On Wednesday, 4 October 1944, Micheál O’Sullivan, then a medical student at University College Cork, delivered a lecture in the Town Hall, Skibbereen, under the auspices of the Skibbereen Historical and Archaeological Society.
The lecture, delivered in Irish and English, was on the life of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and especially his association with the Fenian movement and his connection with Skibbereen.
Following the lecture, a debate ensued, during which Micheál O’Sullivan suggested that a plaque to the memory of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa should be erected in the town.
This appeal by Dr Micheál was the catalyst which led to the founding of the O’Donovan Rossa Memorial Committee and culminated in the visit on 2nd July, 1950, of then President of Ireland, Sean T. O’Kelly, to unveil a stone statue of Rossa at the entrance to what is now O’Donovan Rossa Park.
Dr Micheál’s lecture in October 1944 generated quite an amount of interest, but it was a full year before the Rossa Memorial Committee was formed. Stephen O’Brien, UDC, of the Cellar Bar in Main Street, called a meeting on Sunday, 2 September 1945. Present were Cornelius Connolly, Lissanoohig, Sean O’Driscoll, Cork Road, Patrick Fehilly, High Street, D.P. McCarthy, UDC, Stephen Holland, Adrigole, and Stephen O’Brien himself. Cornelius Connolly was appointed chairman and Stephen O’Brien secretary.
A fundraising campaign began and the results quickly exceeded the committee’s expectations. By mid-1948 it was clear that a much more ambitious project could be undertaken.
Sean O’Driscoll was the first to suggest that the provision of a playing field for the youth of the town would be the most appropriate way to perpetuate the memory of O’Donovan Rossa. He proposed that eight acres of land being offered for sale by Mr. Jackson Coakley, Bridge Street, at £640 be purchased. An ornamental gate with a bust of Rossa could, he said, be erected at the field.
That eight acres of land is now O’Donovan Rossa Park.
On 2 July 1950 President of Ireland Mr Sean T. O’Kelly unveiled the statue of O’Donovan Rossa at the entrance to the park.
Dr Micheál O’Sullivan, the man who set that whole train of events in motion with his lecture on 4 October 1944, died in January 1994. He will always be fondly remembered in Skibbereen. The local gaelscoil, Gaelscoil Dr Uí Shúilleabháin, in named in his memory.
Dr Micheál spent his entire life as a GP practicing in his native Skibbereen. Aside from his considerable medical expertise and dedication to caring for people, Dr Micheál was also great community leader. He was particularly interested in the promotion of Irish culture and had a great love of the Irish language. He was active in Conradh na Gaeilge and was a member of Glór na Gael when there was a branch in Skibbereen.