16 July 1998 Edition

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Fógraí bháis: Bernard (Barney) J. McKeon

Barney McKeon's dream was to return to his native Leitrim and build a house in Newbridge where he and his wife, Olive, their children and their grandchildren could visit.

Most returned Americans would engage the services of a local contractor, arrange for an architect to furnish a set of plans, and then sit by happily watching the house rise brick-by-brick to its completion.

That was not Barney McKeon's way.

All of his life, Barney reveled in hard work. His calling was the rough and dangerous labour of the building contractor, engaged in by him with enthusiasm and the type of dedication that an honest workman applies to his labour.

Barney was a proud family man - proud of the achievements of his children, Meg, Thomas, Kathy and Robert. And proudest of all of his wife, the former Olive McCabe, not only because of the counsel and leadership she imparted to their children but because she shared with him a burning conviction that in their lifetime Ireland would be free of the grip of the invader.

Barney was a man of few words but his backbone was made of steel, matched by a single-minded determination that his brethren in the North of Ireland would not be left defenceless before the murderous British army and the raging Orange mobs.

In November 1979 Barney was subpoenaed before a Federal grand jury in Brooklyn, seeking information about gun-running to the North of Ireland.

Barney, who had served with distinction in the US Army from 1949 to 1951, stood firm, refused to talk, was jailed for contempt, and spent the next five months in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He was released on St. Patrick's Day 1980, when the life of the grand jury expired.

The Government now turned its attention to Olive. She was subpoenaed before a new grand jury in Brooklyn. Like Barney, she, too, refused to talk, did her jail time for contempt, and walked proudly out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

In 1982, Barney was indicted and charged in nine counts with violations of the US Gun Control Act.

Brilliantly defended by lawyer Michael Kennedy, Barney was acquitted on eight of the nine counts, but they got him on conspiracy, and he did three years in the Federal Penitentiary in Danbury. The Government dangled his freedom before his eyes. If he would cooperate and inform on others whom they suspected.

Wrong man. Barney would not be an informer - ever.

On 29 June of this year, Barney drove from the work site of his house in Leitrim to attend the funeral of his dear friend Paul O'Dwyer in Bohola. On the following morning, while on his way to the work site, Barney became ill, lost control of his car, and crashed into a wall. Help was summoned and he was taken to Sligo Hospital, where he died later that day.

Barney's mortal remains were returned to New York.

Barney's death leaves a great void in New York's Irish-American community. His quiet leadership, his dignity and his fortitude earned for him the love and esteem of all privileged to know him - a gallant, courageous soldier of Ireland.

By Frank Durkan

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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