The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has joined the tributes to the writer, John B. Keane, who died at his home in Listowel, County Kerry this morning. He was 73.

Mr Ahern said that when he called to the playwright in Listowel last November, he was struck by the fact that, even in the face of his life-threatening illness, he was in great humour and exhibiting his love of conversation and politics.

The Fianna Fáil leader described the author as a colossus of the Irish theatre whose writing provided a wealth of material for those who wished to learn about Irish life.

Artistic Director of the Druid Theatre, Garry Hynes said that the playwright was at once a giant and a gentleman of Irish theatre. The Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, Mr Ben Barnes, added that with John B. Keane’s death we have lost a great Kerryman and a great Irishman. The actress Anna Manahan, for whom he wrote the play 'Big Maggie', also paid tribute to him.

Keane was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994 and his condition had deteriorated in recent days. He died this morning with his family, coincidentally on the day when Writers’ Week was due to be opened in Listowel.

The author and raconteur was born in Listowel in July, 1928. His love of literature came from his father, a primary school teacher, while his mother’s support for Michael Collins gave rise to her son’s life-long support for Fine Gael.

Keane spent several childhood summers with relations in the nearby Stack Mountains where, he said, he was "half-reared, half-dragged up and countrified".

The small pub which he ran in Listowel with his wife Mary also provided him with the valuable insights from which he drew to become one of Ireland’s most prolific literary figures in the second half of the 20th century.

Keane wrote 18 plays and 32 works of prose and poetry. His first break came in 1959 when the Listowel Drama Group won first prize at the All-Ireland Amateur Drama Festival with his play, 'Sive'. The play had already been rejected by the Abbey Theatre but the directors there subsequently relented.

Further international acclaim followed with 'Big Maggie', which played for 63 nights on Broadway in 1982, and 'The Field', which was made into a film starring Richard Harris and Brenda Fricker.

John B. Keane will be buried in Listowel.