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Whose Who Famous Kanes

Famous Kanes

The O'Cahan sept has since produced some notable scions in all walks of life.

Richard Kane (1667-1736) from County Down had a versatile military career. He reached the rank of brigadier-general in the British army. He fought in France and took part in the defeat of Louis XIV's army at the battle of Blenheim. He transferred to the French army and was a lieutenant-colonel at the victory of the French at the battle of Malplaquet in 1709. Two years later he was in Canada with the Regiment of Irish Foot. He was the military governor of Gibraltar in 1720, during the dispute with Spain. With this background of international service, he wrote widely on miltary strategy.

The Thomond O Cahans or O Keanes, mostly of Connacht and Munster, particularly County Waterford, provided many distinguished officers for the armies of France and Spain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Eugene O Keane was one of fourteen brothers, four of whom served in France's wars. He was killed in action there in 1693.

Music was one of the few Irish arts that survived the suppression of the old Gaelic culture. A musician who could play the harp was welcome and well looked after in the homes of the humble as well as the mighty. Echlin O Kane (1720-90) was an accomplished performer who was invited to play in the courts of Europe.

In the Dublin Genealogical Office, and in the archives of other European countries, particularly England and France, the pedigrees of the Keanes are amply recorded. In the nineteenth century they were recorded for their involvement in the army, as well as the theatre, science and technology.

Sir Robert John Kane (1809-90) was one of the leading scientists of his time. The son of a Dublin manufacturing chemist, he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and in Paris. He held many professorships, including Professor of Natural Philosophy with the Royal Dublin Society. He brought his scientific mind to bear on potential sources of wealth that Ireland could harness to develop its industries. In 1845, he was a member of the commission set up to investigate the potato blight and to help relieve the terrible distress during the Famine which followed the failure of that crop. He was the first president of University College, Cork and, later, vice-chancellor of the newly created University College, Dublin.

Edmund Kean (1787-1833) was born in London. His father was Irish and his mother, an actress, is reputed to have been a natural daughter of the Marquis of Halifax. Despite being deserted by his father and abandoned in a Soho doorway by his flighty mother, Kean survived to reach eminence, and merit eight and a half pages in the Dictionary of National Biography. He became the leading actor of his time, in spite of the handicaps of being deaf, lame, small and eccentric. It was his Uncle Moses, a mimic and ventriloquist, who inspired him to study Shakespeare, whose tragic characters suited him admirably. At London's Drury Lane Theatre, his Shylock mesmerized the audience. Coleridge, the leading critic of the day, wrote, "To see Kean is like reading Shakespeare by flashes". Kean toured the USA in 1820. A few years later, his divorce case shattered his nerves and his career. While playing Othello to his son Charles's Iago, he had a seizure and died shortly afterwards, burned out at 46.

Charles John Kean (1811-68), his second son, was born in Waterford, the home of his mother, Mary Chambers. Charles had a far more privileged upbringing than his father. He went to Eton until the age of 16, when his parents' marriage broke up. He was bright enough to be offered a cadetship in the East India Company's service, which he could have accepted if his father had agreed to settle an income of £400 on his mother. However, Edmund Kean refused to do this. The stage was inescapably in Charles's blood and he began acting at Drury Lane, albeit in a humble role. Although always in his famous father's shadow and never as brilliant, or as dissolute, he fared well enough. After a separation of some years, father and son were reunited, and acted together. Charles toured abroad and, for ten years, was director of Queen Victoria's theatricals at Windsor Castle. He revolutionized lighting techniques, and managed the Princess' Theatre in London. He spent a period in Melbourne, where he was praised for helping to raise the social standing of actors and the theatre in Australia. In 1842, he married an actress Ellen Tree (1805-80) in St Thomas's Church in Dublin. That same evening she played Juliet to his Romeo in a performance of The Honeymoon. Charles died in Chelsea, London, a year after his retirement.

Michael Kean (died 1823) was born in Dublin. He studied art before going to London, where he soon made his name as a miniaturist and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1780 and 1790. He was taken into partnership by the owner of the famous Derby China factory. When the owner died, Michael Kean married his widow and became owner of the factory whose reputation was greatly enhanced by his artistry. But his quick temper drove his wife away and eventually led to the sale of the business. Their only son followed a different career, he was a naval captain.

Joseph B. Keane (d. 1859), one of Ireland's nineteenth-century architects, was educated at the Dublin Office of Works and produced such outstanding work that he was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. He designed churches, and Queen's College, Galway, was also built to his design. A very fashionable architect, some of his handsome Irish country mansions are still standing: Barmeath Castle, Dunleer, County Louth; Camolin in County Donegal; Castle Irvine in County Fermanagh; Edermine, near Enniscorthy in County Wexford, which he designed, in 1839, in the Italianate style for the Powers of whiskey distillery fame. He also designed Glendalough House at Annarnoe, County Wicklow, for the Childers family, one of whose sons, Erskine, was President of Ireland until his sudden death in 1974.

Paul Kane (1810-71), who was born in Mallow, County Cork, went to Canada with his parents in around 1818. He left school to work in a furniture factory. While in his early twenties, he travelled south to the USA and then to France and Italy where he studied painting. Returning to Canada ten years later, he began to record the native Indians' lifestyle, travelling the country by canoe, horseback and even snowshoe. The resulting series of paintings are of rare historical value and can be seen in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, as well as in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Paul Kane left a written record of his travels in his book Wanderings.

August Henry Keane (1833-1912) of Cork was educated in Dublin and studied for the priesthood in Rome. He did not have a vocation, however, and instead devoted his life's work to anthropology, working on geographical and ethnological research and languages. He developed his own system of ethnology. He published many books and was Professor of Hindustani at University College, London, until 1885.

John Thomas Keane (1854-1937) took a calculated risk travelling as Haj Mohammed Amin on the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1877. This seems to have passed off well for he went on other pilgrimages, accompanied by a wealthy Moslem friend. He followed up his success with the books Six Months in Mecca, My Journey to Medina and Blue Water. He died in Australia.

The Keane dynasty of Cappoquin, County Waterford, apart from serving abroad in many capacities, has contributed much to its native land. Sir John Keane (1781-1882), first Baronet, was a Member of Parliament at home and served with the British fleet in the Middle East.

Sir John's second son commanded a brigade in the Peninsular war under Wellington. Later he took a division to America to serve under General Pakenham. He was wounded at the battle of New Orleans, became Governor of Jamaica and later Commander-in-Chief in India, where he commanded the British army in the First Afghan War when the Afghans surrendered after the capture of the town of Ghuznee. For his service he was made Lord Keane of Ghuznee and held the rank of lieutenant-general.

Sir John Keane (1872-1960), fifth Baronet, was a barrister and for twelve years was a member of the first Irish government's Senate and a director of the Bank of Ireland. His son, Sir Richard Keane (born 1909), sixth Baronet, was a writer and farmer at Cappoquin. In the Keane family home there are many portraits and historic relics of Sir Richard's distinguished antecedents.

Edward Vivien Keane , also of Cappoquin, was a civil engineer and, in 1886, built the railway running from Perth to Guildford in Western Australia. He was rewarded with a gift of 80,000 Australian acres and also became Lord Mayor of Perth.

John Joseph Keane (1839-1918) was an Irish-American bishop who, in 1900, was appointed Bishop of Dubuque in Iowa, one of a remarkable number of Irishmen to fill that post. During the Famine of the mid-1880s, he emigrated with his parents from Ballyshannon, County Donegal. He worked in a store, while also studying avidly, so that when he obtained a place at college, at the age of 20, he was able to complete his theological course in three years instead of the usual six. He was the first rector of Washington University. Pope Leo XIII appointed him to serve in two important consultative posts in the Vatican in 1897.

James John Keane (1857-1929) had a fairly similar background to Bishop John Keane, and also became Bishop of Dubuque. An energetic diocesan administrator in his American parishes, he was also, in 1920, a member of the Peace Commission on Ireland. He was a supporter of the League of Nations, created in 1920 to preserve peace and settle disputes by arbitration or conciliation, which had its headquarters in Geneva. In 1946 its role was taken over by the United Nations.

Although she was born at Skrine, in County Cork in 1904, to omit Molly Keane , would leave an unforgivable gap in the Keane history. Before the Second World War, under the pseudonym M.J. Farrell, she wrote novels and plays which were a dazzling success in London's West End theatres. When her husband died she stopped writing. In the 1980s, in her eighties, she made a comeback with a best-selling novel, Good Behaviour, a black comedy about the impoverished Anglo-Irish. This was followed by Time After Time. Both novels have been adapted for television by the BBC.

Marie Kean (1922-93), who was born in Dublin went on the stage when she was ten. For generations she was one of Ireland's most popular actresses, frequently appearing at Dublin's Abbey Theatre and winning international awards.

John B. Keane (born 1928) of Listowel, County Kerry, is a playwright and publican. He gathered his material while working in London as a roadsweeper and barman before returning to Listowel in 1953 to buy his own bar. With no theatrical experience, but an inexhaustible reserve of native literature in his blood, he wrote his very popular series of plays, beginning in 1959 with Sive. This was a great success and led to the production of many of his subsequent plays in Dublin's Abbey Theatre, as well as in London and the USA.

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