The John Killeen Award

John Killeen was born in 25 June 1932 and died on 23 March 2002. In 1964, he commenced his career as a lecturer in English in St Patrick’s Training College (as it then was; its faculties have since been subsumed into DCU), and he retired from his position as head of the English Department in 1996. He had settled in Howth with his wife, Angela, and they reared their family there. 

Cambridge University awarded him an MA prior to his appointment in St Patrick’s, and he spoke glowingly of the time that he spent there. His other qualifications included a Teaching Certificate from the University of Manchester and an MA from California State University, which was awarded jointly to him and his wife, Angela Killeen, in 1970.[1] UCD (NUI) conferred  a PhD on him in 1984 for a dissertation entitled ‘Contrasting approaches to the teaching of English in some Irish primary schools: and pupil outcomes in leisure time reading and in writing’. This dissertation was innovative; not only did it open up the territory of children’s literature as a fit subject for research in the Irish context, but it was interdisciplinary, combining literary and education elements. He went on to extend this field by encouraging research in related areas within his department, leading to the development of an MA degree in Children’s Literature in collaboration with Celia Keenan and other colleagues in the English Department. 

During his early years in St Patrick’s College, Dr Killeen edited an anthology of poetry prescribed for the Intermediate Certificate (Dublin: Educational Company of Ireland, 1967). In the early 1980s, he collaborated with the publishers Gill and Macmillan in developing senior primary school readers (Stage 4) in the series entitled ‘Let’s Go!’ (1983) He was among the contributors to a collection of essays published in 1990 entitled Dublin and Dubliners: essays in the history and literature of Dublin city (eds James Kelly and Uáitéar Mac Gearailt; Dublin: Helicon, 1990).

Dr Killeen was a founder member of Children’s Literature Association of Ireland (CLAI / Cumann Litríocht Óige) in 1984, and its first president. Another of his initiatives from the 1970s was the highly successful entente cordiale he developed with Chico University in California, which led to a series of staff and graduate student exchanges. 

In 1996, he spoke out against the demolition of one of the homes in which James Joyce had lived during his childhood. Number 2, Milbourne Avenue adjoined St Patrick’s campus. This house, Dr Killeen believed, offered ‘a very clear understanding of the conditions under which he and [Joyce’s] family were living … while he was attending Belvedere College’.[2] To his great regret, financial constraints prevented College authorities from acquiring the property.

Dr Killeen played a notable role in the College Social Committee, which he long chaired, and which was integral to the staff camaraderie that was a notable feature of St Patrick's College life in the late 1980s and 1990s.

His collection of children’s books, which included French and German texts,  was presented to St Patrick’s College following his death. At a function to mark the donation, the president, Professor Pauric Travers paid tribute to Dr Killeen’s contribution to the life of the College and to his pioneering work in children’s literature.[3] In 2003, Dr Brenna Clarke, then head of the English Department, initiated the John Killeen Medal, which is awarded annually for excellence in English.[4]



[1] Tadhg Ó Ceallaigh, Coláiste Phádraig: St. Patrick's College : centenary booklet 1875-1975 (Dublin: St Patrick's College, 1975).

[2] Frank McDonald, ‘Cyberworld rallies to defend house of artist as young man’, The Irish Times, 21 June 1996.

[3] Coláiste Phádraig Annual Report, 2003-2004.

[4] I am grateful to Andy Burke, Brenna Clarke, Celia Keenan, James Kelly, Liz Fletcher and Pauric Travers for their assistance in compiling this note.