“The magistrate in his summing up said that he had no doubt whatsoever that I was politically involved. This should stand to my benefit at a later stage and should really nail the lie that I’m a gangster, a criminal”. Frank Keane, Brixton jail, 14th August, 1970.
Frank Keane, who is over eighty years of age, was born on May 8, 1936 in Peter Street, Westport, Co. Mayo. He was once regarded as a dangerous political opponent by the Irish establishment. He was the eldest of three brothers and a sister and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School. In 1952 he moved with his family to North Road, Finglas in Dublin. The following year he joined the Jackie Griffith Sinn Fein Cumann. (Griffith was shot dead by the Free State special branch in Dublin on 4 July 1943).
He volunteered for active service during Operation Harvest, the IRA 1950s border campaign. With the training/recruitment officers interned or on the run, he enlisted in the British Parachute Regiment to get basic military training. He deserted before his army unit was posted overseas to Cyprus. In 1963 Cathal Goulding, the Chief of Staff of the IRA, appointed Keane OC for the Dublin brigade. He held this position until 1965 when he was court-martialled in his absence and dismissed from the IRA. He was accused of setting up a new revolutionary movement.
Like many of his generation Frank migrated to London in search of employment where he worked as a television service technician. He subsequently converted to Trotskyism when he became involved with the Irish Workers Group, an organisation openly declaring itself Marxist which was established by Gerry Lawless. The Irish Workers Group aimed to mobilise the Irish working class to overthrow the existing Irish bourgeois states, destroy all remaining imperialist organs of political and economic control, and establish an all-Ireland Socialist Workers’ Republic. (1)
On his return to Dublin Keane became the National Organiser of Saor Éire, which was set up in 1967 by former members of the Republican Movement and Irish Trotskyists militants. This new group would commenced the expropriation from the Irish banks and carryed out roughly a dozen meticulously-planned bank raids. Following a raid in September 1969 on the Northern Bank in Kells, Co Meath, Saor Éire issued a statement claiming responsibility for the robbery, claiming that the money would be used to finance a movement which would strive for a Workers’ Republic. Keane and Simon O’Donnell were arrested and charged with another raid on the Hibernian Bank, in Newbridge, County Kildare when three armed raiders escaped with £3,474 of bank-cash. As evidence was found lacking they were released under nolle prosequI.
Shots were exchanged with the police when activist threw two petrol bombs into the Fianna Fail (Government party) Headquarters in Dublin, setting the premises on fire in an attempt to burn it down. Keane was sentenced to six months in prison for the attack. Though often overlooked Saor Eire was involved in tenant and industrial disputes, such as the explosion at Dalton Supplies in Bray, during an eight month long strike over union recognition and on another occasion an explosion demolished a boundary wall that divided a residential area and a working class housing complex in Ballymun, Dublin.
When the situation in the North of Ireland erupted in August 1969, Keane and his comrades participated in defence of the northern nationalist. In a tragic turn of events in April 1970, Garda Richard Fallon was shot dead during a raid at the Royal Bank, Arran Quay Dublin. The Special Branch released the names of seven men connected with Saor Éire to the newspapers including Keane, who they wanted to question. Frank sent a letter to the Irish Press, putting his right thumb print beside the signature on the bottom of the letter for authenticity. Stating his innocent and deploring this attempt by the police to make scape-goats out of people, who were in all possibility quite innocent.
Shortly after this he moved to London to avoid arrest, but was apprehended by the British police. Spending a year in Brixton jail during appeals against the Fianna Fail Government’s extradition proceedings. Declaring his innocents Keane said” he was wrongfully accused without any evidence whatsoever by the Irish Special Branch”. An extradition order was granted and he was brought back to Dublin and kept in solitary confinement in Mountjoy Jail, awaiting trial. To publicise the case and gather finance for the legal defence, The Frank Keane Defence Committee was set up in London by Sean Matgamna and Liam Daltun. Members from the Young Socialist and the League for a Workers’ Republic held demonstrations and pickets in Ireland.
Frank was subsequently charged with killing a policeman during the bank raid and was tried in the Central Criminal Court. The first person on a charge of capital murder since the Criminal Justice Act 1964 abolished the death penalty for murder, with exceptions of a member of the government, a Garda or a prison officer. Showing the threat the state regarded him, he was re-arrested inside the court after he was acquitted of capital murder and was charged with an armed raid in Rathdrum, County Wicklow on February 20, 1970 and with possession of firearms. Frank became one of the first people to be tried in the no jury Special Criminal Court, where again he was acquitted.
With the untimely deaths of Peter Graham and Maìrin Keegan, who established the Irish section of the Fourth International and the tragic death Liam Daltun, Saor Éire became isolated and disconnected from any political activity. Because of this, the prisoners in Portlaoise prison issued a statement, certifying their resignation from SE as they believe it had “ceased to play a progressive role” in May 1973.
To conclude, Frank began to get his life back together when he married Jackie Barry, who as a small child toured Ireland with her mother and socialist Peadar O’Donnell, seeking support for the Spanish Republic. In resent years he took part in the anti-water tax /anti-austerity demonstrations in Dublin and he attended the 2017 commemoration for Peter Graham.
During a very interesting interview in 2013 Keane said “I found that Trotskyism even though I couldn’t argue the ins and outs very well, sat easy enough on my shoulders and sometimes on reflection, I feel that if James Connolly had lived he might of become a Trotskyist.
(1) The Irish Workers Group Manifesto 1967.