Updated: 27/03/17 : 06:33:37
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This


Nothing Is Written In Stone: The Notebooks of Justin Keating

Book Review by Declan J.Foley

Edited by Barbara Hussey and Anna Kealy.  ISBN 9781843516774 Paperback, 244 pages publish by Lilliput Press Dublin, 2017.

Justin Keating (Jan 7, 1938 – Dec 31, 2009) is best described by the title of a biography on AE “That Myriad Minded Man” for he was indeed a great human being, and like AE a man who put his fellowman above everything else in his life. He also proves the height of the man is irrelevant to ability.
I have read many biographies, for example Roy Foster’s on W B Yeats comes in two volumes, by comparison Keating’s “Notebooks” runs to 244 pages, that contain as much information in a book ten times that number of pages. Opening with a Foreword by John Boorman, the book takes off at a hectic pace, which gives the reader the sense Justin Keating is talking to them personally.

The editors Barbara Hussey and Anna Kealy did great work in ‘outing’ this most important historical biography, and are to be congratulated for their layout and notes. I know from personal experience publisher Antony Farrell of Lilliput Press is not a lover of footnotes. When I first suggested “Yeats 150” a collection of essays commemorating the 150 anniversary of the birth of W B Yeats in 2015, Antony said to me “No notes, or as few as possible!”

In my opinion every good book must have footnotes, for that is where great information is often to be found about items, subjects and people mentioned in the body of each chapter. The editors’ have indeed given several interesting footnotes which assist any reader in following up, particularly for the ordinary reader who may wish to expand their knowledge of a subject. My opinion is, reading a good book, should in turn lead one to many other good books, particularly when it comes to politics and history, which this book contains in multitudes. This book does indeed lead to many other important (‘educational’) books.

One such example is a footnote in the chapter titled “On the Perils of Nationalism” p. 156: “Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) was a philosopher, theologian and literary critic whose theories on the value of the cultural traditions and language of the ordinary people or Volk were seminal in conceptualizing ‘the nation’. In his time, German speaking Europe encompassed over 300 political entities; Herder’s pride in their common origins, language folk culture galvanized patriotic feeling, though he also warned of the perils of extremism. He collaborated with Goethe and inspired the Grimm Brothers to their pursuit of folk tales”.

Keating the son of an artist father Sean Keating RHA (1889-1977) noted for his iconic paintings of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, his mother May was from Kildare farming stock. He grew up in a farming community in County Dublin, originally thought of becoming a Doctor of Medicine, to change his mind and become a Vet, living true to his ideal: “But it is a record of where I am now – as a matter of honour, if you show me better, I must change – and the longer I live, the more I should change. I believe each of has a duty to rework our paradigm [mind] till the day we die.’

This ideal would indeed serve him and the nation very well, more it’s the pity that all politicians do not have this ethos. The ‘notebooks’ cover his entire life and a multitude of thoughts, word and actions. He covers ancient history to the present day, with views on Marxism, Leninist ideology, Israel, and the shamelessness of Zionism. His time in government (1973-77) when Ireland had its first and last intellectual Cabinet, shows that all Ministers are not always kept in the loop by leaders, which leads to many errors of judgement, Appendix B, speaks for itself, yet another tragic and disgraceful action that has deprived the so-called “Republic’ of Ireland of taxable permanently.

As I get older I fluctuate between anger and sadness about the young men, women, and children who participated in the Irish War of Independence, and the principled people who fought for a Republic in the ensuing Civil War – a misnomer if ever there was one, for a Civil War is anything but – as every principle of Irish freedom they believed in has been given away for the profit of others. Even the current operational manner whereby it would appear NAMA has sold for buttons valuable properties to vulture funds. Of course, the NAMA bosses will respond “We followed the rules.”

It is a most interesting amble through Irish Television in its infancy,  leading past Irish politicians, especially Conor Cruise O’Brien and the great Noel Browne and his shabby treatment by Sean McBride, a man who sold out every principle of his revolutionary father to the Irish Catholic Church. W B Yeats lines echo on those tragic days of yore in Ireland “What if the Church and State/ are the mobs that howl at the door!”.

There is a chapter on Northern Ireland, with a sub-chapter titled “The Arms Crisis” where Keating surmises, quite correctly Liam Cosgrave knew more than he admitted, in time to come Liam Cosgrave will be recognized as the man who prevented a Civil War in 1969, which would have led to the slaughter of hundreds if not thousands of innocent people in Catholic parishes throughout Northern Ireland, as the British Army in Northern Ireland were to be confined to barracks on orders from Downing Street.

I have one minor criticism of Justin’s thoughts on Northern Ireland, on p130 he wrote: “The other thing I think it is fair to say is that the British Army behaved less stupidly and brutally than they had in the recent past in Malaya (as it then was) and in Kenya. However crassly, and Bloody Sunday notwithstanding, they behaved better than elsewhere.” The British Army behaved just as stupidly and brutally in Northern Ireland right up to the Good Friday Agreement, the difference between Malay, Kenya, and Northern Ireland, was, the ‘brutality’ was out of sight of the media, and/or the British media were totally biased and compliant with the British Army.

“Nothing is Written in Stone” is an encyclopedia that should be read by every serving politician and every aspiring politician, today and in time to come. But, far more importantly it is an educational collection of essays, that is deserving to be studied by all Secondary and Third Level students, not just in Ireland.

Justin Keating lived his life according to his humanist ethos: an example for any who claim to adhere to any religion and none, and a fellow traveler of innumerable philosophers, past present and to come.

Declan J Foley is Editor of “The Only Art of Jack B Yeats” and “Yeats 150” both published by Lilliput Press, Dublin.