Michael O’Sullivan, CM, SVC 1937-90
1903 - 1990
After the funeral mass in Castleknock College one of Brother Michael’s long-standing friends was overheard to comment: “There goes the last of the great seanchaís”. Brother Michael will always be remembered for his stories. With ease he could move from the realm of reality into that of fantasy, and back again. Invariably most of his stories centered round the War of Independence and the part he played in it. He loved a car journey through the country and saw it as an opportunity to tell yet another story. Every ditch, stream or hill-top was a strategic point from which he and his colleagues launched a successful ambush against the Black and Tans. Although his stories were colourful they all had a grain of truth, and he quickly dismissed anyone who might question his veracity. Once at the community table, when Brother Michael was talking eloquently about life in the United States, one confrère dared to query him and asked: “Brother, were you ever in America?” Without batting an eyelid, and much to the merriment of his audience, Michael quickly responded: “Father, I was conceived there”, and continued unabashed.
In his earlier days he was a member of Fianna Eireann and subsequently joined the Free State Army for a brief period, before coming to work in Castleknock. From there he entered the community at St Joseph’s, Blackrock in July 1925. He always liked to shroud his origins in mystery and could best be described as a Melchisedech figure. The community personnel catalogue gives his birth day as 15 August 1904, while his birth certificate gives his it as 5 August 1903. In recent years he spoke of an old family home in Glanthane. His birth certificate shows he was born in his father’s house in Knockansweeney, which is a townland near Glanthane, not far from Mallow. However, Michael looked upon himself as a Kerryman. He was a regular at Croke Park and should the Kerry team be playing he was to be found near their dressing room or ccompanying them onto the field. Every O’Sulivan that appeared on the team was either a nephew or a cousin.
After some months doing his seminaire in Blackrock Michael was transferred to Dax, the birthplace of St Vincent, where he took his final vows in the Congregation on 8 December 1928. Whenever he was asked about the move he put it down to a personality clash between him and his Superior in Blackrock because of the part he played in the Civil War. Michael continued to live with the community in France and there was some talk of his joining the mission to Madagascar. In his final years in France he worked in the Irish College, Paris, before returning to Castleknock in 1937. Michael became a fluent French speaker and years later he loved to demonstrate his prowess when the occasion arose. Once while in a restaurant in Sneem, Co. Kerry, he addressed the waitress first in French and then in Irish, and finally condescended to speak in English. When on a pilgrimage to Lourdes he convinced the local people of his active part in the Resistance and was dined and wined on the strength of it.
On his appointment to Castleknock Michael worked mainly on the farm, but also assisted the dean by supervising the boot-room and shower area. He is best remembered among pastmen for his nightly cry: “Turn off them drippers” as he insisted that every tap be turned off. During his free time he loved to tend his bees. Once when a swarm landed at the foot of a goal post Michael was called on. It was an opportunity not to be missed. With bare hands he pulled the swarm apart until he found the queen bee, examined her carefully before placing her ceremoniously in a matchbox, which he in turn placed in his pocket, before cycling back to his garden, followed by the swarm, with his dog, Rebel, barking at his heels. One July evening a cavalcade of motor cars entered the college grounds. Not even the President knew what it was all about. The mystery was soon resolved when Michael was seen demonstrating his skills to the Beekeepers Society of Ireland. He was also a noted water-diviner and was very much in demand in counties Dublin and Meath. Again, he loved to exaggerate his escapades with the divining rod, and would always talk about how the electricity and magnetism affected his stomach. The ready remedy was always a glass of brandy! In his latter days he graduated from a push bike to a moped, and finally to a Honda 50. This gave him greater mobility and an ever increasing circle of friends.
It became increasingly difficult to tie him to a work schedule, and those who worked with him remember him for his giftedness and unpredictability. In the early sixties he built a very fine stone wall near the school building. Years later he was very chuffed when people admired it, but was very quick to respond that it was nearly the death of him, as the superior at the time kept him at it through the severe winter months despite his (alleged) frequent colds, flu, pleurisy and pneumonia! Another example of his fine handiwork were the various crest formations he created with stones and cacti in his garden.
In his latter days Michael suffered a lot from arthritis, but never complained about it. His only reference to it was when he was predicting the weather. He became a keen television fan and never missed The Virginian, and was a frequent visitor to nearby Dunboyne to observe the filming of the TV series The Riordans, but was disappointed that he was never filmed as a stand-in, or in the crowd scenes. However, he did make his TV debut in an RTE documentary on the role of the clergy in Gaelic games, entitled The Men in Black. He was very proud of the fact that the camera zoomed in on him and showed him in profile as he sat behind the bishops and politicians on the Hogan Stand.
In September 1987, because of his poor leg movement, the doctor recommended a wheelchair. At first Michael was very happy with it, but once he realised that Fr John Carroll was joking about it he promptly rejected it. Instead, he asked it to be placed outside John Carroll’s room, stating that the old man might make more use of it. During the Christmas of 1987 he was confined to bed, and in January of 1988 he was transferred to Rickard House. While there, he endeared himself to all the staff, and was blessed to receive such wonderful care and attention in his final years.
His comment, when passing through the old St Joseph’s on his way to Rickard House, still rings clear: “We’re back where we started from”. He still had two more years to go, but now after more than 60 years in the community he has returned to his Creator. We are the poorer for his going. We miss his contribution to community life, his regularity at prayer, with his faith-filled responses at the mass. He was a most colourful character, enjoying life to the full and only too ready to share that joy with others. Whenever confrères will meet to reminisce, no doubt some of Michael’s stories will be part of the lore. May he rest in peace.
Kevin O’Shea CM
MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN CM
Born: Glanthane, Mallow, Co. Cork, 5 August 1903.
Entered the CM: Blackrock, 24 July 1925.
Final vows: Dax, 8 December 1928.
1928(?)-1937 Irish College, Paris.
1937-1990 St Vincent’s, Castleknock.
Died 9 January 1990.