Dr William O’Sullivan – A legend in his own time
Dr. William O’Sullivan, Killarney played senior international rugby for Ireland against Scotland in 1895. He was the first Killarney man to play for his country but it was only one of many highlights in the distinguished sporting career of a remarkable athlete. He was one of two sons born into the O’Sullivan family of Battersfield, Firies in 1874. On completion of his primary and secondary schooling in Firies and St.Brendans College Killarney, he began medical studies in Queens College (now Univeristy College Cork) and he captained the College rugby team to Munster Senior Cup glory in 1895, which helped earn him his international debut in the same year.
Apart from his phenomenal feats on the rugby field, he also excelled at Gaelic Football, playing in an All-Ireland Final in 1892 in which a Laune Rangers Selection were defeated by Dublin side, Young Irelanders. His athletic and sporting talents were also evident as a cricketer, a hockey player and an oarsman.
Political malaise at the time necessitated his exile from Killarney during the Black and Tan regime, as he was a committed Nationalist. While in exile he achieved his M.D. in Edinburgh. On the establishment of the Irish Free State he returned to Killarney in 1922 and was elected a senator in Seanad Eireann, which position he held until 1935.
He married Limerick woman Nora 0’Meara and they set up home in Inch House, New Street, Killarney, from which he ran his private practice and where they reared their nine children. Inch House was knocked and replaced by Dunnes Stores in the late 1980’s. During a professional career spanning some 60 years, he served as Medical Officer of Killarney No 2 District which included St Columbanus’ Home and the Killarney District Hospital and he was Coroner for East Kerry.
It is no surprise that his son, Dr Billy O’Sullivan, was also a very gifted sportsman, distinguishing himself in rugby and golf and making a major input into the development and success of Killarney Golf & Fishing Club.
The contribution made by Dr William O’Sullivan to the sporting, social and political life of Killarney was inestimable and no history of Killarney is complete without acknowledging his huge contribution to the greater Killarney area. Dr William O'Sullivan passed away in 1953.
All The Way Back
(This brief history of Killarney Rugby Club was published in the program for the Killarney v The Wolfhounds match 1961)
Killarney has associations with the game of Rugby Football for close on eighty years. The earliest "link" now known is that of a team which existed in the 1800's whose star players were the late Jack McKay (who also assisted Bandon - winners of the Munster Senior Cup in this period and the only provincial side ever to attain this feat) and then MacGillicuddy of the Reeks who had previously played with Trinity College, Dublin and Cambridge University. Many a notable encounter took place in the Cricket Field near the Flesk Bridge (the grounds of the present side) when Killarney were led by Dr. William O'Sullivan who received an Irish "cap" against Scotland in 1895 and captained Queen's College, Cork (the forerunner of U.C.C.) to victory in the Munster Senior Cup of the same year. Some of the games of the 'nineties are on record and it would appear that a great friendly rivalry existed between the home club and Queenstown over whom what is recorded as "an epic victory" was scored in 1896. The "big guns" of the Club at the turn of the century were District Inspector Cruise and a gentleman known as "The Professor" who taught at the local St. Brendan's Seminary and did much to train the teams of that era and Jerome O'Leary who also played with Cork Constitution. The second native son to wear the green jersey of Ireland was Jerome Guerin who played against France in 1913 and who lost his life in that country during the First World War. A photograph of the home side of 1915-16 appears elsewhere in this publication who were coached by the Presentation Brothers at the Monastery and includes the Horgan, Guerin and Hickey brothers, Drs. Jerry Goggin and Pat Carey, District-Justice T. G. O'Sullivan, Hack Sewell, Tommy McGillycuddy, Hoe Scanlon, Corry Lehane, J. O'Leary and A. Stanton. In the 1920's a new generation of players had arisen some of whom had assisted city clubs while others played with various teams throughout the county and a preliminary meeting was held in 1928 which resulted in our present President, Mr. Jack O'Connor, securing a playing pitch at Countess Road from the Earl of Kenmare. At a general meeting held in the Commercial Club, New Street, on the 28th April, 1928, it was unanimously decided to establish a rugby club in the district and the following committee were elected: President: The Earl of Kenmare. Vice-President: Senator Dr. William O'Sullivan, Major John MacGillycuddy, The MacGillycuddy of The Reeks, A. R. Vincent, Esq., Sir Maurice O'Connell, Very Rev. Denis Moynihan, Adm., V.F., and Rev. Dean Rowan. Hon. Treasurers: Messrs. James Eagan and Jack Martin. Hon. Secretary: Michael J. Rohan. Captain: Jack Sewell. Committee: Messrs. Jack O'Connor, Jimmie Egan, J.D. H. O'Connor, Jim Flaherty, Liam Trant McCarthy, Charles Lynch, Jerome O'Leary, Jim Corcoran, Robin P. Hilliard and Connie O'Connor.
This team had a hard core of players with senior experience such as Neilly O'Flaherty (Dolphin), Marcus O'Sullivan, Jim Corcoran, and Jimmie Egan (Constitution), Cal McCarthy (Sunday's Well). Dave O'Leary (Blackrock) and Dr. Billy O'Sullivan (U.C.C.), which enabled it to attain a very high standard during the period of the club's existence from 1928 to 1935. Other prominent members who played with Killarney at that time were:
Jeremiah O'Callaghan, Daniel O'Callaghan, J. Sewell, M. Casey, J. Casey, L. Trant-McCarthy, M. Moriarty, D. Moriarty, J. Egan, J. Corcoran, M. Fitzgerald, J.D.H. O'Connor, J. Boyd, J MacGillicuddy, J. "Chumin" Coffey, P. O'Malley, J. Flaherty, M. Rohan, N. O'Malley, S. Dyche, R.P. Hilliard, P.C. Hilliard, M. O'Sullivan, N. O'Donovan, J.Taylor, C. O'Connor, J. Myles, F. McGee, B. Thompson, D. O'Meara, J. Scully, J. O'Brien, S. O'Connor, J. Wade, J. MacCaffrie, M. Healy, Ned O'Sullivan, J. Riordan, J. Hanna, J. Droughton, M. Teahan, M. McCarthy, J. Godson, S. Lynch, G. Lynch, J. O'Connor, H. Roberts, A. Murdoch, J.F. Cranitch, j. Maher-Loughnane, J. Daly, J. O'Sullivan, Lar Fleming, J. Kerins, J. Horan, J. Managan, J. O'Connell, H. Downing, H. Hughes, J. Tormey, M. Greaney, and J. J. O'Connor.
The "Old Team" played against the usual city opposition and their immediate "neighbours" Tralee, Castleisland, Killorglin, Kenmare, Dingle, Listowel, Bantry and Macroom, while the club also boasted of a junior team and ran a street leaguer with College Street, High Street, Main Street and New Street competing. They also played some games in Mangan's field in Woodlawn and The Cricket Field. A big blow to the Club was the tragedy which deprived it of two of its finest playing members when Jim Corcoran and Maurice FitzGerald were drowned when their car overturned into a drain at Brennan's Glen in 1930. In 1931 James Egan became the third Killarney man to be capped for his country, while some seasons later both Tom Guihan of Kenmare and Dr. Billy O'Sullivan also captained U.C.C. to a Munster Senior Cup victory in 1935 thereby emulating the feat of his father who attained the same measure of success forty years previously, while another player with Killarney ties was Charlie Teahan, who was a prominent member of the Irish side prior to the last war. In 1941 a local side came together and defeated Castleisland in the Galway-Foley Cup Final, but due to emigration and other factors only schoolboy matches, were played here in the interim period prior to the present Club being formed in the 1953/54 season with Eddie Dillon as captain, Sean O'Sullivan as secretary, and the indomitable Jock Skelton trainer. Due to the Trojan work of these hardy souls and an energetic committee spearheaded by Dr. Des Hayes, Jack Scully and Willie O'Brien, the Club was placed on a sound footing and has never looked back since. Willie O'Brien celebrated the 1954/55 season by winning the MacGillicuddy and Galwey-Foley Cup competitions while Jack Bernard and his merry men did likewise the following year, also reaching the semi-finals of the Munster Junior Cup and broke new ground by bringing the Welsh side Aberavon G.S. to play in Killarney. Secretary Sean O'Sullivan retired after rendering sterling service to the club and was replaced by Liam O'Connor, while Dan Healy led his men to the final of the Cork County Cup against Cobh Pirates in 1956/57 and the home side further made history by being the first Kerry side to tour overseas when they played in Port Talbot and Margan, South Wales, in the same season. Sean O'Reilly was at the helm in 1957/58 when "our boys" captured the coveted Aberavon Shield awarded to the first Irish side to defeat the Welsh junior champions and which they had triumphantly borne home to Wales on five previous tours, while Tony O'Reilly has mixed feelings re the annihilation of his Selected side in the same season and his return here today may be somewhat in the nature of a punitive expedition! 1958/59 saw Martin O'Halloran installed as captain and Creagh Downing as secretary and the highlights of the year were the three drawn games with the 'Island for the Galway-Foley Cup when even extra time could not produce a decisive result with the "old enemy." John O'Connor led his 1959/60 side to victory for the first time in the Hayes Cup and were narrowly defeated by the odd point in the Cork Co. Cup, while our first English visitors, Manchester De La Salle, also played here, and the first inter-county game of rugby for many years was played against Clare at the Cricket Field when Kerry were captained by John O'Connor with Club-members Dave Slattery, Michael O'Leary, Tom Foley and Charlie Fleming also on the side. In the same season our present excellent secretary, John McMahon took over the reins of office, a former captain, Willie O'Brien, was elected to the Munster Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union and Michael O'Leary became the first-ever Killarney man to gain a junior inter-provincial cap. Last season Tom Foley was a most popular and capable captain, during whom we retained the Hayes Cup, had our first Dublin side here in Palmerston and Dave Slattery earned a Munster junior cup and John McMahon was made a member of the Munster Referees Association, as was Willie O'Brien.
This year the bold "Slats" (David Slattery to his many enemies) is skipper and leads our selected side against the Wolfhounds today - we wish him well. Our present side has no "caps" but nonetheless they are all proficient in the art of coarse rugby and never admit defeat until the final whistle (and sometimes not for some considerable time thereafter). However, in Tony O'Connor and Rory O'Connor, who in recent years have worn the red jersey of Wales with distinction, Killarney may claim an interest as both are sons of a Killarney emigrant, Mr. Daniel O'Connor.