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A long road with Clare GAA

Jim O’Sullivan first came to Shannon in the mid-1960s and a short time later he accepted a job offer. This led to his family moving from England to what was about to become Ireland’s newest town and, over 40 years later, the O’Sullivan family is firmly settled in Clare.
A native of Caheragh in West Cork, O’Sullivan emigrated to England in the early 1960s. “I came from a farming family and football was a huge part of our lives. I suffered a serious knee injury when I was just 17. I didn’t know it then but it was a cruciate injury and it effectively put paid to my playing days,” Jim recalled last week.
Jim, a road mason by occupation, had a cousin in England at the time and he was able to arrange work for him. While in England, Jim met and married Theresa O’Connell, a native of Miltown Malbay parish. Their sons, Tony and James, were born in England, while daughter Deirdre was born after they had returned and set up home in Shannon.
On a visit to Clare in the late ’60s, he visited Shannon in search of work. Three weeks after returning to England, he was contacted with an offer of work from a Cork firm based in Shannon. He returned to Cork, travelled to Clare and started work, all on the same day. Shortly afterward his family returned from London.
Huge changes have taken place in Shannon since Jim first arrived in Clare. “With people like John McCarthy and Matt Roche, we started a football club that was first known as Shannon Airport. We played at the old Ballymurtagh pitch but we hadn’t a lot to offer at the time. The Clare lads who were working in Shannon were returning home to play with their home clubs. We had nothing at youth level,” Jim explained.
“The school principals in Shannon at the time were Sean Cleary (St Conaire’s) and the late Brendan Vaughan (St Senan’s). As new industries opened up in Shannon in the early ’70s, there was an influx of teachers and this helped greatly to put our club on the road.”
The work done in promoting Gaelic games in the schools in Shannon played a major part in the development of Wolfe Tones.
“There was a huge rivalry between the schools and this led to many superb games. The foundations for the many successes achieved by Wolfe Tones were laid here, including the club’s three-in-a row of National Féile titles,” according to O’Sullivan, who served Clare GAA as a referee for 25 years. During that time he refereed at all levels in Clare hurling and football and took charge of county finals in all grades in both codes and he regularly took charge of primary schools fixtures.
The work of Ger Loughnane, principal of St Aidan’s National School, and Fr Peter O’Loughlin when he was based in Shannon, also drew special praise from the West Cork native. “Their work played a huge part in the successes achieved at underage level by the Wolfe Tones club,” he said
“The late Brendan Vaughan was an official ahead of his time. His work for Clare GAA cannot be highlighted enough. He spearheaded the development of Cusack Park, helped set up the primary school’s GAA structure in Clare, which has been copied by many counties across Ireland and also helped greatly with the development of our club here in Shannon. He was a very wise man and he never got the recognition he deserved for his work,” according to Jim.
He also singled out the work of Fr Harry Bohan for special mention. “His work in the development of Shannon Town and, of course, his work for Clare hurling, cannot be over stated,” said the man who helped put Fr Bohan, then Clare senior hurling manager, in contact with former Cork star, Justin McCarthy, which resulted in McCarthy taking on the role of coach to the Clare hurlers in the ’70s.
In the early ’70s Jim was appointed as maintenance manager for the town centre and he held that position until his retirement last October.
“In my 38 years in this role, there has been massive change. Quinnsworth was the first store to be developed here and the Knights Inn came at the same time and it’s still here. As the town grew, chemists, restaurants, grocery stores and drapery shops opened in the town centre and SFADCo moved out here from the industrial estate,” explained Jim who lived in Tradaree Court until moving house to Drumline, which is in the parish of neighbouring Newmarket, two years ago.
Lamenting the economic downturn of recent times, which has led to a sharp rise in emigration as people go in search of work, O’Sullivan said. “the Celtic Tiger crucified us. We went for the stars and it turned sour. People had their feet planted in Mars. They will have to re-focus. Players are under pressure with regard to work and they must be helped now, more than ever.”
He remains confident that GAA clubs like Wolfe Tones will survive. “The influence of people from rural backgrounds has been huge in Wolfe Tones and in many clubs. Many of those who are to the forefront in the club now are following in the footsteps of their parents and that type of loyalty will ensure the future of the club,” he said.
While he has been very much immersed in the life of Shannon and Wolfe Tones GAA, he has continued to follow the fortunes of his native Cork and was, understandably, delighted when they won the All-Ireland senior football title last September.
“It was great but I suppose they were fortunate to beat Dublin on the way,” said Jim, who travels down to his native West Cork a few times a year to visit family and friends.
Now that he has retired from his post in the town centre, he is sure to have more time to visit the parish he left almost 50 years ago on a journey that took him to Shannon and Clare, where he has become such a well-known figure, especially in GAA circles.

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