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Sunday 4 December 2016

'There's yer man, the hostage' - Brian Keenan memory of captive hell still vivid 25 years after release

Brian Keenan
Brian Keenan
John McCarthy and Brian Keenan

Brian Keenan was released from captivity as a hostage in Beirut 25 years ago - but the writer said it feels like only five years ago.

The 64-year-old Belfast man has spoken about his time as a prisoner in a joint interview with fellow hostage John McCarthy, with whom he shared a cell.

On April 11, 1986, Mr Keenan was taken hostage at gunpoint by Islamic Jihad while working as a teacher in Beirut, and remained captive for four-and-a-half years.

After two months in isolation, he ended up sharing a cell with Mr McCarthy, an English journalist who was captured a week after him.

Mr Keenan was released in August 1990, but his memories of his time in captivity are vivid.

"When I think about it, it doesn't feel like 25 years, maybe because even after all that time people still when they see me in the street say, 'There's yer man, the hostage', so that's the kind of identity you carry," he said.

Diversions

Mr Keenan said that time, during the period he was held in the cell, was a very, very weird thing where five minutes could pass like three days and six weeks sometimes passed like an hour-and-a-half, so "time was out of control".

But he said that since returning home, both men had gone on and done things.

"We are both married, both have families. John travels a lot, does a lot of travel TV and radio, so you don't see time passing," he said. "It feels to me, now that I think about it, like about five years ago."

Mr McCarthy, who was held for more than five years and was eventually released in 1991, said that in captivity an hour could take three weeks to pass "or you wake up one morning in a panic because three months, or four months or six months have just flashed by because we weren't doing anything, just lying there, sitting on a little mattress in an underground cell".

He said that to entertain each other - they were under strict instructions to keep quiet - they would sing quietly or whisper, or hum songs to each other.

"Brian introduced me to Van Morrison," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Keenan told how his memories of his time in captivity are super-clear.

"When you're staring at a concrete wall for four-and-a-half years, you have to imprint something into that wall," he told Miriam O'Callaghan on her RTE Radio One programme.

"So your memory becomes very astute because there are no diversions, there is no radio, there is no TV, there are no letters, no newspapers.

"There's nothing else but you and your memory and this terrible kind of fight to reclaim who you are and have an identity and a purpose and a meaning in that place."

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