Tribute to James O Sullivan

October 4th, 2011
by Weeshie Fogarty

A huge link with the wonderful Kerry football story stretching right back to 1924 was severed last week when word reached us from his family in Croydon England that James o Sullivan the oldest son of legendary Kerry footballer trainer Dr Eamonn o Sullivan had passed away following a brave battle with cancer. His brother Robert is now the only remaining member of the family surviving as Edward, and Anthony have also died. James father had of course trained Kerry to win eight All Ireland titles. His first was as far back as 1924 and his eight and last was in 1962. 

I became great friends with the o Sullivan family when writing the book about their father five years ago, "Dr Eamonn o Sullivan-A Man Before his Time". The four boys were very obliging and courteous to me during my interviews with them and James and Robbie have visited me at home on numerous occasions since the book was launched. James was a very pleasant, gentle and kind person who had a fierce passion about his home town of Killarney. During one of those visits to Killarney we sat down and he recalled his young days and memories of his late father. The following as my tribute to James is a very brief section of that very lengthy interview which was a very special time for me.

"I live in Croydon in England but I return to Killarney as much as possible, I love the mountains and lakes, and it's great to visit my old friends. I was born when my father was assistant medical officer in the mental hospital so I was born in his quarters in the hospital where he lived with my mother. It was a small self contained house attached it would appear as an after thought by Pugin the designer and there in the top upper bedroom I was born in the year 1931. I was the eldest of Eamonn's four children.

It was a wonderful experience growing up around St. Finan's and even though the hospital was a part of Killarney it had an existence of its own. It was slightly remote and was subject to certain strict orders about arriving back at certain times in the evening when the gates were closed, so an element of isolation occurred. I can clearly remember being impressed by the way the staff as a community survived in this environment. Families inter married, sons and daughters of staff members married and followed into the hospital as a career path. All of this led to a very close community sense which was all part of us children growing up including staff and medical staff. And of course in the back ground ever presence in our consciences were the patients themselves, some times  forlorn figures, sad but none the less very human and treated with great dignity and respect by all of us. It was a pleasure to grow up in that environment.

My own father Eamonn was always keen to alleviate the burden the patients were faced with in their isolation. In his particular case he concentrated on occupation therapy as a means to soften their burden and in that I am proud to say he was very successful. My memories of my father is that of a large man so therefore to a young man he was very a dignified and imposing figure that had to be treated with respect. Now he wasn't a strict disciplinarian but nonetheless he wanted us to obey certain rules. We were brought up in a very strict way I would imagine certainly by to-days standards. However he was a tolerant man and my feelings for him even as a young teenager and later as a young man were one of love rather than respect

He studied for the priest hood in Maynooth for two years and then went to Rome to the Irish College there but his tenure there came to a sudden end when his health broke down. Now he never really discussed the details of it but it was sufficient to interrupt his career, he came home, recuperated and it was then that he began his medical career and went to college in Dublin. He was a native speaker of the Irish language even though we didn't speak Irish in the home but he had a great love for all things Irish and promoted the language every chance he had. He was proud of Ireland, proud of the heritage of place names, mountain names and so on. He was constantly bringing these things to our attention as children so we also had a great love for all these things as well.

"My father's knowledge of famous people and famous sportsmen extended far and wide and journeys to All Ireland matches would feature the same commentary as we were traveling and he made the journeys very easy to pass. Now I was five years old in 1937 and we took our summer holiday in Ballyheigue to be near the retired Dr. Griffin and his family and we were staying in a lodge in the village. That year of '37 Kerry had drawn with Laois in the All Ireland semi final in Cork, Kerry 2-3, and Laois 1-6. Eamonn was approached by officers of the county board and asked to train the team for the re-play. However he told them he was on holidays and he really could not upset his family by abandoning the holiday. Then he said to them if they brought the team to Ballyheigue he would train them, which they did without hesitation. I have vivid memories of the team behind the Castle hotel in the village of Ballyheigue undergoing their training regime under Eamonn's supervision.

The re-play took place at Waterford City on August 29th and with five minutes to go the sides were level but just before the final whistle Mickey Lyne one of the famous Lyne brothers from Cleeney, Killarney sent high between the posts and Eamonn had guided the team to another final. They then drew with Cavan in the final and won the re-play 4-4 to 1-7.  I was not aware then of my father having trained Kery to win the 1924 and '26 All Irelands and I was not even aware of the significance of what I was seeing but I knew it was important and I had a feeling of respect and a great interest in what was going on. My love for Kerry and its footballers has always remained with me. I have always tried to pass that love and passion on to my own family and grand children and in quiet times when I reflect and realize that my father trained Kerry to win eight All Ireland titles and served his county for such a long period is an amazing feeling which I will cherish until the day I die".

On behalf of Kerry football followers we express our deepest sympathies to James's wife Killarney born Millie, his children Ted, John, Peter, and Clare. To their partners Sarah, Helen, Sharon and Tom and to his grandchildren Alice, Ruth, Lizzie, Catherine, Jamie, Finlay, Tom and Nicola.

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