Civilian Francis (Frank) Sullivan

 

Civilian Francis (Frank) Sullivan (aged 38) of Rosscarbery (near Rosscarbery)

Date of incident: 1 July 1921 (abducted and executed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CCE, 2, 9 July 1921; CE, 4 July 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/159B/15 (TNA); RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, Cork West Riding, July 1921 (CO 904/116); ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); James ‘Spud’ Murphy’s WS 1684, 24-25 (BMH); Hart (1998), 299; Donnelly (2012), 176-77.  

 

Note: Frank Sullivan was found dead early on Saturday morning, 2 July 1921, ‘by the roadside at Rosscarbery with a bullet wound in the head’. For many years he had served as the steward of Emily and Beatrice Whitley, daughters of a former Church of Ireland rector of Rosscarbery. Their residence (Merton House), immediately adjacent to the Rosscarbery RIC barracks, had recently been burned by the IRA. There is evidence that the IRA considered at least one of the Whitley sisters to be either an informer or closely associated with the crown forces. See ‘IRA Intelligence Reports on Civilians Accused of Giving Information to and Associating with British Forces during War of Independence in Counties Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and Limerick’, ca. 1921, CP/4/40 (Military Archives).

 

Sullivan fell into the same category of suspected spies. ‘From information received’, wrote the correspondent of the Cork County Eagle, ‘it appears that about 10:30 on Friday night’ [1 July], just as Sullivan was about to retire for the night, ‘two strange men called to his house and asked him to come to Miss Whitley’s house with them as they wished to get out some band instruments. The deceased went with them and he was never again seen alive. Since ‘the burning of the hall’ at Merton House, Sullivan had kept the band instruments ‘in a portion’ of Merton House that had not been destroyed by the fire. The shooting of Sullivan was generally regarded as ‘rather mysterious, as he appears to have been on the best of terms with everyone’. Indeed, Sullivan, ‘who was getting on to middle age, was a great favourite in Ross, of which town he was a native. He was president of the Ross Band and occupied the same position in the [local branch of the] Irish Transport Union. He was a very active member of the Irish Land and Labour Association.’ See CCE, 9 July 1921.

 

Historian Peter Hart memorably described the Rosscarbery branch of the Irish Land and Labour Association as ‘stubbornly anti-republican’, hinting that Sullivan’s prominent connection with it had something to do with his murder. See Hart (1998), 299. But according to the BMH witness statement of West Cork Brigade column veteran James ‘Spud’ Murphy, Sullivan had admitted ‘after a severe cross-examination’ that ‘he had informed the enemy of the whereabouts of Jim Lane and myself. . . . We procured a priest to hear his confession and then executed him.’ See James ‘Spud’ Murphy’s WS 1684, 24-25 (BMH). Sullivan clearly was Catholic. To Sullivan’s body the IRA gunmen attached a notice declaring that anyone giving information to the Auxiliaries or the regular police would meet the same fate. The British military authorities believed that Sullivan had been shot dead just before the stroke of midnight on 1 July 1921. A witness named Patrick Keohane expressed his certainty at the military inquest that Frank Sullivan had never taken part in politics; Keohane did note that Sullivan had been serving as secretary of the local branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. See Military Inquests, WO 35/159B/15 (TNA).

 

In 1901 Francis Sullivan was one of the four co-resident children of John J. and Hanora Sullivan of house 1 in Downeen townland (parish of Ross) in the Rosscarbery district. Francis Sullivan (then aged 12) was the oldest of the children (two sons and two daughters), who ranged in age from 8 to 12. His father John J. Sullivan (then aged 47) was a British officer, serving as a Commissioned Boatman (abbreviated as ‘Comd Btman’ or ‘Comd Bn’ in the census) with Her Majesty’s Coastguard, then an adjunct of the Royal Navy and under the control of the British Admiralty. When John J. Sullivan was recorded again in the 1911 census, he was living with his wife Hanora and his two daughters in Gillabbey, part of the south-western Cork suburb of Bishopstown. He appears to have lost his son Ignatius to an early death and was then employed as a ‘club steward’. The name of Frank Sullivan appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 1 July 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that £600 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA).   


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