Ken Keable, London

Ken Keable was an English member of the Connolly Association, of leftwing background, who was also involved in the South African anti-apartheid struggle. He lived in Ireland for some years in the 1990s before returning to England. He is also a well-known Esperantist. This reminiscence was written in March 2021.

*   *   *

As a young man in the late 1960s and into the 1970s I played in a band called the Tappers Traditional Music Band. We were all English and played English and Irish folk music in London and the South-East of England. Besides playing in English folksong and folk dance clubs, we were sometimes engaged to play for the Connolly Association and other Irish organisations and it was when we played at a St Patrick’s night social for the CA (in 1969, I think it was) that I was recruited into it by its General Secretary Sean Redmond, after he heard me telling the other members of the  band who James Connolly was.

From then on I attended numerous CA meetings and events, as a member and as a musician  (usually playing solo on the fiddle or melodeon), and got to know and admire C. Desmond Greaves. Despite the big differences in our ages and experience, he always spoke to me as an equal and I enjoyed his company.

For a number of years running, the Connolly Association in London would organise an autumn trip to the South Coast, stopping on the way back for a meal and a ceilidh. I would come along to play some Irish music on the coach and at the ceilidh. My instrumental music would encourage others to sing. As a young Englishman, I felt very honoured to be asked to do this. Desmond was always at the heart of these events and I learnt a lot from him, especially by relating the songs to what I knew of Irish history.

Also, I very much liked the way in which the Connolly Association, under Desmond Greaves’s leadership, combined culture with politics. That idea influences me still today, in my continuing political work.

We were both members of the Workers’ Music Association and shared a deep interest in music.  I particularly liked his book, “The Easter Rising in Song and Ballad”, published in 1980. I remember one occasion when he sharply (albeit quietly) criticised me for the way I had just played a medley of Irish marches. I had started in the key of D, then played in G (or maybe it was the other way round), and I finished without returning to the initial key. I knew he was right, but I doubt that anyone else in the room would have known it, much less pointed it out. Or perhaps they were being just too kind.