A Derry-born priest who yesterday unveiled a new headstone for a Derry republican who died 70 years ago recalled attending the man’s wake as a young boy.
The headstone for James Keenan, a senior Derry republican who died in 1943, was unveiled in the City Cemetery 70 years after his death.
Rev. Bernard Canning, originally from Nelson Street but now based in Scotland, returned to the city yesterday to unveil the grave stone.
James Keenan was a leading republican in Derry for many years and was involved in the turbulent activities in the city in the 1920s. Born in 1885, he served in the British Army in the First World War before joining the IRA following the Easter Rising. By 1921 he was quartermaster of the Derry City battalion of the IRA.
He was arrested and tried three times for the killing of the son of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Governor, Marshal McKay and was acquitted each time.
His wife, Nancy, was a member of Cumann na mBan and his sons, Sean, Terence and Daniel, were all interned for republican activities during their lives.
Coincidentally, his grave is next to that of Commander James McGlinchey, an Irish Volunteers leader.
More than 100 republicans and relatives of Mr Keenan attended the unveiling ceremony yesterday, which was chaired by Sinn Féin Councillor Colly Kelly.
Speaking at the launch, Rev Canning recalled his own memories of the Derry republican.
“An eleven year-old boy at the wake knelt at the open coffin and prayed for James Keenan’s soul. 70 years later he offers the same prayer for James Keenan and all interred here who died struggling for Irish freedom.”
Róisín Keenan, granddaughter of James Keenan, said she was proud of her grandfather and thanked Fr Canning for coming from Scotland to unveil the new headstone.