Brian Keenan (writer)


Brian Keenan (born 28 September 1950 in
Belfast Belfast ( ; , ) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast. It is the 12th-largest city in the United Kingdom and the second-largest on the island of Ireland. It had a popul ...

, Northern Ireland) is a Northern Irish writer whose work includes the book ''An Evil Cradling'', an account of the four and a half years he spent as a hostage in
Beirut Beirut ( ; ar, بيروت, ) is the Capital city, capital and largest city of Lebanon. , Greater Beirut has a population of 2.2 million, which makes it the List of largest cities in the Levant region by population, third-largest city in ...

, Lebanon from 11 April 1986 to 24 August 1990.


Keenan was born into a working-class family in East Belfast in 1950. He left Orangefield School early and began work as a heating engineer. However, he continued an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gained a place at the
University of Ulster sco, Ulstèr Universitie , image = Ulster University coat of arms.png , caption = , motto_lang = , mottoeng = , latin_name = Universitas Ulidiae , established = 1865 – Magee College 1953 - Magee Un ...
Coleraine Coleraine ( ; from ga, Cúil Rathain , 'nook of the fern A fern (Polypodiopsida or Polypodiophyta ) is a member of a group of vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophy ...
. Other writers there at that time included
Gerald Dawe Gerald Dawe (born 1952) is an Irish poet. Early life Gerald Dawe was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and grew up with his mother, sister and grandmother. He attended Orangefield High School across the city in East Belfast, a leading progress ...
and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s Keenan returned to the
Magee College The Ulster University Magee campus is one of the four campuses of Ulster University. It is located in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland and opened in 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and Seminary, theological college. Since 1953, i ...
campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepted a teaching position at the
American University of Beirut The American University of Beirut (AUB) ( ar, الجامعة الأميركية في بيروت) is a Private University, private, non-sectarian, and independent university chartered in New York (state), New York with its campus in Beirut, Leban ...

American University of Beirut
, where he worked for about four months.


On the morning of 11 April 1986, Keenan was kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. After spending two months in isolation, he was moved to a cell shared with the British journalist
John McCarthyJohn McCarthy may refer to: Government * John George MacCarthy (1829–1892), Member of Parliament for Mallow constituency, 1874–1880 * John McCarthy (Irish politician) (1862–1893), Member of Parliament for the Mid Tipperary constituency, 189 ...
. He was kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and was chained by hand and foot when he was taken out of solitary. The British and American governments at the time had a policy that they would not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan was considered by some to have been ignored. Because he was travelling on both Irish and British
passport A passport is an official travel document A travel document is an identity document issued by a government or international entity pursuant to international agreements to enable individuals to clear border control measures. Travel documents ...

s, the Irish government made numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provided support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who were spearheading the campaign for Brian's release. He was released from captivity to Syrian military forces on 24 August 1990 and was driven to
Damascus )), is an adjective which means "spacious". , motto = , image_flag = Flag of Damascus.svg , image_seal = Emblem of Damascus.svg , seal_type = Seal , m ...

. There he was handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters were flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland. He now lives in Dublin. He returned to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and described "falling in love" with the city.Brian Keenan's journey back to hostage hell


''An Evil Cradling'' is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experienced with fellow hostage
John McCarthyJohn McCarthy may refer to: Government * John George MacCarthy (1829–1892), Member of Parliament for Mallow constituency, 1874–1880 * John McCarthy (Irish politician) (1862–1893), Member of Parliament for the Mid Tipperary constituency, 189 ...
, and the brutality that was inflicted upon them by their captors. It was the 1991 winner of the ''
Irish Times ''The Irish Times'' is an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper and online digital publication. It launched on 29 March 1859. The editor is Paul O'Neill (newspaper editor), Paul O'Neill. The deputy editor is Deirdre Veldon. It is published every day e ...
'' Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the
Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize The Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize was created in 1977, in memory of Christopher Ewart-Biggs, List of Ambassadors of the United Kingdom to Ireland, British Ambassador to Ireland, who was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army ...
. It was also enthusiastically reviewed. Sebastian Faulks in the ''Independent on Sunday'' said "The scope and grandeur of his reflections is supported by the concrete detail of his narrative. It is a moving and remarkable triumph." In the ''The Irish Times, Irish Times'', Frank McGuinness claimed that "From the horror has come something wonderful. ''An Evil Cradling'' is a great book... With the publication of ''An Evil Cradling'', Brian Keenan is not letting the world forget. This is a mighty achievement by a magnificent writer". ''The Observer'' called it "Scriptural in its resonances and its broad artistry, while being as gripping as an airport thriller" and John Simpson (journalist), John Simpson stated that it was "Unforgettable... a remarkable achievement" ''An Evil Cradling'' was adapted into a 2003 film, ''Blind Flight''.


* ''An Evil Cradling'', 1991 * ''Turlough'', 1996 * ''Between Extremes: A Journey beyond Imagination'' (With J. McCarthy) 2000 * ''Four-Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey'', 2005 * ''I'll Tell Me Ma'', 2010

See also

*List of Northern Irish writers


{{DEFAULTSORT:Keenan, Brian 1950 births Living people Writers from Belfast Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize recipients Commanders of the Order of the British Empire Alumni of Ulster University Irish people taken hostage British people taken hostage 21st-century writers from Northern Ireland Male non-fiction writers from Northern Ireland Foreign hostages in Lebanon