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Kilbride mourns the loss of local legend Billy Craul who died at the age of 91

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Billy Craul says good bye to all his fellow musicians and friends on his final music session night at Muldowneys of Rathcoole which took place shortly before his death.

Billy Craul says good bye to all his fellow musicians and friends on his final music session night at Muldowneys of Rathcoole which took place shortly before his death.

Billy Craul playing his last few tunes on his special night of memories and stories spanning.

Billy Craul playing his last few tunes on his special night of memories and stories spanning.

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Billy Craul says good bye to all his fellow musicians and friends on his final music session night at Muldowneys of Rathcoole which took place shortly before his death.

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A loving father and husband. A dedicated hard working man with a rare talent for music. The late Billy Craul had so many admirable traits. Chief among them was his kind and generous nature.

After Billy’s heart broken family laid the 91 year-old Kilbride legend to rest at Manor Kilbride cemetery on Monday, they each reflected on a long, rich life lived to the very fullest.

William ‘Billy’ Craul is best known as the cheery and welcoming shopkeeper who has served the Kilbride community for an eternity, but he wore so many different caps during his early professional life.

He started off working in the Swiftbrook paper mill in Saggart at a young age, before moving on to work in forestry and as a dairy and sheep farmer. He was even elected Lord Mayor of west Wicklow in the 1980’s.

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After his parents William and Mary retired, Billy inherited the family grocery shop – a small operation run out of a room in their family home. About 50 years ago Billy set about building a new shop, enlisting the help of his best friend Sean Healy and others to realise his dream.

Billy and the love of his life, Lil, poured themselves into the shop and it became the heart of Kilbride, a real institution in the village.

Billy was especially welcoming to new people in the community and was always ready to help and support them. If someone bought a new house, or was a building a house in village, Billy would give them a hamper and tell them, “Anything you need, I’m here for you.”

Together, Billy and Lil had four darling children, Mary, William, Pauline and Dennis, who gave them four grandchildren, Lawrence, Aisling, Eoin and Aoife who made Billy an immensely proud grandad.

Billy’s eldest son William and his wife Siobhan have continued on the Craul legacy and are now the third generation to tend shop in the village.

“He was a very good father to us all,” said William. “We were never short of anything. He’d never put one child above the other, he treated us all equally.

“He treated other people every bit the same way as he treated his own children, that’s what people loved about him.”

Billy absolutely adored music and was a singularly talented musician in his own right. He began playing the drums in his brother Jimmy’s band in the 1950’s, and later had his own six-piece jazz band. He also played the accordion and the harmonica all over the country.

Oh and he could sing. William explained that his father had one song in particular that he would sing, called ‘There is no Secret’. In a touching moment, William’s younger brother Dennis sang a rendition of it at the graveside on Monday, after the funeral.

Billy’s passion for music knew no bounds. When he and Lil would go on holidays to stay at the Achill Sound Hotel every year, Billy would usually end up taking over the place with with his impeccable playing.

He often went to Aughrim on a Tuesday night with his best friend Sean, who said, “Himself, myself and maybe one or two more lads, we’d set out at around 7 o’clock and we’d go out to James O’Toole’s pub in Aughrim. There we’d meet another crowd there and have a great night until about 12 o'clock. Then we’d head back across the Sally Gap home. Oh it was a great time altogether.

“Billy was always the centre piece of everything around here. He was a real local legend.”

Sean sat with Billy last Wednesday night, during his final moments. He waited with his childhood friend until the early hours of Thursday morning, with Billy slipping away shortly after he had left to go home. Sean was said to be utterly heartbroken at his passing.

For his 90th birthday Billy’s children and grandchildren gathered in son William’s house to give him a birthday to remember. Since parties were outlawed by pandemic restrictions, they Zoomed the musicians from the Aughrim night, who sang along with Billy for around two hours.

So, at 90 years of age Billy had his very first Zoom call and, it’s safe to say, he thoroughly enjoyed it!

Billy made the most of his remaining time with his family and friends over the past couple of months. He was admitted to hospital just over a month ago, where he was diagnosed with cancer and told he only had a month to live. And boy, did he ever live that month.

After he received the diagnosis Billy returned home to his family, telling them, “Don’t worry. I’m not worried. I have lived my life. I had a good life, and I don’t want you to worry about me.”

In the two and a half weeks between Billy coming home and going back into hospital, the Crauls held an open house. During that time people were queuing up to see Billy, to wish him well, and he was happy to meet them. A good number of old friends came and reminisced with him about the old times.

Billy’s daughter in-law Siobhan said that, “People came into me in the shop after seeing him during that time and the first thing they’d say to me is: ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with that man’s mind!’.

Two weeks before he passed away, all of Billy's friends and family gathered at Mulldowneys in Rathcoole. They celebrated Billy’s life, with the man of the hour playing a few tunes on the harmonica as he sipped away on his tumbler of Jameson.

Everyone had their piece to say about all the great times with Billy. At the end of the night he gave a heartfelt speech about his sad news from the hospital, and thanked everyone by name for their great friendship all down the years.

Siobhan recalled that, the day after the party, Billy said to her, “Siobhan, we have two weeks gone and we have two weeks left”, then winked at her. “He was happy,” she said.

“Sure he didn’t get home until 2am! Billy was never the first to leave anywhere he went. And his brain was sharp as anything, right up until the end.”

Among other things, Billy was an intellectual man and a great historian. He gave a very well received talk, in front of a packed house in Blessington Library four years ago, where he spoke about the Kilbride area and the flooding of the Blessington Lakes.

He was also heavily involved in the GAA, particularly in the 1960’s when the Kilbride GAA Club won two senior championships in small village.

Over the years Billy gave the GAA pitches, for little or no rent and sponsored the Craul Cup, which was one of the biggest leagues in west Wicklow.

Indeed, Billy Craul was a man of great character, with talent and intelligence to match. A man so loved he was welcomed into GAA clubs, pubs and musical halls the length and breath of the county, with open arms.

He was a true pillar of the Kilbride community, and will be sorely missed by everyone who was lucky enough to have met him.


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