Brian Keenan

After being held captive for four years in Beirut, Keenan becomes a writer

Brian Keenan was born in Belfast in 1950 and brought up at Evolina Street, off the New Lodge Road, until moving to Mayflower Street, off the Beersbridge Road, in 1959. He attended Orangefield Boys’ Secondary School, but left early to work as a van boy with Castlereagh Laundry. He then began an apprenticeship as a heating engineer. 

Nevertheless, Keenan continued his education at night school, and after winning a national poetry competition attended the University of Ulster at Coleraine. He worked in adult education and as a community worker before leaving Northern Ireland in 1985 to teach English at the American University in Beirut. 

In the vicious conflict that raged in the Lebanon between local Muslim and Christian militias, as well as PLO fighters and Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese armed forces, the taking of western hostages was a common tactic. Despite holding an Irish passport—a fact which led to bemusement and hostility in his native east Belfast—Keenan was kidnapped by Shia militiamen in April 1986. 

Keenan was held in increasingly brutal conditions in the suburbs of Beirut and in the Beka’a valley for the next four and a half years. The story of his abduction and imprisonment, and the close bonds that developed between Keenan and his fellow hostage, the English journalist John McCarthy, is told in his best selling, award winning memoir An Evil Cradling

Following his release, and the later release of McCarthy, the two men co-wrote Beyond Extremes, an account of a journey to Patagonia in Chile. In 2000, Keenan published his first novel Turlough, a fictionalised study of the blind seventeenth century Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan. 

Further Reading 
An Evil Cradling (1992) by Brian Keenan; 
For Brian’s Sake: The Story of the Keenan Sisters (1991) by Anne Maguire.