11 February 2010 Edition
2010 SINN FÉIN ARD FHEIS: MUNSTER LE CHÉILE HONOUREE
MICKEEN O’SULLIVAN – Whatever you say, say nothing
BY TOIRÉASA FERRIS WITH ELLA O’DWYER
KERRYMAN Mickey Donal O’Sullivan, known locally as Mickeen, is this year’s Munster honouree for the annual Le Chéile function. Mickeen is from one of Ireland’s staunchest republican counties, a place that has seen some of the worst events in the fight for freedom in Ireland.
Born in 1927, Mickeen was one of six children born to Donal Bill and Kit O’Sullivan. Both he and his only brother, Billy, helped on the family farm in the Listowel area before Mickeen went on to work as a creamery worker. It was in the 1940s when Mickeen got involved in the republican struggle.
“Jayz, I’d say it was about 1946,” Mickeen muses. “I was 19 years of age.” Initially, Mickeen was asked to help collect money. “At the time, Listowel was a black Fine Gael town but there were some households willing to contribute a few bob.”
Mickeen is modest to a fault and will talk about the heroic feats of other Kerry republicans going back to the 1920s but very little of his own contribution.
He recounts, for instance, the story of the shooting of IRA Volunteers at the hands of the Black and Tans in Knockanure on 12 May 1921.
Four IRA men (Con Dee, Paddy Dalton, Jerry Lyons and Paddy Walsh) were on their way home from Athea, County Limerick, when they were arrested by the Black and Tans at Gortaglanna, close to Listowel in County Kerry. They were beaten and brought to a crossroads leading to Knockanure, where they were lined up and shot dead. Dee escaped through the fields and fled towards Listowel town.
It was Mickeen’s father, Donal Bill O’Sullivan, who was also a republican, who found the wounded Con Dee hiding in a dyke near a place called Skehenerin and got him treated and taken to a safe house.
Asked to return to the matter at hand – his own contribution to the struggle – Mickeen modestly protests: “I didn’t do much; I don’t know what ye picked me for.”
Speaking to Mickeen’s son, John, and the many other local republicans who have such high regard for the Munster honouree, it’s clear that his claim to have not done much doesn’t hold a lot of weight.
John recalls one of the earliest signs of his father’s republican involvement. “I remember one day, my late brother, Dan, who was a youngster at the time, finding an old wellington boot. Dan threw the wellington and out pops a handgun!”
Mickeen is a droll character. Asked how many children he had, he stops and thinks for a while. With a wry smile he answers mischievously: “Three... I think.” It’s actually five, as well he knows.
He points to the picture on the wall of his eldest son, Dan, who died at only 25 years of age. He speaks about John, Caitríona and Eleanor and then a few minutes later he starts laughing and says:
“I’m wrong, call back those names to me again... Ah, we’re missing Michael Junior, the youngest.”
When asked how long he’s married: “Ah, Jesus, it’s gone 50 anyway.” It was in 1958 he “thinks”, and roguishly laughs again. It was lucky Kitty arrived home when she did as she was able to fill in a few extra details.
They married on 24 April 1958. Kitty’s people weren’t republicans but, as Mickeen said, it was never a problem as “she fell in with it”. Kitty agrees. For many years she opened her home and provided beds without any complaint for ‘the lads’ who needed them.
Mickeen has a way with words. His son, John, who, like his father, played his part in the republican struggle, remembers returning home one time after being ‘away’ for a few days. His father told him: “The boys were here looking for you – so were the other crew.”
In relation to the ‘other’ crew, Mickeen says his house “had great protection over the years”. No need for a burglar alarm as the gardaí used to call so much. Why would they be calling so much? Mickeen shrugs and says he did go to the North once.
I was getting excited now – he might actually reveal something. Little fear of that, though. “I was up there working on the roads,” he says. The gardaí were obviously wasting their time calling to Mickeen as he wouldn’t even confirm if it was to open or close roads!
Kitty and Mickeen experienced a very difficult period in 1983/’84. On 8 December 1983 their son, John, was tried, convicted and later sentenced to six years for his part in “some robbery”. When asked a little more about the subject, he simply answers: “You couldn’t keep up with that fella.”
As difficult as it must have been for any parent to have their son convicted and sentenced to prison, that December day will never be forgotten by the O’Sullivans. While one son was in court, the other was undergoing surgery in a Dublin hospital to try and treat his cancer. Tragically, Kitty and Mickeen Donal buried their son Dan, who died at 25 years of age on 29 February 1984.
Despite his age (82), Mickeen is as active now in Sinn Féin election campaigns as he was when he first started canvassing for the party in the 1950s. Looking to the future work ahead of him, Mickeen believes he and Kerry and west Limerick republicans have a lot to do in the next two years in terms of challenging the opponents of the struggle.
“They’ll do anything to try to shift Ferris, so we’ve a big job ahead,” Mickeen says. “But west Limerick (a new part of the constituency) is going well.”
When asked if his 64 years of involvement in the struggle have been worth it he smiles, mentions good friends and republicans (too many to name) and says: “No matter what you’re in, it’ll be tough at some stage, there will always be work in it, but I don’t regret anything.”
Mickeen, Donal O’Sullivan, the father of five, grandfather of six and great-grandfather of one, remains true to his era – impossible to get anything out of about his republican activity, which makes this sort of interview a tough assignment.
“If I think of anything,” he concludes, “I’ll ring you up.” Weeks later, we’re still waiting to hear from him.
Kerry can boast a proud history, not least the four men IRA shot by the Tans in 1921.
Their names are placed on history’s page,
Their memory will endure,
Not a song is sung for our darling sons
In the valley of Knockanure
Mickeen might be an unsung hero but his contribution to the struggle earns him a place on history’s page as one of Kerry’s darling sons.