Tobias O'Sullivan - murdered 20 Jan 1921

1877 May 14. Born Cloonbrone, Cornamona, Galway,Son of Bernard Edward O'Sullivan and Sarah Joyce . Father of Bernard O'Sullivan; Sara Flynn and <private> O'Sullivan Brother of Michael O'Sullivan; Elizabeth O'Sullivan; Mary O'Sullivan; Patrick O'Sullivan; Kathleen/Catherine O'Sullivan and 3 others

1899 Nov 16. Enlisted as Constable in RIC

1910 Jan 1. Acting Sgt

1915 Feb 8. Married in Abbeyleix to Mary Maguire

1921 Jan 1. Promoted Sgt

1920 May 28 Promoted Head Constable (Special)

1920 Sep 26. Posted to Listowel as DI3

1921 Jan 20. Murdered in Listowel

2013 Jun 6. Kerryman Newspaper

Con Brosnan and the healing force of football

All war is dirty and the War of Independence in this country was no exception. But the ensuing Civil War was even dirtier, especially in Kerry.

Nevertheless the people of Kerry tended to get over the bitterness much faster than in other parts of the country, largely through the healing force of Gaelic Football.

Con Brosnan was one of those who shot RIC District Inspector Tobias O'Sullivan as he was walking home for his dinner in Listowel on January 20, 1921. Brosnan and two colleagues, Dan Grady and Jack Ahern, waited inside a pub for their scout, young Jack Sheehan, to signal the DI's approach.

On getting the signal, they rushed out with their pistols at the ready and killed the DI in a hail of bullets. It was only as they were firing that they realised that O'Sullivan was holding his five year-old son by the hand.The boy was physically unharmed, but one sensed that Con never got over that day. He regretted what happened for the rest of his life, especially after he had children of his own.

On March 7, 1923, nine Republican prisoners were tied around a mine and blown up at Ballyseedy near Tralee, and five prisoners were similarly treated at Countess Bridge near Killarney.

In each case one of the men managed to escape to tell what happened. The following week five Republican prisoners were taken from Cahersiveen and tied around a mine. But to make sure none escaped, they were shot in each knee before being blown up.

Those outrages were not forgotten, but in Kerry they used sport to overcome the bitterness. Con Brosnan - who had been a Free State officer - managed to get safe passage guarantees for Republican players like John Joe Sheehy and Joe Barrett to play games. While they were together, they parked all talk of the Troubles.

One year after the civil war had ended, Kerry won the All-Ireland with players on the team from both sides of the civil war divide. Six of that team went on to win six All-Ireland championships together. This helped to bind up the wounds, and it probably explains why Kerry people took their football so passionately.

In 1931 Joe Barrett was chosen to captain Kerry for a second time. In a magnificent gesture, he offered the captaincy to Con Brosnan, who was coming to the end of his distinguished career. He was never likely to captain Kerry, as his local team had little chance of ever winning the county championship, but Barrett felt he deserved the honour.

"Con Brosnan was the political bridge builder of our time," explained John Joe "Purty" Landers, a lifelong Republican and the last survivors of the five Stacks players on that Kerry team. "Regardless of pressure from within his own side of the divide, or from the other side, he did what he believed had to be done to bring about peace and healing. He was the ultimate peacemaker in Kerry football after the civil war."

Brosnan went on to lift the Sam Maguire Cup in September 1931, capping a magnificent example of true sportsmanship and the value of sport in the healing process.

In 1953 there was another great healing gesture, but only those in the know appreciated its significance. John Joe Sheehy's son Paudie was the captain of the Kerry team that year, but he was dropped for the All-Ireland final, and there was no other member of the John Mitchel's club on the team. The man chosen for the captaincy was, in one sense, from even further across the political divide. John Joe Sheehy was instrumental in inviting Jas Murphy to be captain.

Murphy was not only a Garda based in Cork, but his father had been an RIC man in Tralee. That was well-known, but John Joe Sheehy also knew that Jas's father was actually one of the two RIC who had escorted Roger Casement from Ardfert to Tralee on the fateful Good Friday of 1916.That 1953 final was between Kerry and Armagh.

It was the first time a team from the Six Counties qualified for an All-Ireland senior final. It was fitting that John Joe Sheehy, an ardent Republican, was behind the selection of Jas Murphy as team captain.No doubt he remembered Joe Barrett's gesture in giving the captaincy to Con Brosnan in 1931. John Joe recognised that were other Irish men involved with the Crown forces, but this did not mean they were any less Irish.His own older brother, Jimmy, was one of the many Irish people killed in the First World War, purportedly fighting for the rights of small nations. Others may have denigrated the sacrifices of those men, but John Joe Sheehy later befriended the man who joined up with his late brother.

When Jas Murphy lifted the Sam Maguire Cup on that the third Sunday of September 1953, it was another step in healing the divisions within Kerry. In a sense it was fitting that another Kerryman - former GAA President Seán Kelly - was one of the driving forces of the great healing spectacle witnessed on February 24, 2007, when the joint Garda and Army No. 1 Band played God Save the Queen at Croke Park. Several thousand supporters joined in, without so much as a note of derision from a crowd of over 80,000 people.

Following the hospitable respect shown for the British National Anthem, the Irish people in the crowd demonstrated their pride in their Irishness with a passionate rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann that brought tears to the eyes of many of the players. For those who witnessed the occasion, it was unforgettable spectacle.Ireland was united on that day, at least. It was fitting that Ireland went on to beat England by a record score - 43 to 13.

It was another reminder of the healing potential of sport.

 

 

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