it seems to me quintessentially Irish.

Another stop on the mental itinerary I construct of travels post-Covid 19 is John B. Keane’s in Listowel. I add it to locales in Myanmar, Gibraltar, Kolkata, Woolwich London, and a score of other places knit together only by my interest, in my way.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Facebook site of John B. Keane Bar, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.