Brian Keenan (writer)

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Brian Keenan

Born (1950-09-28) 28 September 1950 (age 68)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
NationalityIrish/British dual citizenship
EducationOrangefield School
Alma materUniversity of Ulster
SubjectThe four and a half years he spent as a hostage
Notable worksAn Evil Cradling
RelativesElaine Spence and Brenda Gillham

Brian Keenan CBE (born 28 September 1950 in Belfast, 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, Lebanon from 11 April 1986 to 24 August 1990.[1][2]


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 in Coleraine. Other writers there at that time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s Keenan returned to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study.[citation needed] Afterwards he accepted a teaching position at the 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 McCarthy. 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 passports, 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. 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.[3]

He returned to Beirut in 2007[4] for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and described "falling in love" with the city.[5]


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 McCarthy, and the brutality that was inflicted upon them by their captors. It was the 1991 winner of the Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

It was also enthusiastically reviewed:

The scope and grandeur of his reflections is supported by the concrete detail of his narrative. It is a moving and remarkable triumph.

Sebastian Faulks, Independent on Sunday

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.

Frank McGuinness, Irish Times

Scriptural in its resonances and its broad artistry, while being as gripping as an airport thriller

The Observer

Unforgettable... a remarkable achievement

John Simpson

An Evil Cradling was filmed as 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[edit]