Roseann with a picture of her wedding day.
Roseann with a picture of her wedding day.
The big-hearted community in Birr has rallied around a terminally ill mother to give her a dream wedding and honeymoon.
Thirty-seven-year-old Roseann Kennedy (nee Cleary) was walked down the aisle by her three year-old son JJ when she married her husband Justin in the town the week before last.
Roseann has been overwhelmed by the incredible goodwill she has encountered while facing into what will, in all likelihood, be her last Christmas.
Since being diagnosed with cancer, the Shinrone native has been getting gifts, kind words, prayers and support from strangers and friends alike. She said “people’s generosity is just unbelievable.”
In 2012 Roseann, who worked for almost a decade as a bar manager at the County Arms Hotel in Birr, completed the Dublin marathon.
Later that year a pain in her arm led to a discovery of cancerous tumours on her back and neck. The cancer spread to her bones and despite three different courses of chemotherapy her condition continued to deteriorate.
“It’s palliative care from here on out,” she matter-of-factly explained, “there’s no point getting angry about it because there is nothing you can do.”
Although harbouring no anger, Roseann is devastated that she wont be around for her young son and she plans to video herself reading some of his favourite books.
“It upsets me to leave him(JJ) behind. As long as he remembers me like this though -the doctors think it is going to be pretty quick anyway, they are expecting a stroke or something like that to just do it,” Roseann remarked.
She described oncology staff at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore as absolutely amazing. "Those men and women should be knighted, if we had such a thing, they're brilliant. Even some of them came to the wedding on Friday," she said.
Her siblings were called to a meeting by her consultant prior to her wedding on December 13. Although she already outlived two doctor’s predictions, her sisters left the last meeting in tears.
“He was saying there isn’t anything else, whatever happens from here on in you don’t have to call an ambulance just call the palliative team,” Roseann's sister Linda explained.
During her illness Roseann-who seems bubbly and healthy aside from a limp right arm- has encountered extraordinary generosity and goodwill. “I have had cards and letters from people that I don’t really know with holy oils, rosary beads, mass cards, everything,” she remarked.
Every month for the past year, she said, one woman has been leaving her small gifts like “a little candle or a mug or a little angel or something."
On learning of her condition, her employers at the County Arms Hotel decided to help Roseann fulfill some of her dreams. They began by taking her to meet her favourite team, Munster, at Thomond Park. Paul O’Connell later sent a congratulatory message to Roseann and Justin on their wedding.
Staff at the hotel, some of whom hadn’t even worked with Roseann, then pooled their money to send Roseann and Justin on their dream holiday -a pre-wedding honeymoon in New York last November.
She was given VIP treatment on arrival at Shannon Airport and soon found the generousity of spirit had extended across the Atlantic. On arriving in New York, a nurse who was friendly with the hotel receptionist met the couple and showed them around.
Through another Irish connection, Police Lt Mike Casey stepped in and got the couple front row seats for the Christmas tree lighting at the Rockefeller Centre, gave them police escorts and treated them to dinner at an exclusive restaurant.
While in New York Roseann was admiring a ring at Allen M Jewellers on Broadway. She couldn’t afford it and opted for another ring at half the $3,000 plus price tag.
However, the jeweller, who had no connection to Roseann, enquired about her arm and on hearing of her illness insisted she take the original ring at the price of the less expensive model.
On her return to Ireland arrangements got underway for the wedding. “Everything was in place,” Roseann recalled. She was given a dress to wear by local bridal shop owner Catherine Dwyer, while friends looked after the flowers and the cake.
Photographer Selina O’Meara provided her services free of charge. The entertainers all slashed their fees by at least 50 percent and the hotel laid on free rooms.
Far from being a solemn occasion, the wedding was a joyous affair, her sister Linda recalled. “It wasn’t an unhappy day at all. There were no tears on the wedding day. People were really worried it was going to turn into a goodbye party-it was anything but,” she said.
Barry Loughnane of the County Arms Hotel said “we are all very aware as to how remarkable this young lady is, but to also see how her husband has been able to shoulder his pain and just transform himself, he attributed all that to Roseann.”
Mr Loughnane welled up as he recalled Roseann’s many kind acts during the course of her work at the hotel. Roseann, who he described as very modest, would take junior staff under her wing and look after them, he said.
Roseann is now planning to enjoy her first Christmas as a married woman. Her entire family are having a get-together on St Stephens's Day and she hopes to visit the Giant's Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher in the coming weeks.