MY FAM­ILY HERO

Ann Kis­sane’s an­ces­tor Michael Keane es­caped poverty and famine in County Kerry to be­come a cel­e­brated states­man

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - ANN KIS­SANE is a ge­neal­o­gist and lives in New Ross, County Wex­ford, Ire­land.

Ann Kis­sane’s an­ces­tor Michael Keane es­caped poverty in County Kerry to be­come a cel­e­brated states­man in In­dia

In 1874, Michael Keane was born into a fam­ily of seven chil­dren, whose par­ents were ten­ant farm­ers. Fifty years later, he was a knighted diplo­mat gov­ern­ing the In­dian prov­ince of As­sam and liv­ing in a pala­tial moun­tain res­i­dence.

How did the son of Ir­ish farm­ers achieve such a me­te­oric rise? This ques­tion has in­trigued Ann Kis­sane, who is a rel­a­tive on Sir Michael’s mother’s side.

“I started my fam­ily re­search 15 years ago and linked to my cousin Eily Walsh’s tree,” says Ann. “Scan­ning through the names, I no­ticed that one of my grand­fa­ther’s cousins was called Sir Michael Keane. I wasn’t aware of any rel­a­tives who had been knighted, so I de­cided to dig deeper.

“The web­site Ir­ish Ge­neal­ogy ( ir­ish­ge­neal­ogy.ie) was very help­ful. I also found obituaries in news­pa­pers and jour­nals, which helped to build a pic­ture of his life.”

Michael’s par­ents were Jeremiah Keane and Mary Kis­sane. The fam­ily lived near the small town of Bar­raduff in County Kerry. They were farm­ers who sur­vived the ter­ri­ble famine by dig­ging up peat and sell­ing it in Lim­er­ick for fuel. “They had very lit­tle money, but at least they had enough to eat.”

Michael was able to es­cape this hand-to­mouth ex­is­tence through brains and a bril­liant education. “He was awarded a schol­ar­ship to Black­rock Col­lege, Dublin, where he won a first-class prize that funded fur­ther education at Clon­gowes. Af­ter win­ning the Se­nior grade Gold Medal, Michael pro­gressed to univer­sity. Both col­leges were top in­de­pen­dent schools in Ire­land at the time – it’s some achieve­ment.”

In 1898, Michael joined the In­dian Civil Ser­vice (ICS) and was posted to the North West Fron­tier of Bri­tish In­dia. The ICS was the small, elite civil ser­vice that con­trolled the Raj, and many of its of­fi­cers came from up­per-class back­grounds or Oxbridge. The en­trance ex­ams were no­to­ri­ously tough. In In­dia, ICS of­fi­cers had re­spon­si­bil­ity for govern­ment ac­tiv­ity across vast provinces.

Life in In­dia must have suited Michael be­cause af­ter serv­ing as Un­der Sec­re­tary to the Govern­ment un­til 1907, he be­came Set­tle­ment Of­fi­cer in Ra­jputana (mod­ern­day Ra­jasthan) in 1910. Later, he reached the rank of Deputy Com­mis­sioner.

“He mar­ried Joyce Lovett Thomas in In­dia in 1911 and they had three chil­dren, De­nis Michael, Joyce Criena and Pamela Kis­sane. She was al­ways known as ‘Kis­sane’.”

Michael re­mained in Ra­jputana un­til 1919 when he be­came Ju­di­cial Sec­re­tary and later Chief Sec­re­tary to the United Provinces Govern­ment. To give an idea of the re­spon­si­bil­ity in­volved in this post, this vast area en­com­passed por­tions of the Hi­malayas, the great Gangetic Plain and parts of the hill sys­tems of Cen­tral In­dia.

In 1921, Michael was ap­pointed Pres­i­dent of the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil and held fur­ther se­nior po­si­tions un­til 1932, when he suc­ceeded Sir Eg­bert Ham­mond as Gov­er­nor of As­sam. The prov­ince was on In­dia’s North-East Fron­tier and en­com­passed 51,000 square miles.

Michael had be­come one of the coun­try’s lead­ing politi­cians and was knighted that year. His daugh­ters were even pre­sented to King Ge­orge V at court.

“Sir Michael and Lady Keane were pop­u­lar in As­sam and took a deep in­ter­est in the wel­fare of lo­cal peo­ple. The cause of women was al­ways in their minds and they sup­ported the Ganesh Das Women’s and Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. Joyce be­came a pa­tron of a girl’s school in Shil­long and it is still there to­day, Lady Keane Col­lege for girls.

“Sir Michael re­mained as Gov­er­nor un­til spring 1937, when I be­lieve he re­tired due to ill health. He died on 10 Au­gust at his home in Nor­folk. A re­quiem mass was held for him in West­min­ster Cathe­dral and this was cel­e­brated by his brother, Father John Keane. His other brother be­came Bishop Pa­trick Keane of Sacra­mento.

“It’s mind­bog­gling that a man from such hum­ble ori­gins could rise to be­come a lead­ing states­man.

“I’m so proud that he found the con­fi­dence to do so. The Kis­sanes are hav­ing a fam­ily gath­er­ing this sum­mer in Kerry with more than 2,000 mem­bers of the fam­ily trav­el­ling across the world to meet. We’ll have so much to talk about, es­pe­cially the in­spir­ing life of Sir Michael Keane.” Gail Dixon

It’s mind-bog­gling a man from such hum­ble ori­gins could rise to be­come a lead­ing states­man

Sir Michael Keane’s res­i­dence while Gov­er­nor of As­sam, In­dia

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