Keane, Rita (1923–2009), traditional singer and musician, was born on 31 December 1923 in the townland of Carragh, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway, one of eight children (four daughters and four sons) of Matt Keane and his wife May (née Costello; d. 1978), who were farmers. Rita attended national school locally, and stayed at home after leaving school to work on the family farm and participate wholeheartedly in the life of the community. Music was important to the family, especially for May Keane, who collected and sang traditional songs, often in Irish, and occasionally bought gramophone records of songs popular among the Irish in America. The thatched house in Carragh was well known to locals and visitors as a great place to hear and play traditional tunes. Singing and playing accordion, Rita performed with her brothers and her sister Sarah Keane (1918–2010) in Keane's Céilí Band, which won awards at feiseanna and fleadhs and which was a popular accompaniment to dances in halls all round Galway and further afield, in the 1940s and 1950s.
Though never quite professional performers, the Keane sisters were acknowledged as important bearers of tradition. In 1968 they brought out an album, Once I loved, on the well-respected Claddagh label, containing a mixture of sean-nós songs and ballads sung in English that came to be regarded as classics of Irish traditional singing. The sisters' style of unaccompanied and sometimes richly ornamented singing was very influential in the sean-nós tradition, and the number of respectful performers and musicologists visiting the Keane house continued to grow, especially when the next generation of the musical dynasty came to prominence. Neither Rita nor Sarah married, but they helped with the rearing of the large family of their brother Matt Keane. His daughter Dolores Keane (b. 1953) was more or less brought up by her aunts, and learned songs and tunes from them and their many friends. A nephew, Seán Keane (b. 1961), is also a singer, and the fame of other family members ensures that the Keane family are one of Ireland's premier musical dynasties.
Rita regarded the sean-nós tradition as something of great importance to be handed on and shared, but was not ambitious for celebrity. She and Sarah continued to live in more or less unchanged style in their childhood home, but on occasion travelled to sing. They appeared at the 'Sense of Ireland' event in London (1980), and they gave a workshop at the Stonehill College festival in Easton, Massachusetts, USA. They performed with the Chieftains group in Dublin and at several concerts with their niece Dolores in Scandinavia in 1996, and were acclaimed at regular appearances at British folk festivals. On a number of occasions they were recorded, performing in studios and also frequently in sessions in their own house, and these archive recordings, some made by crews from outside Ireland, preserve the atmosphere of the performances and the sisters' remarkably pure sean-nós vocal style.
In 1985 Gael Linn brought out Muintir Chatháin, an LP celebrating the family's musical heritage, and a CD, At the setting of the sun, featuring Rita and Sarah, appeared in 1996 on the Demon label. Rita and Sarah Keane received the TG4 lifetime achievement award in 2006 for their contribution to traditional Irish music. The songs they learned from their mother and in their locality have travelled worldwide.
Rita Keane died in Galway 28 June 2009; her sister Sarah survived her, but died in December 2010.