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Death announced of retired judge, author and former pal of Brendan Behan

James J. O’Sullivan, a renowned retired district court judge and published author who socialised with Brendan Behan, has died at the age of 85.

The Portarlington man served as a judge who worked to limit the damage caused by drink in Ireland.

Following his retirement, he became a novelist aged 79 when his book – The Stiletto – was published.

Judge O’Sullivan sat on the bench for 32 years.

For the majority of this time he served in the midlands, during which time he was known to be a fair and compassionate judge.

He retired from the bench on August 3, 2002, the day before his 70th birthday.

While Stiletto was Judge O’Sullivan’s first published work, it was not the first novel he wrote.

He told also penned one as a young solicitor, only for it to be destroyed during a night of drinking with the late author Brendan Behan.

“I had written this manuscript and I wanted to get an opinion on it. At the time the only person I knew who knew about writing was Brendan Behan. He was a great drinking friend of mine,” he told the Westmeath Independent at his book launch in Athlone.

“We met up in his uncle’s house, a little cottage in Killenard,” he recalled.

Behan gave the book his imprimatur, telling the young solicitor he had written a bestseller.

He signed the manuscript: ‘I wish I had written this book’ – before signing it and dating it.”

However, between copious amounts of whiskey and an open fire, the men managed to knock the manuscript into the fire when they fell asleep, and it literally went up in flames.

When his alcoholism worsened, O’Sullivan checked into the St John of God Hospital to receive treatment.

However, as a judge he was sober, and he set up the first successful Alcoholic Rehabilitation Court outside the United States of America, in the centre of Dublin.

Following his time as a judge, he became chairman of the Adoption Board.


Speaking to the Evening Herald at the launch of his book he said: “We have a very filthy, dirty country today and anyone sitting on a judge’s bench knows that because they see it.

“But every such incident in that book happened. None of it came from my imagination. They’re short, they only appear in little parts, but I hope people will agree that the rest is a beautiful story,” he said.

He is deeply regretted by his loving wife Pauline, daughter Elsie, son James, siblings Denis, Pamela and George, son-in-law Barry, 5 grandchildren, nieces, nephews, extended family and friends.

Reposing at his residence, The Villa, Garryhinch, Portarlington on Friday from 3pm with Rosary at 9pm. Removal on Saturday at 10:15am St Michael’s Church, Portarlington for Requiem Mass at 11am. Funeral afterwards to St Michael’s cemetery. House is private on Saturday morning at request of the family.

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A journalist for over 20 years, David has worked for a number of regional titles both as journalist and editor. From Tullamore he also works as a content editor for Independent.ie. His heroes include Shane Lowry, Seamus Darby and Johnny Flaherty