By Eileen Kingston
The people of West Limerick, like all others in the ’50s, observed the abstemious practices of Lent, which included refraining from dancing in the local Ballrooms of Romance. The entertainment gap had to be otherwise filled so amateur drama flourished during that season with groups of good, bad and indifferent standards taking to the boards.Their efforts were much appreciated and in those pre-television days, halls were packed to the rafters. Many was the car and trailer, complete with players and props which trundled along the country roads in the early hours of a Monday morning following what one would compare today with “a great night of theatre”. No credit card bookings in those days!
In the early ’50s, John O’Sullivan came as a butter maker to Kantoher Creamery. At the same time, local curate, Fr. Cagney who was keenly interested in drama, wanted to put on a play. John was invited to produce and the rest is the history of a most successful association.
Speaking to a former postman, Art O’Driscoll, himself a Corkman like John, who at that time lived in Raheenagh before moving to Newcastlewest, I could feel his sense of pride at having been a member of the Killeedy Players all these years later: “Everybody was enthusiastic. We had no outsiders and it was a true Killeedy representation,” recalled Art.
For those who do not know this beautiful part of West Limerick, nestling beneath the Mullach a Radhairc Hills, Cill Ide is the church and churchyard of St. Ide, patroness of Limerick and also known as “Bridget of Munster.”
Among the many members of the Killeedy Players some of whom have gone to their eternal reward were Davy Noonan, Mick Hennessy, Denny Shiels, James King, Nora Magnior, Ita Colbert, Roger Danagher and James Conway. Art recalled some of their most memorable productions with John, the actor and producer – Autumn Fire, The Wood Of The Whispering, Tomorrow Never Comes andThe Paddy Pedlar, to mention just a few.
The establishment of the North Cork Drama Festival in Charleville in April 1953, allowed the Killeedy Players, just a few miles back the road, to make their mark. Bryan McMahon adjudicated the four open and as many in the confined categories. Killeedy entered The Bishop’s Candlesticks in the one-act section and they won the festival with their three-act, The Whiteheaded Boy.
John was “best actor,” forty years later, at the same festival, John was to repeat his success, winning the ‘best actor’ award in Skibbereen’s production of Autumn Fire. Alan Nichol was the adjudicator on that occasion.
Writing in his North Cork Festival programme, the late Ted O’Riordan who died almost two years ago and who contributed so much to amateur drama himself, paid tribute to John and Killeedy. “Their producer and character actor has possibly the longest association of all amateur actors at the North Cork festival, winning for himself and his group many accolades over the years,” wrote Ted.
But, it was not all work and play for John while in West Limerick. There he met Mary Daly, who later became his wife. I can remember John cycling down the Cloncon road, or walking along with Mary. While she did not share his keen interest in drama, she and her family are very proud of his memorable career.
I conclude on a personal note: in the late ’50s I was present at Feile Luimní, which was adjudicated by the late Hilton Edwards. Those of us who had been initiated to the festival circuit watched in awe as John O’Sullivan engaged Hilton in conversation. The animated performance of both will always stay in my memory and there was no doubt about the mutual respect each had for the other.
Just a few short weeks ago as the combined West Cork drama groups gave John his final curtain call at the Town Hall, Skibbereen, those of us who knew him in his Limerick days realised that “the well graced actor” may have left the stage, but will always remain in our memory.