A garda called to say I'd won an award: At first I thought 'have I done something wrong'

The winner of an overall accolade at last month’s Garda Youth Awards, teenager Jack O’Sullivan is a hero to his special needs siblings. CHRIS DUNNE talks to him about his recognition
A garda called to say I'd won an award: At first I thought 'have I done something wrong'
Anne Marie McMahon assistant commissioner presents Jack O'Sullivan, Beara with one of overall award winners in the West Cork Garda Youth Awards 2017 at the Riverside Park Hotel, Macroom Picture: Eddie O'Hare

EVEN though Jack O’Sullivan is a super-hero to his younger brother, Conor, and his sister, Megan, who both have special needs, he never expected to be a winner in the West Cork Garda Youth Awards.

“I was very surprised to be an overall winner,” says Jack, 19, of Allihies on the Beara peninsula.

There were seven overall winners of the 2017 awards presented last month — four district awards, five special achievement and two group achievement awards — handed out at a ceremony at the Castle Hotel in Macroom.

“We had a great night,” says Jack. “All my family came along. They were very proud of me. My girlfriend, Eimear, was very happy for me.”

Jack was honoured for the care and attention he lavishes on his younger brother and sister, and also for being part of a group called Are You My Type?, which raised awareness of the issue of blood donation.

“I plan to donate blood now that I am older,” says Jack. “It is a really important thing to do.”

The work done by the group led to a change in policy from the Irish Blood Transfusion Board and Jack was also involved in a campaign to promote mental health in the community.

He is clearly a caring and compassionate young man, but he never expected to be nominated for a Garda Youth Award.

“I was in Bantry the evening I got the call from the garda station,” says Jack. “My first thought was: What have I done wrong? I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong! But you’d still be worried.”

Jack got a mighty surprise.

“The garda said; ‘I have some good news for you to do with all the projects you were involved with and the wonderful help and support that you give your brother and your sister. You are up for a Garda Youth Award’.”

Jack was amazed.

“I was still in shock to get the call, it was something I never expected.”

But the people who nominated him for the award — the school chaplain, Scoil Phobail Beara, Castletown, and fourth year head teacher, Kathleen Dwyer — fully expected Jack to be a worthy recipient of the accolade.

“The blood donation project and the mental health project were undertaken when I was in transition year,” says Jack.

“I assisted in the publication of a book, 100 years Of Hope, documenting the resilience of people of the Beara Peninsula.

“The transition class broke into pairs to interview people in the community about how they cope with different issues.”

Jack is not only community aware, he is a super big brother to Conor, 17, and Megan, 10.

“They have the same condition, septo-optic dysplasia, which hinders them from doing a lot of the same things as others their age,” says Jack, a young man who never sees a problem, only an opportunity.

“I bring Conor training with me,” says Jack. “He loves football and he comes to all the training sessions with me. I make sure his kit is OK and I lace up his boots for him.

“He knows which day the training is and he is ready to go, sitting in the car after school before me, all geared up. I bring him to all the games. He really looks forward to them.”

 Lorraine Downey, Supervalu Castletownbere, Assistant Commissioner Southern Region Anne Marie McMahon, Jack O'Sullivan, Beara, who took an Overall Award with Chief Supt Con Cadogan Bandon & Chris Downing, Supervalue Castletownbere at the West Cork Garda Youth Awards 2017 recently at the Riverside Park Hotel, Macroom.Picture: John Delea.
 Lorraine Downey, Supervalu Castletownbere, Assistant Commissioner Southern Region Anne Marie McMahon, Jack O'Sullivan, Beara, who took an Overall Award with Chief Supt Con Cadogan Bandon & Chris Downing, Supervalue Castletownbere at the West Cork Garda Youth Awards 2017 recently at the Riverside Park Hotel, Macroom.Picture: John Delea.

The brothers, who have a close bond, also help their dad, Donald, do jobs on the farm.

“We live on a small farm and Conor loves helping me and dad out with small jobs,” says Jack. “He helps give ration to the calves and he helps with a bit of everything on the farm.”

Jack also helped his sister, Megan, get over her initial fear of the water.

“She goes swimming with Co-Action. It is one of the many activities available to her.

“In the beginning, Megan was scared of the water, she hated it,” says Jack.

“I started to go with her to the pool on Saturdays, and eventually, she got to like the water.

“Now, she goes swimming with her class in primary school. She comes home from swimming sessions in the evenings and is delighted with herself.”

Jack was also delighted recently when he landed his much desired apprenticeship with the ESB.

“I had to go to Killarney for seven weeks for the training,” he says. “But it is what I wanted.”

He made sure he got home to his family in Allihees every evening after his seven weeks’ training.

“I got home every day,” says Jack. “It is a long old trip, 100 kilometres from door to door. The journey takes me an hour, to an hour and 40 minutes.”

Conor and Megan were thrilled to greet their big brother every evening.

“They were delighted to see me home,” Jack says, smiling.

Were they excited to attend the Garda Youth Award ceremony?

“Yes, we all got dressed up” says Jack. “It was lovely to get a family picture on the night.”

Mum, Teresa, says Jack was a worthy winner of the Garda Youth Award, although she too got a shock when she got the call from a garda!

“He is a brilliant lad,” she says proudly. “I admit, I got a bit of a shock when the garda rang asking to speak to Jack. I thought; what’s he done? Even though he has never been in trouble.”

Teresa knew in her heart that her eldest son could do no wrong.

“He was in Bantry that evening visiting an aunt of mine in hospital,” she says.

Jack does things with a willing heart. He puts people first and himself last.

“He never complains,” says Teresa. “Donald and I were delighted he got recognition for his projects and for being so involved with his brother and sister.”

Jack is a ray of sunshine.

“He is always happy,” says Teresa. “He never moans. He sees his siblings as equals. Jack sees other qualities in his brother and sister, even though it is tough on him sometimes.”

He is obliging and diligent too.

“I never ask him to do things; he just does it,” says Teresa. “He is so good with Conor and Megan. They find it difficult to do the same things as their peers.

“With Jack’s help, Megan learned to swim. She has physio with Co-Action in West Cork and he helps Megan with her exercises. He says, do your sit-ups and I’ll hold onto your legs. Not many 19-year-olds would do it.”

Jack also helped to make his brother’s dream come true. “He asked the Garnish GAA committee if Conor could go training with him,” says Teresa. “The Board agreed.

“Conor does drills with the seniors and the minors. He acts as the water boy for the club when they play matches and that makes him feel so important.

“Now he feels that he can do things that his other pals are doing. Conor feels part of something.

“Now, when he hears his friends talking about their matches, he can get stuck in too and contribute his two-pence halfpenny,” says Teresa.

Teresa feels that Jack’s positive influence on his younger siblings is a wonderful thing.

“Sometimes, it is difficult for me to deal with the normal questions from Conor, now a teenager,” says Teresa. “He notices the difference with his peers. He asks; when can I drink a beer or when can I have a girlfriend? Jack chips in. He is fantastic.”

Conor and Megan adore their big brother.

“Megan idolises Jack,” says Teresa. “She gives him loads of hugs and kisses when he is helping her with her homework. She is a little monkey!”

Megan mirrors her older brother’s good habits. “When Jack was studying for his exams, she got out her own books and sat next to him to motivate him” says Teresa.

Jack was sorely missed while he was training with the ESB.

“He was away for seven weeks. We all missed him,” says Teresa.

But Jack’s mentoring paid off.

“Conor helped out Donald a bit more on the farm,” says Teresa. “It made him feel like a ‘big man’, and it made Conor grow up a little bit more. Now he was the one to help his dad.”

Jack’s help and mentorship to his siblings is invaluable to his mother.

“It is tough to have one child affected by septo-optic dysplasia, a disorder of early brain development,” says Teresa.

“It is even tougher with two children affected.”

Jack inherited his mother’s resilience. “You keep the bright side out. You have no choice,” she says.

Teresa is happy that Jack landed his dream apprenticeship and he is in a happy relationship with Eimear.

“They are really well suited,” she says. “I am glad Jack has somebody else he cares about outside his family. It is nice to see.”

Jack has another lady in his life.

“Donald’s mum Tess lives next door to us,” says Teresa. “Tess and Jack have an extremely close bond.”

So, where is the coveted Garda Youth Award in the O’Sullivan home?

“Mum put the big glass vase in pride of place,” says Jack. “She has it shining on the window-sill.”

The West Cork Garda Awards celebrate outstanding young people between the ages of 13 to 21.

An Garda Siochána, West Cork and Supervalu recognise that a lot of good work is being done by young people in every Community in West Cork. By their presence, they are making communities a better place to live in. Supervlau has sponsored the awards for 22 years.

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