Athlone has noted the passing this week of former mayor, trade unionist and champion of the working man, John “Joxer” Keenehan, who died suddenly on Tuesday at his residence in West Lodge.
John Keenehan served two terms as chairman of the Urban District Council (UDC ) in the 70s and was a Labour councillor from 1971 to 1981.
His career in politics was a natural progression after his time as a shop steward in Gentex, where he worked between 1950 and 1978.
“He was always there for the working guy,” said his childhood friend and Gentex colleague, Jimmy Broderick.
After his time on the Council, John went to work in Irish Cable and Wire until his retirement in 1995.
A very strong swimmer, he was the first Athlonian to win the Shannon Swim in 1956.
“He saved many’s the life down at Number 1,” said Jimmy. (Number 1 was the name given to the Shannon bank beside the derelict changing room behind Ranelagh, beyond the White Bridge on the western side of the river. )
He was born in 10, St Anne’s Terrace on the westside in 1935, the only son of an ex-British army soldier.
Along with Jimmy Broderick, he set up a boys’ club around the back of the Dean Crowe Theatre in 1953, “for boxing, cards and all that kind of stuff. It was a great place to go on a rainy day,” said Jimmy.
John was predeceased by his beloved wife Peggy and will be sadly missed by his niece Liz McKeon and her husband Sean.
The funeral mass will take place in the church of St Peter and Paul this morning at 11am with interment afterwards in Cornamagh cemetery.
Willie Penrose TD (Lab ) expressed his sadness when he heard news of Mr Keenehan’s death.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the sudden death of a close friend and committed loyalist to the Labour Party,” said Deputy Penrose.
“He was a noted sportsman and he brought the same determination and vigour to the political arena.Even after he retired he behaved like he was a councillor. He kept issues - be it medical cards or potholes - after meeting with constituents, and then Joxer would communicate with me.
“He had a great name with all the boards he served on. He had that respect. He argued the case forcefully for the people and had the ultimate respect for the people in officialdom.
“His death is a terrible loss to his family and the Labour Party. His work on the ground was legendary.
“During the 2002 election, himself and other stalwarts were canvassing for me and he got a bite of a dog. He sat down for a minute before struggling on manfully.
“He fought to the very end. He was a great proponent for the west side [of Athlone].He was always frank and forthright. He wasn’t afraid to argue with you but he knew where his heart was - with the party of Larkin and Connolly, the oldest party in the country.
“His death is a loss to us all”.
Cllr Kieran Molloy knew him very well as they both lived on the westside.
“He was a great friend and an absolute thorough gent.
“I would like to convey my sympathy to his family. I never came across a nicer individual”.
Cllr Ray Lennon (Lab ) said that John was a highly respected member of the branch. “He was Labour in Athlone for many years. He had a great working relationship with my father and worked all his life for the betterment of the community.
“John would have sown the seeds for the way Athlone looks today.
“He worked tirelessly towards the development of the Primary Care Unit [in Clonbrusk] when he knew Athlone wasn’t getting a hospital. He will be sorely missed”.