James O’Sullivan – A Man Of Many Talents
Writes Leo McMahon
James O’Sullivan, who will deservedly be honoured as ‘Corkonian of the Year’ at a gala dinner hosted by Cork Civic Trust in the Clayton Hotel next Sunday, December 18th, can truly be regarded as someone who has always lived life to the full.
At his home in Frenchfurze, Carrigaline, James spoke to The Carrigdhoun about his involvement for over 30 years in the Cork Business Association, Carrigaline Lions Club and his family business M and P O’Sullivan Ltd. Cash and Carry.
He also discussed his latest personal challenge, conquering cancer.
James was born in Endsleigh Park, Douglas in February 1959, son of Paddy and Nancy O’Sullivan, the latter of whom came from Poulanargid near Macroom and has three siblings: Madeline, Pat and Mary. He attended Scoil Bhride Eglantine and Christian Brothers College, Cork and recently served as president of its Past Pupils Union.
Quite clearly, enterprise runs through the blood of James, who only recently retired, for health reasons, from the family firm M & P O’Sullivan which was founded in 1905.
‘My grandfather Patrick O’Sullivan started out as a grocer’s assistant which is a fancy name for a messenger boy! He got fired from his job over a dispute with his boss and was out of work for five weeks, when he saw a shop to rent in Princes’ Street, Cork which is now Rossini’s Restaurant. He rented it and within a few years bought the shop next door and the one next to that.’
Patrick concentrated on tobacco products and in 1927, the opening of his Red Abbey Tobacco Factory in Mary Street was performed by then President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and TD for Cork, William T Cosgrave. Patrick’s brother Michael joined the company and the name changed to M & P O’Sullivan.
Among those associated with the firm were company secretary Jerry O’Mahony, Blackrock and Paddy O’Keeffe, the latter of whom served for many years as secretary of Cork County GAA and has the stadium named after him.
James joined the company in 1977 when it entered the cash and carry trade, and feels he went through ‘the university of life’ in performing all tasks up to management including driving the hand truck, van and getting up orders under the direction of his father Paddy and others.
At one stage, he said, there were 13 wholesalers in Cork and today, along with O’Sullivan’s who have the Gala and White Hat catering brands, there are only Musgraves and Spar. O’Sullivan’s were based at Victoria Cross from 1948 to 1989 and moved to Sarsfield Road, Wilton. There was also a cash and carry at Underhill, Dunmanway run by Harry Love and while this was closed for commercial reasons ten years ago, the company continues to have many loyal customers in West Cork.
Serving many of Munster’s shops, hotels and food providers, M & P O’Sullivan Ltd continues to hold its own, said James, and is renowned for personal service as well as competitive prices. It has over 40 top class employees headed by his brother and fellow director Pat, brother-in-law Frank Barry and ‘the next generation’, his son Eoin and nephews Patrick and David.
A natural progression for James was to join Cork Business Association (CBA) in the 1980s and here again, he quickly rose through the ranks and served as president three times. He is currently a director and initiated the annual Business Awards.
George Crosbie was a founding member in 1959 as business people tried to retain business in the city following the polio outbreak. The current president is Pat O’Connell of the Old English Market.
Apart from the cash and carry, said James, O’Sullivan’s had its iconic shop in Princes’ Street for many years before moving to Academy Street and being one of the last tobacco shops in Ireland when it closed six years ago. ‘We used to manufacture tobacco called Coupon Plug and my grandfather was affectionately known as Paddy Coupon’.
CBA, he stated, continues to play an important role working with the city council and others in the urban regeneration and promotion of Cork which is right up there as one of the best destinations to visit and he urged people to shop local.
‘Cork is on the up so we should stop talking ourselves down’, said James who is excited about many new developments such as the Capital shopping complex, the new Pairc ui Caoimh and the proposed convention/events centre on the Beamish site and major office complex in the docklands. ‘When Brexit comes into effect, it will be the largest English speaking non-capital city in Europe.’
James is also a former chairman of the Irish Grocers’ Benovolent Fund.
‘I was always interested in people but was never really a club man,’ said James, who married Cathy (nee Domoney from Arklow, Co Wicklow) in 1986 and has two children: Emma, Director of Chapel Hill Montessori School, Brisbane, Australia) and Eoin, sales director with the family business.
On moving to Carrigaline, he was introduced to the local Lions Club by Wan Waterman, Charlie Fielding and the late Pat Stack in 1989.
James’ contribution to Lions Club is legendary, being a man who always thinks outside the box. He became club president for 1990-91, the same year as he was elected chairman of CBA.
He went on to become zone chairman (covering Kinsale, Skibbereen, Bishopstown, Douglas, Ballincollig and Carrigaline) in 1994 and regional chairman (serving three zones and 12 clubs) after that.
‘Being elected District Governor for the island of Ireland in 2009 was a great honour’, said James. ‘I also went on the Lions Council for Britain and Ireland was sworn in as District Governor at a conference in Minneapolis, USA, attended by 20,000 people and during my term headed up a Lions project in Ireland that raised over €130,000 in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.’
A man who epitomises the Lions slogan ‘We Serve’, James was a founder of the Cycle Classic, which this year marked its 25th anniversary. ‘It began when I decided to ride a bike to Killarney in 1991. In all, 22 of us went and we raised around £3,500 for charity.’
There have been cycle classics every year since, to either Killarney, Kenmare, Bantry or Dungarvan, which have raised an amazing €675,000 for numerous local, national and international charities and causes and in one year alone, over 200 cycled and brought in over £50,000 in one day, said James who paid tribute to current chairman and close friend Mark Ginn and fellow Lion.
The Lions Club has spearheaded the building of 16 homes for the elderly at Abbey Ville, Kilmoney and Carrig Iseal, Mount Rivers and more recently, Carrigaline Youth Centre, a magnificent multi-purpose facility costing over €1 million. James, who is current chairman of the corporate fund raising committee, said €270,000 is still outstanding. He paid tribute to Sean Duggan, Cork County Council for providing the site at Church Road, fellow Lions and the efforts of Minister Simon Coveney and SECAD in getting a substantial grant towards the project.
‘Lions has given me the chance to give something back to the community and I can honestly say you get back what you put in’, said James, who fondly recalled the great camaraderie with fellow Lions at various fun events over the years including the Owenabue Raft Race, Country and Western and Oyster and Mussel nights, charity walks, cheque presentations in Beamish’s and of course the annual banquets in Carrigaline Court Hotel. Very pleasing, he added, was the fact that every cent raised has gone directly to the different deserving causes, catering for all ages.
James was also to the fore in establishing a Leo Club, which he would like to see revived and the twinning of Carrigaline with Herne Lions Club in Germany.
As to leisure time, James said he and Cathy like nothing better than to head west to their holiday home in Baltimore. A former rear admiral of Royal Cork Yacht Club, Crosshaven, he enjoys sailing his yacht Happy Hours in the harbour and along the coast of West Cork. Ever active, he was recently appointed Chairman of the RNLI in Crosshaven.
What’s more, he greatly enjoys interviewing personalities on his programme Business Hour every Saturday morning at 11 on Cork Community Radio 100.5FM which is repeated at noon Sunday.
On the morning of March 6th this year, James went for a scan and that afternoon was diagnosed with colon cancer, which had spread to the liver and lungs. He was operated on almost immediately in Cork University Hospital (CUH) with part of the colon being removed.
‘I’ve had chemotherapy and lost a lot of weight. I sometimes feel tired and weak but I have a strong spirit and believe I’ll get the better of it’, said a very upbeat James who thanked oncologist Derek Power and his team ‘who have opened up the medical world across continents to see what is available’, and all the staff from surgeons to tea makers at CUH and the Mercy Hospital. Indeed, special treatment under the direction of Cormac Farrelly at the Mater in Dublin in recent week has proved beneficial.
Most of all, he says he’s so lucky to have the care, love and support of his wife and full time nurse Cathy and his family and friends.
‘The Corkonian of the Year award is a fantastic honour that I accept from Cork Civic Trust on behalf of the many volunteers in Cork charities because they’re the real heroes, like those who deliver soup to the homeless at night and care for the sick on a voluntary basis. I’m delighted that proceeds of the night will go towards Cork ARC Cancer Support and the RNLI.’, said the always lion-hearted, positive and proud Cork man James O’Sullivan. We wish him well.