Ballyhoura: Romance & Drama of Mid-Munster

Padraig la Suilleabhain, 1923
Elizabeth Killen

Love & Wars of Two Thousand Years

Fascinating is the story of Mid-Munster, its romance and drama. as its outstanding events revolved in the passing centuries around the Ballyhoura mountains.

Read the Ballyhoura story here

Biography: Padraig la Suilleabhain 

Pádraig Ua Súilleabháin was born on 19 August 1876 in Graigue, Shanballymore, Co Cork, Ireland, on a small farm which is practically on the southern slopes of the Ballyhoura hills he loved so much. He was the 3rd of four boys in the family.

His parents Michael and Elizabeth (nee O’Toole) spoke their native Irish language to each other but would not teach it to their children for fear they would be disadvantaged growing up in an English dominated Ireland. Patrick, as he was known then, listened to the lovely liquid sounds and decided that when he grew up he would learn the language of his fathers.

He went to school to the Christian Brothers in Doneraile, his parish centre. There is a letter extant dated 10 Dec 1902 from the famour Canon P.A. Sheehan, P.P. Doneraile, author of Glenanaar and many other books. In it he says I am aware that he (Mr Patrick O’Sullivan) has been studying shorthand etc. for Press qualification for some years and I understand that he has attained some proficiency in these matters that are essential for Press work. I have good hopes of his future, as I consider that he is rightly ambitious to push himself forward, and I am certain he has ability equal to his ambition.

Helped by this letter he obtained a position on the weekly The Southern Star, formerly The Skibbereen Eagle, and in 1905 became Editor. Denis Kelly, Bishop of Ross, in a character reference in January 1910 refers to his power of thinking and expressing his thoughts as marvellous. About 1912 Patrick Joined the staff of the Mayo News in Claremorris and later went to the Irish News in Belfast.

He moved to Dublin and joined the Irish Independent, a national daily. He had begun studying law in 1908 at Cork university and in 1917 was called to the Irish Bar. Before this some of those arrested after the 1916 Rising wrote to him from prison asking him to represent them when their case came to court. While studying the Irish language he had come to know many patriots with a passionate love for Ireland. He was a close friend of Michael Collins, who had fought in the GPO in 1916, and who, with a price of £10,000 on his head, organised the fight for freedom from 1917 to 1921. Pádraig’s position as sub-editor of the Irish Independent enabled him to bring news to Michael even before it went to the English censors. He was a keen swimmer, summer and winter. He would ride on his bicycle to the forty-foot swimming hole in Dublin with press proofs for Michael wrapped with his togs and towel on the back of the bike.

In December 1920, Michael Collins game him a letter to print in the Independent. The following night the Black and Tans raided the newspaper office. They beat him up and threw him in the Liffey when he invoked journalistic privilege and refused to tell them where he got the letter. He would not even tell them his address because it was one of the places where Michael Collins slept and he was afraid that if the Tans raided his digs they might find Michael there. After this he went ‘on the run’ and remained ‘on the run’ until the Truce came into effect on 11 July 1921.

This enforced holiday gave him an opportunity to work on a libretto for an opera, OISIN, Tïr na nûg, Before and After. Much of it is based on legenda from the Ballyhoura region where the return of Oisin from the Land of youth is still remembered in story and place name. The libretto was printed in 1924.

In June 1922 he married his Australian born wife, Mary (nee O’Connell), whom he had met at Strokestown when he was on a cycling tour around Ireland. She was visiting relations in Roscommon with her mother. Their honeymoon in Killarney was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War and they had to return to Dublin the long way round by Galway and Belfast.

On 8 February 1923 he was appointed District Justice in the newly formed Irish Free State which contained 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties. His district was in Cork County with jurisdiction in the court towns of Ballincollig, Ballymartle, Blarney, Carringaline, Coachford, Cobh, Firmount, Kinsale, Macroom and Riverstown. He went to Cobh to live. His eldest daughter was born in Dublin in 1925. The other five children, three girls and two boys, were born in Cobh.

Those who knew him as a Justice found him to be a fair and considerate man. He often conducted his court cases in the Irish language. It was noticed that accused who presented their cases in Irish generally received lighter sentences than those who did not. His work took him to and fro in the county whose legends and antiquities he was forever studying. He loved the Irish countryside. He travelled not just by car, but also on bicycle, on horseback and on foot. He met a great number of people and cultivated the acquaintance of those who were able to provide him with information about the oral and written history of Ireland. His skill with shorthand proved invaluable in recording what people had to tell him.

He was an avid reader and knew his seven volumes of the Four Masters’ and the four volumes of Keating’s Histories of Ireland backwards. He corresponded with many people to elucidate what he read. He typed Ballyhoura himself, with two fingers, on a Smith Corona portable. The final version which we have today is the finished product of many typings.

He retired as District Justice in 1941 at the age of 65 and went to live at Doneraile where he was soon a familiar figure walking his two Irish red setters. Here he was near his beloved Ballyhouras. He was able to keep an eye on the acres of fir trees he had planted on the O’Sullivan ancestral land at Glenanaar. (See page 115 of Ballyhoura for the coming of the O’Sullivan-Beares to the Ballyhouras from Dunboy in West Cork.)

In retirement he was able to devote more time to his book, gathering information, discussing this new material with others and typing and retyping it. He also conducted Irish language classes for adults of the locality, communicating to others his knowledge and love of the language. He was on a committee which cleaned the bronze statue of Canon Sheehan in the grounds of the parish church across the road from where he lived, a statue he passed every morning on his way to Mass.

He died peacefully of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1949 while listening to the radio description of the opening of the door in St Peter’s Rome for the Holy Year of 1950. He had been to the two Masses in the parish church that morning. He was buried in the family grave at Rockmills near Shanballymore.


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