Characters of Cork: Writer James McKeon says he has always had a grá for language

The multi-talented Jim McKeon has a lifelong love of words, but writing has been only one of his many passions in life, Roisin Burke hears.
Characters of Cork: Writer James McKeon says he has always had a grá for language

The multi-talented Jim McKeon has a lifelong love of words, but writing has been only one of his many passions in life. Picture Dan Linehan

CELEBRATING his 80th birthday over the week-end, playwright and novelist James McKeon is living out his best days in his backroom office, where he spends hours putting pieces of his imagination on paper.

Married to Margaret now for the past 52 years, James said his long-suffering wife is always giving out, but he also says it’s a good thing.

“She’s very good to me.”

The former postman has written numerous plays and many books, as well as touring Ireland with his one-man show.

“I’ve written about 20 plays and 20 books, I was nominated for Cork Person of the Year,” James told me proudly.

Originally from the northside, he has found himself settled with Margaret in Bishopstown and, with their five children all grown up and flown the nest, James has found a new focus for his time — reading and writing.

Author and historian Jim McKeon at his home in Bishopstown, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Author and historian Jim McKeon at his home in Bishopstown, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

“I love where I am, I have lovely neighbours, it’s a lovely cul de sac. We all look after each other, I take some of the neighbours’ shopping and when I need help, they help me.”

As well as enjoying the literary world, James is also partial to drama and arts, having appeared in a number of films with well-known actors, including Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins.

“They were all small parts, I did a week’s work in a German film once, I never saw it, but my friend saw it and told me I would be very happy with it. I was very handy with German at the time.”

In his younger years, James was also an accomplished athlete, turning his hand to whatever sport caught his eye.

From squash to soccer and GAA, cross-country running to basketball, James happily threw himself into the world of sport with gusto.

“I was an avid sportsman. I was a bit of a runner, I played League of Ireland soccer, I’ve an All-Ireland medal with Cork basketball, I played a lot of county finals, I was a handy squash player, and golf and pitch and putt.”

While James came relatively late to the world of literature — taking it up after early retirement from the post office — the 80-year-old said he always had a grá for language and stories.

“I love words all my life. I have won huge poetry competitions. I wrote a poem when I was eight, and my teacher said: ‘It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s not bad’.”

Over the years, James has appeared on The Late Late Show with Pat Kenny, the Mike Murphy RTÉ Radio show, and a number of other outlets as he shared all of his knowledge and love of stories with the world.

“I won a serious poetry competition on The Gerry Ryan Show, I put in a poem and I got a phone call, I won a US$10,000 trip to Japan, myself and my wife. Everything was paid for, a limousine picked us up and dropped us off.

“We stayed in a seven-star hotel. It was amazing.”

Not satisfied with his many pastimes, James also took up painting a few years ago and, from a humble start, became an accomplished painter, holding a number of exhibitions to raise funds for local causes.

Despite his many achievements, not pursuing a professional career in sport is one of his few regrets.

“I was playing with Cork Celtic and I was never getting a game and I gave it up. I was playing a game with Greenmount and a man asked me would I sign with Drogheda League of Ireland and I said no. I think I was thinking about travelling to Drogheda all the time. A few weeks later, I got a call from Cork City’s manager and he asked me to sign and I said no.”

Despite this, James said he believes in always thinking positively and the power of optimism.

“I always say — grab a rainbow and don’t let go.”

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