A passer-by could easily miss the Polish Consulate on O’Connell Street. A simple building, it is marked out by a Polish eagle – a symbol familiar to all Poles, but not so easily identified by the average Limerick resident. But in this non-descript city centre building is an essential resource for the local Polish community and Patrick O’Sullivan is at the centre of it.
O’Sullivan is a businessman at heart. He set up his first business at just 21 and his love of innovation is at the core of everything he does. A strong sense of personal responsibility and social conscience go hand in hand with O’Sullivan’s commitment to the principles of good business, which may explain why he volunteers so much of his time.
“I strongly believe in controlling one’s own destiny,” he says. “I believe we – to a huge extent – decide the outcome of our lives. That belief has affected every aspect of my life.”
“The problems and challenges we come across can be dealt with in how we perceive challenges,” O’Sullivan tells me in his snug office. “We have a dilemma between devoting life to making money and understanding the greater importance of why we’re here in this world. Making money is not a bad thing, unless you do it for itself.”
This balanced view of life has led O’Sullivan to where he is today, serving Limerick’s Polish community and honoured by Poland’s government. He admits his Polish isn’t perfect, but he successfully delivered a speech in the language when he received an award from the country. Was he practicing for weeks? “Maybe a few days, at least.”
As consul, O’Sullivan’s job is varied. The consulate is there to help Poles with the kind of basic problems everyone has. Passport renewal, visas, advice on starting companies, organising sporting events and interacting with the government are all areas where the Polish consulate helps people.
“Everything that happens in this office reflects human nature,” O’Sullivan says. He explains how many Polish immigrants have opened successful businesses, which can be seen all over Limerick. Though he warns against the ‘danger of ghettoization,’ O’Sullivan seems confident that the Polish community is doing well. This is partly due to the decision to open a consulate in the first place.
“Our city, our country had to deal with new immigrants in a better way” he says, recalling when the first Polish people arrived. “If they were somehow structured, they could understand that it was a two-way street. We were determining whether they would be valuable to society. The Polish government realised it would be very helpful to have honorary consuls.”
The success of the Polish community in Limerick is clear and the consulate seems to play a central role in that.
O’Sullivan admits he is a man of many hats, and one of his most interesting is as President of the World BBQ Association.
He was delighted to see the World BBQ Championships come to Limerick this year, but for him, it’s not just about good food.
“It’s a chance to interact with so many different countries,” he says. “We bring people together under the flame of barbecue in the old tradition of bringing people together around the fire.”
He’s very passionate about breaking down cultural barriers and he believes events like the World BBQ Championships are a good way to unite people.
“Human nature is pretty common around the world,” he says. “We’ve learned to overcome biases and prejudices. It’s a very small token in the world of peace making, but it’s a real one – thousands of people from all over the world, in total harmony.”
O’Sullivan recognises that it takes a lot of effort to accomplish these goals: “Everybody puts something into the community.” Both the Polish consulate and Limerick City and County Council worked hard to organise and promote the World BBQ Championships, and this is exactly the kind of civic engagement O’Sullivan wants to see.
“Some of the finest people in the world are living and working in this city,” he says. “They don’t need or want to be recognised. That’s a great asset.”