‘How many people would die for a belief?’
Captain Andy O'Sullivan from Carrickaboy in the parish of Denn died on November 22, 1923, after 41 days on hunger strike.
Limerick native Micil, who now lives in Connecticut, knew relatively little about that period of Irish history before starting the process of researching her book.
“I started around 2003 or 2004, but life ended up getting in the way, so I didn’t get anything done for a few years. But, when the centenary of his death came up, I decided to take the time to do it. I’d never written a book and didn’t know anything about the Civil War so I had to educate myself,” she told the Celt.
Micil says that finding out about Andy’s life was sad, especially given the horrible nature of his death.
“To die for a belief is incredible. How many people would do that, especially by hunger strike which is such a long slow death? It’s really sad. His dad died in 1909, so he was a father figure for his family. He put his brother through college and even gave dowries for his sisters' weddings,” said Micil of her late great uncle.
During the War of Independence, Andy was an intelligence officer with the IRA, gaining access to information through his work in the Department of Agriculture. Micil reveals that the Celt was key in helping him rise to this position.
“The Anglo-Celt were great, they supported him. He was working on the farm and used to write reports for the United Irishman, which they really liked so they paid for his scholarship to go to Monaghan Agricultural College and, from there, he went to Albert College, which is now DCU," explained the author.
Andy then became an agricultural advisor in Mallow and had access to government information through his position.
"People thought he was just hob knobbing to the British but he was actually getting information. His work had a real impact. There was supposed to be a seed swap with the British, but he heard they were just going to take the food out of Ireland and give nothing for it. So he passed the information on and stopped it from happening. He also shared key information that led to the IRA being able to ambush and kill British Divisional Commander Major Philip Armstrong-Holmes in Cork," continued Micil.
Andy also played a major role in the civil war prior to his arrest.
“When Civil War started, he was on the anti-treaty side, as was most of Munster. He became acting OC for civil administration in Cork, which was run by the anti-treaty, because they had to get money to pay people for food and housing, on top of being an intelligence officer and an agricultural advisor,” Micil learned through her research.
After being arrested and interned in Mountjoy, Andy took part in the hunger strike.
“It was the largest mass hunger strike in the world with over 8,000 people taking part, but it was doomed to failure from the beginning because there’s no way so many people can keep it up. They were all being held without being charged in Mountjoy where the conditions were really bad,” said Micil.
Despite Andy’s worsening condition, his family didn’t know about his protest until its later stages.
“When they found out, they sent his brother-in-law Fr James McCabe to try to stop him but he was adamant that he wouldn’t stop,” explains Micil.
“My grandfather got a telegram to say to come to Dublin to St Bricin’s Military Hospital, part of Mountjoy. He was unconscious and so emaciated that he hardly recognised him. He went to get a doctor to look at Andy, but he never got to see him again. He was devastated by his death. He was one of the pallbearers at the funeral but collapsed.
"He never spoke about it again. It really affected him emotionally. The strike ended a few days later, but they never got to achieve anything. The saddest thing is that he survived the War of Independence and Civil War but then died on hunger strike when it was all over."
While Andy was honoured at the time of his death, there are relatively few things to commemorate him now, which prompted Micil to write the book.
“His funeral cortege in Mallow was over a mile long, it was one of the biggest of its time. There was also a dancehall built in his honour in 1935 in Drumcrow called 'The Captain Andy O’Sullivan Dancehall'. It operated until the 1980s, but is in ruin right now, and a plaque, so I felt it was important to write the book to keep his memory alive.”
While she was able to avail of archive materials, Micil regrets not talking to elderly family members when she still had the chance.
“We had loads of newspaper and military archive material and the Cork City archiver was also great. Kevin Myers, a local historian in Mallow, had lots of information as well. I wish I had done it earlier as there were a lot of people with information about Andy, such as my mother and her cousin Nancy Morgan, who passed away before I started.”
After a long time gathering material, Micil says she spent a lot of time working on the book but is happy with the end result.
“It took about a year to do. I had to write the book, rewrite, and do the layout, which took a long time. I was going to keep it to myself but my husband encouraged me to publish it. It was stocked by an independent bookshop in Cork and has sold over 250 copies to date, which is really nice because it means now 250 people know about Uncle Andy."