In Memory of My Mother - Mary O'Sullivan

July 20th, 2015
by Brendan O'Sullivan


I went with my mother to my first All-Ireland final in 1955 and sat on her knee in the Cusack Stand. In those days, children could be lifted over the stile with no questions asked. My father walked with us to the entrance, helped me to climb over and then watched from the terraces. Kerry defeated Dublin in a memorable match.

It was appropriate that we were in the Cusack Stand because my mother was Mary Cusack from Moyvalley, in north Kildare. Her grandfather Denis, originally from county Clare, was a cousin of GAA founder Michael Cusack, after whom the stand was called.

Today I remember my mother, who died last November, aged 96. She was born in January 1918, the Great War was in its fourth year, the political situation in Ireland was volatile. She went to school through the fields, to Longwood in Co. Meath, a three-mile walk on a breakfast of porridge, a slice of bread and a cup of tea. Her father, showing an independent streak worthy of his famous cousin, refused to send the children to the local parish school because the teacher was too strict.

My mother grew up as a carer. She was the eldest girl, there were younger siblings, her own mother was often ill. She also looked after her cousins, the Whelehans, for one week every summer, when her aunt went on holiday. She attended Loreto Navan as a boarder for five years and a secretarial course led to a job at the ITGWU Head Office in Dublin. She was telephonist and secretary and, soon, a key member of staff.

She attracted many admirers, including one colleague who later became a prominent trade union leader and senator. But the most attractive was a Kerryman working in Dublin, Michael O'Sullivan, from Ballyleddar, Beaufort. Life in the thirties and forties revolved around work, but there were also dances and pictures, as the movies were then called. There was cycling at weekends and on some Sundays, she would cycle to Moyvalley, thirty miles away, and back to Dublin later that day. They were practical people. Michael, who played for Kickhams, broke his leg in a match. He had two tickets for the pictures in his wallet. Despite his discomfort, he transferred the tickets to a friend and Mary was accompanied to the cinema by another gentleman that evening.

They were married on October 16, 1946 in Iona Rd Church Dublin. The wedding was at 8 o'clock in the morning with around a dozen guests. They went on honeymoon to Kerry, which meant that Michael couldn't attend the All-Ireland football replay between Kerry and Roscommon, the only final played in Ireland that he missed in over fifty years.

Mary returned to work after marriage, but, as a family began to arrive, the ITGWU lost out and she became a homemaker, as was the way in those days.

Her organising skills and caring nature came to the fore as she looked after four children. Money was scarce but we felt secure. Religion and education were important to her, caring for other people was important to her. It was an open house and visitors were always welcome. Kerry relatives, of course, tended to visit on a certain weekend in September. Kildare people called more frequently although the Lilywhites had limited success. Their glory period had come in the late twenties but a successful under 21 team in the 1960s seemed about to lead to more glory. Unfortunately, their senior team reached 6 Leinster finals and lost them all. A couple of carloads from Kildare would park outside our house on matchdays, go to the game, return afterwards, usually disappointed, and my mother would be waiting with tea and sandwiches.

For she was a hospitable person with a genuine interest in other people, non- judgemental, concerned but not curious. She knew about all family members, nieces, nephews, cousins, my father's relatives, what they were doing in school or college or work. And, as the years passed, she knew all about the grandnieces and grandnephews.

Above all, in her later years, she delighted in 10 grandchildren and they delighted in her. And, as time moved on, 3 great-grandchildren arrived, Adam, Gabriella and Chloe. For her senior years were full of contentment. When my father retired, they had over 15 golden years together.

After his death, she lived for a further 15 years and enjoyed the family occasions, the travel to different parts of Ireland, the annual trip to Kerry a highlight. She moved into her nineties and remained fit and active. Her constant companion was my sister Margaret. When there were comments about the arrival of the Presidential cheque at 100, she always said she didn't want to reach that milestone. And she got her wish, slipping away quietly on November 19 2014 after an illness endured with patience and good humour.

Patrick Kavanagh's famous poem about his mother begins:
"I do not think of you lying
In the wet clay of a Monaghan graveyard".

I don't think of my mother lying with over one million others in Glasnevin, I think of her gentle and caring nature, her quiet efficiency, her balanced and calm attitude to life. And, in September this year, I will especially remember her. Maybe history will repeat itself, maybe it will be Kerry and Dublin again, maybe I'll be in the Cusack Stand again, but no matter what the teams or the circumstances, on All-Ireland football final day 2015, I will remember my mother and how, 60 years ago, we went together to my first final.

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