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Saturday 18 August 2018

How a few pints with 'Bull' Richard Harris helped heal rift with my uncle John B

I'm in the foyer of the Savoy Hotel in London, waiting to meet the actor Richard Harris to interview him for a rugby documentary about Mick Galwey.

A tall, menacing-looking figure walks down the stairs into the lobby. I rise to meet him.

"Who the f**k are you and what's this documentary about? I just did an interview with Jonathan Ross for five grand."

This isn't the welcome I expected from Dickie Harris.

"What the f**k do you know about rugby anyway?"

He stares down at me as I mumble something about playing schools rugby.

"You're nothing to the gang in Listowel are ye? Do you know the actor Eamon Keane?"

I say yes and mention that Eamon was my dad.

"Ah Jaysus why didn't you say so."

It's straight to the pub. Richard wants to talk about dad, who he met while making the movie of my uncle John B Keane's play The Field.

My dad had two heart attacks before the movie was made and had retired from acting.

John B, though, knew there was one last performance in him.

Thank God he pushed him.

Harris told me about their special relationship.

"Do you know your dad's heart was bad so I used to give him a piggy back to the set? Eamon would coach me in the part of the Bull McCabe. I loved him and he was a great actor. I asked them to keep him on the set after his part was finished."

We had a great evening, but one thing was missing.

John B and Harris had fallen out at one stage during the film's shooting and hadn't spoken since.

Both of them were proud men and both were moving into the twilight arc of their lives.



delighted

So I had an idea. I rang my cousin Billy in Listowel and he did his side.

Billy told John B that Harris was ringing for him. Then in London I told Harris John B was ringing for him!

We put the two of them together on the line. I'll never forget that conversation.

I could only hear Harris' end but you could see he was delighted to be talking.

"Do you think I'll get in?" said the Hollywood star referring to his chances of making it to Heaven.

He laughed at John B's response. Then came the crunch.

"Well John B were you happy with it, did I do the Bull justice?" Whatever John B said Harris nodded animatedly, smiled and looked like a man who just had the weight of the world lifted off him.

The evening flew by as Harris regaled us with stories and then at around 9pm his mobile rang.

Someone wanted Harris to party: "Nah Russell, I won't make it over. I'm with my Irish mates."

I asked who was on the phone. "Ah just a fellow actor, an Aussie fella, Russell Crowe."

Tonight in Dublin's Olympia theatre The Field opens again with American star Brian Dennehy in the lead role of the Bull McCabe.

Forty five years ago in the very same theatre my dad played across from Ray McNally as the Bird O' Donnell in the very first production of the play.

I'll be meeting up with my cousin and great pal John and all the Keane gang.

Also coming will be Irish rugby star Jonny Sexton, whose dad Gerry hails from Listowel.

John B 's old mates, including bookie Eric Brown and playwright Tony Guerin, will be there too.

Other Kerry emigres who have secured visas for tonight include Stephen Rae, the great singer Noel O'Grady and legal expert come loyal Munster fan Seamus Given.



obsession

For the public it is a chance to get to know a powerful piece of work.

The Field is so relevant to today. It is about a man's obsession with land, what he will do to acquire it and the devastating consequences on his family and community. Sound familiar?

When I was down in Listowel over Christmas, John B's wife Mary said to me: "It's great isn't ... great to have John B back."

Don't miss your chance of a reunion in the Olympia.

The Field, starring Brian Dennehy, runs at the Olympia Theatre until February 12

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