Betty Killeen (nee Noone ), Lower James Street, Claremorris, whose sudden death occurred on January 13, was one of the town’s best-known figures. She commanded popularity from people of all ages, and the esteem in which she was held was evidenced by the extraordinary numbers who turned out to pay their final respects at the funeral ceremonies.
Young and old mourned her passing. She had reared 11 children, and just recently her 30th grandchild was born, and among the many tributes paid to her was that “she loved each and every one of those children and grandchildren as if they were the only one she had”.
Betty Noone and her twin sister Ina were born to Peter and Sarah Noone, Mount Street, Claremorris, on March 5, 1934. She enjoyed an idyllic childhood, and was a keen sportswoman, playing both camogie and tennis.
She received her primary and secondary education in Mount St Michael Convent of Mercy, Claremorris, and, after finishing school, took up a position as a secretary at the now-defunct Claremorris Bacon Factory.
In 1956, at the age of 22, she married local man Colum Killeen, and immediately threw herself into the busy Killeen family enterprise, which included a public house, shop, and thriving dairy farm at Lower James Street, Claremorris.
The couple would spend the rest of their married days on Lower James Street. Betty proved herself to be an outstanding businesswoman. Over the course of six decades, she was a cornerstone of business life in Claremorris.
Amid the sadness occasioned by her untimely passing, many former customers, suppliers, and staff recalled her great generosity, her unstinting friendship, and her deep concern for all with whom she came into contact. It was this capacity for meaningful relationships that distinguished Betty Killeen, and also explained why so many people felt compelled to bid her adieu.
Killeen’s Pub (also known as Sam’s ) is an iconic public house in the region, thanks in no small part to the professionalism and sensitivity with which she ran its affairs. It was here that workers from the nearby bacon factory – where she had worked in her younger days – would repair for a drink after a week’s work.
They found in Betty someone in whom they could confide. She was a wonderful reader of people, and, as one customer recalled: “She could know by your face if you were worrying about something – and there was no better person than Betty to talk a problem through and make it seem a bit smaller.”
Under her wise guidance, the business grew. Her influence extended to the next generation of Killeens, who consolidated the family business, and her son Peter, the current Killeen at the helm in Sam’s Pub, is the seventh generation of the family to run the premises.
While running the business, Betty somehow found time to raise a family of 11 children. It was quite a feat, and yet she seemed to carry it off without any undue difficulty. Many marvelled at her ability to manage it all. She continued to work in the business until she was in her early seventies.
Pride in her family
Her pride in her sons and daughters – the people they became, and their achievements – was boundless, and their affection for her was unmistakable.
The arrival of her grandchildren was another source of joy for Betty and her devoted husband Colum. She doted on her grandchildren, and was never happier than when they were gathered around her in her family home.
Just two weeks before her death, perhaps guided by an unseen hand, the family members decided to attempt an unprecedented family photograph: Colum, Betty, their 11 sons and daughters, and all 30 grandchildren. They came from the four corners of Ireland, and, incredibly, not one was missing.
“We had a great night that night,” said her son Michael, in the course of a moving tribute to his mother at her funeral Mass, “and, looking back on it now, I think it was the best night we ever had.”
It was the first, and last, time that the entire family would be photographed together. Understandably, the photograph has already been deemed priceless by family members.
Betty was laid to rest in Claremorris Cemetery, after a beautiful Requiem Mass in St Colman’s Church. Members of her family, including a choir of grandchildren, performed at the Mass. Fr Peter Gannon, who led 11 priests in celebrating her life, spoke about Betty’s deep devotion to her faith.
She was a daily Mass-goer, and a leading light of the local Legion of Mary. Her devotion to Our Lady was much in evidence: in a local shop, staff placed a box marked “Betty’s bottles” in a store-room. She would regularly call to the shop to pick up the bottles, fill them with Holy Water, and leave them inside the door of St Colman’s Church so that others could pick them up and bring them home.
Staff at the shop are continuing the tradition in her absence.
“She loved this Church,” said Fr Gannon, who had forged a close personal bond with her.
She is survived by her heartbroken husband Colum; sons Michael, Colum, Pat, John, Peter, and Edward; daughters Ina, Orla, Liz, Sheila, and Eleanor; grandchildren; sisters Ina and Mary; brother John; and a wide circle of family and friends.