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Beirut hostages McCarthy and Keenan reuniting after 20 years apart

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/11/2016

Brian Keenan and John McCarthy signing books in 1999
Brian Keenan and John McCarthy signing books in 1999

Former hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy are to be reunited for the first time in almost two decades.

And their long overdue get-together will take place in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The two men, who spent years in close proximity in captivity in Beirut, often chained to radiators, have not met in person since the late 1990s.

But they are coming together as part of the first Rostrevor Literary Festival next week.

Keenan and McCarthy will speak at separate sessions at the one-day event on Saturday, November 26.

Both have written about their ordeals, and Belfast-born Keenan has won a number of awards for his books.

He is currently working on a new book set in the Middle East. His most famous work, An Evil Cradling, is a powerful and dignified account of the friendship the two men forged despite the circumstances they faced during years of captivity.

It was the 1991 winner of the Irish Times Literature Prize for non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

There will also be a discussion panel at the festival including folk singer Tommy Sands, broadcaster Denis Tuohy and political journalist William Graham, who helped organise the event.

"It is the first time the two men have been together at the same time in near 20 years," a spokesman said.

"They have kept in touch in various ways, but they have not been physically in the same spot for all that time. So it is a particular honour for us that they have agreed to come to our first literary festival."

In an interview at the time of their last meeting, Mr Keenan said: "John and I never talk about Beirut. It's just not interesting - life is. It might come up in a joke, but that's all.

"We have a friendship that's forged in fire - it's always going to be there. (But) that doesn't mean that we're joined at the hip. We are different people and we maintain our differences."

Mr McCarthy added: "We met in an underground prison in Beirut. Brian was kidnapped a week before me, so I knew who he was.

"What surprised me was Brian's reaction to the guards - he wasn't going to take any nonsense (from them).

"I was impressed, but also slightly frightened by it. These are the guys with the guns."

Five years after they were released from captivity, the two men took an arduous trek through Chile together, which they wrote about in their book Between Extremes.

  • Brian Keenan and John McCarthy will speak at morning sessions. Seats can still be reserved by emailing rostrevorliterary@gmail.com

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