Eugene (Eugie) O’Sullivan bears the look of a man who has known honest toil all his days — ram-rod straight and a lean, wiry fellow not carrying an ounce of excess weight.
A drover at Kenmare Co-op Mart, in Co Kerry, and believed to be the country’s oldest livestock mart employee, he was at the centre of surprise birthday celebrations with his colleagues yesterday.
Activities temporarily came to a halt, with farmers from South Kerry and West Cork joining in the party.
All morning, Eugie did his usual job guiding and prodding sheep in and out of the sales ring before mart manager Dan McCarthy and staff produced a huge birthday cake. A clue was provided by balloons hanging around the building, but Eugie was too busy to notice.
After blowing out the candles, the lord of the ring waved his arms and stick in the air, in regal style and to warm applause, before posing for photographs.
Straight-talking Eugie started working at the mart 11 years ago, aged 79, and an albeit foolish question (from this reporter) on whether he intends to continue for long more drew a quick-fire reply.
“’Tis better I’m getting every day. Of course, I’ll keep going. Sit down in a chair is it? Anyone who ever sat in a chair failed and just died,” he retorted with absolute conviction.
The tee-totaller and widower — who believes early to bed and early to rise is good philosophy of life —began work as a farm labourer when barely out of his teens. He also worked as a wool-packer and with a butcher.
“The harder the work is the better I like it. Young lads today know nothing about work and if you try to teach ’em they won’t listen to you — maybe one in 20 of ’em might,” he said, eyebrows raised.
Unlike a majority of Kerrymen, he has no interest in football which he regards as a waste of time.
His efforts at driving a car came to an unfortunate end many years ago. “I wasn’t properly qualified [to drive] and went in over a ditch. I was half afraid to get back behind the wheel and I’ve been cycling ever since.”
Asked why he’s still so active at his age, he simply answered: “My breed.”
Dan McCarthy, meanwhile, described Eugie as a model employee and a living legend — one of the best-known characters in a wide area. “You couldn’t ask for better. He’s someone who’s looked up to and respected and is treated as ‘the boss’. His reputation of being one of the greatest workers ever can’t be disputed.”
Many of Eugie’s relatives turned up for the party, the youngest being his great grandniece, three-year-old Michaela Palmer.
That the man is a living endorsement of the theory that hard work never killed anyone was noted by a nephew, Martin Beckett.
“All his life, he was known as the man to be sent for when there was work to be done and he always came,” recalled Mr Beckett.
A presentation was made by Ray Doyle, of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, who said not many men like Eugie were left in the world. He added: “I don’t think there was ever too many of them made in the first place.”
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