Clare Community Games President, Cecilia O’Sullivan has been an integral part of the group’s sporting success. She spoke with Ivan Smyth about 50 years of memories and hopes for many more.
When Cecilia O’Sullivan answers her phone, she is surprised to hear that The Clare Champion want to speak to her.
Cecilia is the longest serving official of St John’s Ennis and Clare Community Games. She has been a member of St John’s Ennis Community Games since 1971, the first year that the competition was held in Clare. In her own words she has been “a long time” involved with the Community Games.
“I’ve been involved since the start. Although it (Community Games) has changed and got bigger over the years, it’s been great to be involved in it.”
Cecilia is currently the President of Clare Community Games while she has held numerous other roles throughout the last half century. She served as Secretary of Ennis Community Games from 1975–1994, Art and model Making Co-Ordinator for Ennis from 1981-2019, Assistant County Secretary of Clare Community Games from 1979-1987, County Secretary of Clare Community Games 1988-1997, Art and Model Making Co-Ordinator for Clare Community Games from 1981-2019 while also holding the position of Vice President of Clare Community Games when called upon.
Throughout our chat, Cecilia is keen to deflect away from the time and effort she has placed in helping the continuous smooth running of the Games. She frequently highlights the work put in by fellow volunteers and organisers when discussing the mammoth effort she has placed in helping young people enjoy the many benefits of the Community Games.
“Down through the years there have been a lot of people who would help out on the days of the events but I think of the people like Kevin O’Loughlin, Mary Phelan, Ita Hanrahan Graham Meakins and his late wife Rose. They are just some of the people who put a lot of hours, countless hours even, in to organising the events, the medals, the times everything starts at and all the things people don’t see.”
The 87-year-old initially volunteered with The Community Games when her children began to compete while she believes the friendships she has made have encouraged her to continue working behind the scenes throughout the years.
“The children were involved in sport so that’s how I started out with it all. The years fly by so it was the friendships I made in Clare and in different counties that made it so enjoyable. When you have people volunteering, it shows great community spirit so it’s nice to be able to do my bit and help in any way I can. Being in the background and seeing the enjoyment the kids got when being outdoors and being healthy makes it special.”
When asked for a highlight of her extensive involvement in the Community Games scene within Clare, she utters one word; “Mosney.”
The national finals were held in Mosney where each year the Meath venue became an Olympic village of sorts with kids eagerly travelling to The Royal County to try and become an All-Ireland champion. Monaghan footballer Conor McManus and two time Olympian Colin Griffin have both previously spoken of the magic that the Meath venue possessed.
This is a magic that Cecilia has seen, judging by the way she remembers the excitement of travelling to the venue and seeing young people represent their county. The Leinster venue hosted the National Community Games finals from 1973 to 2008 with generations of young people creating bonds, friendships, and memories.
She was one of the Managers of the Clare team when the Games were first held in Mosney from September 7th – 9th 1973 as she served the role of Manager and County Manager for many years.
“The end trip to Mosney was the highlight every year. To be involved in that was special. It was an occasion just going travelling up there. We would all go up on the train and meet people from other counties across Ireland. I was part of those trips for years and years and I’ve some of my best memories travelling up there.”
“Seeing the flags waving and people in their tracksuits all enjoying themselves, it was special. It doesn’t happen like that any more with the virus and now everyone can drive to these places but those days were special.”
‘Seeing the flags waving and people in their tracksuits all enjoying themselves, it was special. It doesn’t happen like that any more with the virus and now everyone can drive to these places but those days were special.’
Another highlight for the Clare woman during her years of helping facilitate the Community Games would be the parades held ever year when the Games rolled around. She remembers the hours of preparation in advance of the parades and how much the children enjoyed them.
“I remember when we would do a parade through Ennis. Back then we would start at the courthouse and walk out to Roslevan. The field that we would be using would have to be lined close to when the events would start as if you did it too early and then it rained you’d have to do it again.”
Cecilia laughs when she remembers the times they would line out the field before a shower of rain would arrive, undoing all the work that the volunteers had done.
“I can look back on it now and laugh. The rain did come along a few times and spoil what we had done. We’d have to start all over again and re-line the field. This was before we moved to O’Sullivan Park so it was a good few years ago, but you would still remember people doing the markings and then seeing them disappear again.”
Cecilia, alongside her late husband John, received the Clare Sports Personality of the Year award in 1984 for their extensive volunteer work. She was presented this award by the late RTE commentator Jimmy Magee.
“It was a big deal at the time. Jimmy came up to present the award I think so I’d imagine he had a long journey, but he came and it was a great honour for me personally to receive such an award.”
In 1986 the Clare County Executive of Community Games made a special presentation to John and his wife for their loyal service and dedication to the Games over the years.
On February 10, 1993, Cecilia received on behalf of Clare Community Games the TSB Bank Clare Champion County Clare Community Award in recognition of Exceptional Service to the Community. In 1994 Cecilia was the inaugural recipient of the Clare Community and Sports award promoted by the Vocational Education Committee in conjunction with Allied Irish Bank and The Clare Champion for her contribution and outstanding work in promoting the Community Games.
John was inducted in to the Clare Community Games Hall of Fame in 1991 with Cecilia receiving this accolade in 2000.
“It was a great honour for me to be inducted. It was unexpected that’s for sure. To know John got it too made it very special for me.”
Despite being born in Kilkee, Cecilia’s family moved to a farm in Tullabrack, Kilrush after her uncle Michael O’Dea died. She helped her father and mother run the farm which was 100 acres. When her father died in 1956 she continued working the farm.
She met her future husband John O’Sullivan, who was a member of An Garda Síochána, stationed in Kilrush, with the couple soon marrying. The pair got married in Limerick and they had seven children Sean, Ann, Irene, Rose, James, Cecilia and Maureen.
The former Garda was involved in “everythingto do with sport” according to Cecilia. Despite being born in Skibbereen, John spent most of his life in Clare with the couple living in Miltown before moving to Ennis in 1963. While in Miltown, Cecilia used to swim at the White Strand and Spanish Point several times each week.
Cecilia passed the examination for a First-Class Swimming and Life Saving Rescue Certificate and was a member of the Miltown Malbay, Swimming and Life Saving Club. She was captain of the Clare Team, who were runners-us in the All-Ireland Life Saving Championships which were held in County Roscommon.
John had a passion for sport that matched Cecilia’s and he helped establish a boxing club in Miltown as his love of sport and helping others continued to grow. Throughout the years John promoted many sports including football, swimming, athletics, Community Games, boxing, handball and road bowling.
The O’Sullivans seemed to host events in every sport imaginable with Cecilia in her roles as County Secretary and a member of the County Development Committee helping to organise coaching courses in basketball, volleyball, rounders and badminton.
According to Cecilia, John believed that sport was powerful in allowing people of all ages to come together, improve their health and most importantly have fun.
“He was involved in everything. John loved nothing more than seeing people happy and he never seemed to find it too much. He’s probably remembered for being involved with the Community Games but he did so much for so many throughout his life.”
John was assigned to Kilrush Station in 1957, where he served for two years, after which he went to Milltown Malbay. From 1961 to 1970 he was Secretary to the Superintendent at Ennis and in 1970 he was promoted to Sergeant.
He served for a short time in Shannon before going to Ballingarry and then Adare. He was then appointed Sergeant-in-Charge of the newly established District Office at Edward Street Station, Limerick in 1972.
On the re-establishment of the Clare Garda Divisional Headquarters at Ennis in 1978 he was appointed Secretary to the Chief Superintendent.
He served in that capacity until 1986 when he completed a one year course in Legal Metrology, and in 1987 he was appointed Inspector of Weights and Measures for County Clare. John gave 36 years of service to An Garda Síochána before retiring.
His trojan work as President of Clare Community Games meant he was in charge of organising and ensuring the smooth running of the County Athletics Finals each year and encouraging a team of officials to give of their time for the benefit of the children of the county.
He was the editor of the 21st Anniversary Souvenir Book A history of Clare Community Games, which was launched by Olympic champion, Ronnie Delany in April, 1993. Alongside this, he was editor of the 30th and 40th anniversary programmes with details of all that is good about the Community Games.
He was an advocate for obtaining a sporting facility for the community and was part of a team who worked together in the opening of the Sports and Amenities Park at Lees Road.
John passed away in 2015 and two years later, on May 19, 2017, the Park was named in his honour. Cecilia believes this was a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to providing outlets for people to become healthier and happier.
“He would have been honoured to know that the facility was named after him. He would have loved it really. I know he wouldn’t have expected it because I didn’t so it was a nice surprise when we were told this was going to happen.”
After the passing of her husband Cecilia continued to work with The Community Games. The motto of the Games; “Mens sana in corpore sano” which translates to “A healthy mind in a healthy body” captures the reason why she continues to volunteer and why she continues to swim, even at the age of 87.
She goes swimming at every opportunity and has continued to do so even during the past year of the pandemic. Cecilia swims almost daily and enjoys taking to the waters at the Flaggy Shore or at the White Strand Beach.
“I love it (swimming). I get great enjoyment out of going out and just swimming about the place. I swim most days and it’s something I enjoy greatly so I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”
This is her approach towards the Community Games and although she is quick to downplay her own role throughout the years, generations of children have discovered sport, made friendships and created lifelong memories due to her work. Most importantly she’s still not done yet.
by Ivan Smyth