The Kilmeen Years

By Paddy Keohane

It was with a sense of deep sadness and sincere regret that we in Rossmore learned of the news of John O’Sullivan’s untimely death. May he rest in peace, happy in the knowledge that during his stay in this life he brought many hours of pleasure to old and young over a period of four decades.

When John returned to West Cork to live and work about 1970, it seemed inevitable that he would join the Kilmeen Drama Group. John had built for himself a huge reputation in amateur drama circles, and he was coming to a group who had already two One-Act All-Irelands under its belt and had played on the hallowed stage in Athlone.

It was a fruitful marriage, for over the next eighteen years or so, Kilmeen became one of the foremost amateur groups in Ireland. Kilmeen under John’s guidance won the All-Ireland three-act rural title in 1976 with a memorable production of The Black Stranger by Gerard Healy. This victory put Kilmeen into the open section, where new heights were reached and more ambitious productions tackled.

During the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, John was blessed by the services of a very talented and dedicated Kilmeen cast, led by Denis McCarthy and Tom O’Donovan. Together, their success was enormous, but fate decreed that the Esso trophy would elude this great group.

John’s first production for Kilmeen was The Wood of the Whispering by M.J. Molloy. This show won a number of preliminary festivals and was nominated to Loughrea, Co. Galway, for the All-Ireland. There was huge excitement in the Rossmore area, and a bus travelled to the performance and back again for the final adjudication.

Kilmeen were pipped at the post by one point after an outstanding performance. My memories of that year are very vivid, John – God rest him – was overjoyed with the great start he had made with Kilmeen and the word was out in drama circles that Kilmeen were a group to be feared.

And so it went, the following year we played The Field by John B. Keane. This was another memorable show, with John playing the Bull McCabe and also directing. This role was certainly one of his greatest. It was a huge strain on him to produce and play the leading role, yet John gave it everything he had.

When I look back I often think of the sacrifice he made to travel from Skibbereen to Rossmore which was a round trip of some 30 miles. It was expensive in money and energy terms, yet John never accepted even minimal expenses. He was the true amateur.

Kilmeen contested the first open All-Ireland in Athlone in 1980 with a brilliant production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman. The group won at five festivals and put on a sterling performance at Athlone.

Since those days, the group has never looked back and has maintained the spirit and cohesion which John instilled into the group.

John’s memory will be preserved for all time. His good deeds have gone before him to the next life, but the memories, the tradition and the knowledge which he has passed on will be an awakening to the generations of actors who will tread the boards in Rossmore in the future.

John O’Sullivan’s productions with Kilmeen Drama Group:

1971 – Paddy Pedlar – M.J. Molloy

1972 – The Wood of the Whispering – M.J. Molloy

1973 – The Field – John B. Keane

1974 – The Highest House on the Mountain – John B. Keane

1975 – Tomorrow Never Comes – Louis d’Alton

1976 – The Black Stranger – Gerard Healy

1977 – The Righteous Are Bold – Frank Carney

1978 – The Honey Spike – Bryan McMahon

1979 – The Crucible – Arthur Miller

1980 – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – D. Wasserman

1981 – Johnny Belinda – Eimir Harris

1984 – The Good Hope – Herman Heijermans

1985 – The Honey Spike – Bryan McMahon

1986 – The Country Boy – John Murphy

1988 – The Highest House on the Mountain – John B. Keane

John O’Sullivan also assisted in the staging of various one-act plays by the Kilmeen group, most notably, Bar and Ger by Geraldine Aron; Deeply Regretted by Maeve Binchy; The Briary Gap by T.C. Murray and The Workhouse Ward by Lady Gregory.