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Brian Keenan: 'If you don't have a sense of humour you are dead man walking'

It’s been 25 years since Keenan was released after four and half years of being held hostage in Lebanon.

Miriam O'Callaghan with Brian Keenan.
Miriam O'Callaghan with Brian Keenan.
Image: RTÉ

BRIAN KEENAN SAYS it doesn’t feel like it has been over two decades since he was released from captivity in Beirut.

Keenan was held hostage for four and a half years in Beirut, Lebanon from 11 April 1986 to 24 August 1990 by by Islamic jihadists

Speaking on Sunday with Miriam on RTÉ Radifo One on the 25th anniversary since his release, Keenan recounted his experience.

Reunited over the airwaves with his cell mate and UK hostage all those years ago, John McCarthy said it was strange hearing Keenan’s “soft Belfast voice” while while he sits in a small studio, adding “it takes me right back”.

BRIAN KEENAN KIDNAP HOSTAGE VICTIMS Brian Keenan at Dublin Airport in 1990, with his two sisters Brenda and Elaine, who campaigned for many years for his release. Source: Photocall Ireland

The capture of the hostages in the 1980s made global news, and spawned a world-wide campaign to have them freed.

Both men told O’Callaghan that their friendship over the years in captivity was of great strength to them, with McCarthy describing Keenan as his “life support” over those difficult years.

McCarthy criticises Homeland scenes John McCarthy and Brian Keenan Source: PA WIRE

McCarthy and Keenan said that while being held hostage in Lebanon was tough, they also had to entertain each other.

“On occasion we did entertain each other,” said McCarthy.

While he said they were under strict instruction to keep quiet, he said they would sing quietly, whisper and hum songs to each other.

McCarthy said Keenan introduced him to the music of  Van Morrision, while he would dance around the cell and do impression of Mick Jager.

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However, both men said there were extremely difficult times where they would be introverted in themselves, and there were times they were both in solitarity confinement.

“When you are looking at a concrete wall for four and a half, five years you have to imprint something into that wall… your memory becomes very astute and clear. There is no radio, no tTV, no letters, no newspapers, there is nothing but you and your memory in this terrible fight to reclaim who you are.”

Keenan also described what the passing of time felt like while he was hostage.

“Time in the cell was a weird thing, like an accordion, five minutes passed like three days, six weeks sometimes passed like an hour and half.”
…if you don’t have a sense of humour you are dead man walking.

Keenan also spoke about the life he has lead since his release.

“I have many things to be thankful for a lot of people to thank for that, not not least Islamic Jihad. I suppose the whole trajectory of my life changed that I hadn’t planned…

The full interview was due to be aired this morning on Sunday with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1, however it has been rescheduled. 

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