Jack Keyes is a man who likes to be ahead of the posse. He was one of the first car owners in The Heath when he bought a Ford Anglia in 1952, and now he is the first in Laois if not the midlands to own an electric car, which features a fitting registration number of 1 LS 2011.
The sprightly pensioner who turns 86 this October, is now driving about in the new Nissan Leaf, a 5 seater family car that runs completely on electricity. Costing an average of E3 to charge up and go for 150km, Jack sees it as the future of motoring, and he has plenty of driving knowledge to back up his opinion.
“This is a step down for me. I’ve driven every breed of a car but for the last 15 years I’ve driven Mercedes. I’ve always liked to be first, I hope to give a lead to people to make a cleaner environment. I’ve seen so many changes, I’ve always kept up with the times. I can see in the future, I’ll be in the Heath graveyard and they’ll be saying ‘that man Jack Keyes was right’,” he said.
He bought his new motor from Barlo Nissan in Kilkenny, the only dealer in Leinster outside of Dublin. It cost E30,000 which included a government grant of E5,000. It is virtually silent, and surprisingly nippy on the road. Road tax is just E100 a year and Jack reckons it will cost him an average of E3 to charge up overnight and go for 150km,
The interior features a large touchscreen computer, with built in sat navigation, phone loudspeaker and camera for reversing. Two solar panels operate the internal electrics and the headlights have low energy bulbs.
“I got delivery of it on Good Friday. They opened the garage especially. It cruises nicely at 120km, it’s equal to the Mercedes in power and take off. For someone with a job within 15 to 20 miles, it’s fierce economical. It brought my insurance down from E600 to E400 too,” says Jack, who because of his age gets a yearly sight test from Doctor Anna Guillane to retain his licence.
“She’s starting to think I’ve memorised the card,” he laughs.
He doesn’t just drive a car though. It may be the secret to his good health that Jack never really retired at all. He founded John Keyes Transport in 1956, and the business is now run by three of his five children John, Ann and David. It employs 35 staff, and one of them is Jack.
“I never retired, I drive a forklife, a JCB and a Volvo loader, I cut the grass and potter about,” he says.
A great worker for charity over the years, he has sent out trucks, containers and ambulances to Kosovo, Bosnia and Chernobyl over the years, and was involved in helping to make the Special Olympics a success here in 2003.
“I always played a full part in community work. I know you get no gold medals for doing charity. I want no clap on the back, I hope the man above gives me my reward,” he says.
His wife Brigid died suddenly of a brain haemmorhage in 1994. She was instrumental with her husband in bringing the first group water scheme to The Heath in 1964, a scheme that now serves 400 houses. Jack was also part of the group to bring rural electricity to the Heath, Emo and Ballybrittas area.
He brought his Leaf to the recent vintage rally at the Rock Inn, which he has previously taken part in himself.
“They couldn’t believe their eyes, I had a crowd around me looking at it,” he remembers happily.
His grandchildren are impressed with their grandad’s new car too.
“They’re delighted when I collect them from school, they’re telling everyone “Grans has an electric car”, laughs Jack, who adds that he does see one flaw in the car, it’s silence on the road.
“The only problem I see is people walking; they will definitely have to introduce a noise,” he comments.