I first met Míchael Keaney about five years ago when I was lying on a hammock, hungover in my back garden. Míchael is what you might describe as a character in the truest sense of the word. That day he asked me if I’d help him with a couple of rolls of lead he was bringing out to his cottage on the Aran Islands. Míchael’s cottage on Inis Mór is a work in progress and has been for the past twenty years or so. He only ever goes out for one day at a time and in exchange for painting a gate or mowing a bit of grass he gives travel, accommodation and all the boiled eggs you can eat. I often wonder if the little bit of work the cottage gets even keeps pace with the ravages of time let alone does anything towards renovation but for Míchael it is the process rather than the end result that matters.
The cottage however is a scaled down version of his main project, Castle Ellen in Athenry which he bought in 1974 and has been a work in progress ever since. This recent episode of TG4 documentary series, Cé a Chónaigh in mo Theachsa? (Who Lived in my House?) looked at the history of Castle Ellen and it’s connection to prominent Ulster Unionist Edward Carson. It investigates claims that Carson brought his Trinity classmate Oscar Wilde there on holidays. Carson was the man who would, decades later, be the prosecutor who sent Wilde to prison.