Brian Keenan

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Person.png Brian Keenan  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(activist, soldier)
Brian Keenan (Irish republican).jpg
Swatragh, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Died21 May 2008 (Age 66)
Cullyhanna, South Armagh
IRA member who received an 18-year prison sentence in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions.

Brian Keenan was a former member of the Army Council of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who received an 18-year prison sentence in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions, and played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process.[1]

IRA activity

Despite his family having no history of republicanism, Keenan joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1970 or 1971, and by August 1971 was the quartermaster of the Belfast Brigade.[2] Keenan was an active IRA member, planning bombings in Belfast and travelling abroad to make political contacts and arrange arms smuggling, acquiring contacts in East Germany, Libya, Lebanon and Syria.[2][3] In 1972, Keenan travelled to Tripoli to meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in order to acquire arms and finance from his government.[2] In early 1973 Keenan took over responsibility for control of the IRA's bombing campaign in England and also became IRA Quartermaster General.[4][5] In late 1973 Keenan was the linchpin of the kidnap of his former employer at Grundig, director Thomas Niedermayer.[6]

In early 1974, Keenan planned to break Gerry Adams and Ivor Bell out of Long Kesh using a helicopter, in a method similar to Seamus Twomey's escape from Mountjoy Prison in October 1973, but the plan was vetoed by Billy McKee.[7] Keenan was arrested in the Republic of Ireland in mid-1974 and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment for IRA membership.[8][9] On 17 March 1975 he was shot and wounded while attempting to lead a mass escape from Portlaoise Prison.[9] While being held in Long Kesh, Gerry Adams helped to devise a blueprint for the reorganisation of the IRA, which included the use of covert cells and the establishment of a Southern Command and Northern Command.[10] As the architects of the blueprint—Adams, Bell and Brendan Hughes—were still imprisoned, Martin McGuinness and Keenan toured the country trying to convince the IRA Army Council and middle leadership of the benefits of the restructuring plan, with one IRA member remarking "Keenan was a roving ambassador for Adams".[10] The proposal was accepted after Keenan won support from the South Derry Brigade, East Tyrone Brigade and South Armagh Brigade, with one IRA member saying "Keenan was really the John the Baptist to Adams' Christ".[11]

In December 1975, members of an IRA unit based in London were arrested following the six-day Balcombe Street Siege.[12] The IRA unit had been active in England since late 1974 carrying out a series of bombings, and a few months after his release from prison Keenan visited the unit in Crouch Hill, London, to give it further instructions.[8] In follow-up raids after the siege, police discovered crossword puzzles in his handwriting and his fingerprints on a list of bomb parts. A warrant was issued for his arrest.[13]

Garda Síochána informer Sean O'Callaghan claimed that Keenan recommended IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey to authorise an attack on Ulster Protestants in retaliation to an increase in sectarian attacks on Catholic civilians by Protestant loyalist paramilitaries, such as the killing of three Catholics in a gun and bomb attack by the Ulster Volunteer Force on Donnelly's Bar in Silverbridge, County Armagh on 19 December 1975.[14][15] According to O'Callaghan "Keenan believed that the only way, in his words, to put the nonsense out of the Prods [Protestants] was to just hit back much harder and more savagely than them". Soon after the sectarian Kingsmill massacre occurred, when ten Protestant men returning home from their work were ordered out of a minibus they were travelling in, and executed en masse with a machine gun on 5 January 1976.[14]

Keenan was released from prison in June 1993 and by 1996 was one of seven members of the IRA's Army Council. Keenan played a key role in the peace process, acting as the IRA's go-between with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.


  2. a b c Bishop, Patrick & Mallie, Eamonn (1987). The Provisional IRA. Corgi Books. pp. 304–305
  3. {nglish, Richard (2003). Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. Pan Books. p. 167
  4. The Provisional IRA, p. 254.
  5. A Secret History of the IRA, p. 137.
  6. Those in office must admit their part in our dirty war
  7. The Provisional IRA, p. 345.
  8. a b The Provisional IRA, p. 256.
  9. a b O'Donnell, Ruán (2012). Special Category: The IRA in English Prisons Vol.1: 1968-78. Irish Academic Press. p. 354
  10. a b A Secret History of the IRA, pp. 156-157.
  11. A Secret History of the IRA, p. 159.
  14. a b Harnden, Toby (1999). Bandit Country. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 184–185