By Sheila O’Kelly

Betty Ann Norton was born in July 1936 and grew up on Ruben Avenue off South Circular Road in Dublin. Betty was the eldest of two children born to Frances and Eugene Norton. She was educated in Harold’s Cross, Dublin and later at Saint Louis High School in Rathmines, Dublin.

From a very young age, Betty and her brother, Jim attended the Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution on Kildare Street, Dublin. Ena Burke was a prominent theatre tutor and her pupils included Maureen O’Hara, Milo O’Shea and Brenda Fricker.

Betty Ann Norton’s ambition to be an actress was met with opposition from her parents. They considered a career in acting was not suitable for girls. Her mother suggested a teaching career and Betty Ann decided to try it for a year.

She realised she had a passion for teaching and obtained her speech and drama diploma both from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Back in Ireland, she travelled the country teaching speech and drama to children.

In 1959, she opened the Betty Ann Norton Theatre School at 57, Harcourt Street, Dublin and it soon became a hub for children and teenagers in Dublin to find expression for their acting talent. She provided a range of classes from film, stage acting and mime as well as diplomas in speech and drama tuition, and always encouraged her pupils to perform with confidence and assertiveness.
In 1965, Betty Ann met Michael J Cunneen on the Aran Islands. They married in 1967. They resided in Dún Laoighaire, County Dublin and they had no children. With Michael’s background in drama and set design, he was an asset to Betty’s Theatre School.

He taught mime and movement and was a lifelong co-director of the business. The theatre school thrived and grew in popularity.
In 1969, Betty Ann transferred the business to new premises at 27, Harcourt Street where it remained for the next thirty-six years until works for the Luas Line changed the redevelopment of the street.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own