Volunteer Lieutenant Patrick O’Sullivan


Volunteer Lieutenant Patrick O’Sullivan (aged about 24) of 9 Thomas Street, Cobh (Clonmult)

Date of incident: 20 Feb. 1921 (executed by crown forces at Cork Military Detention Barracks on 28 April 1921)

Sources: CE, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 Feb., 29 April 1921; II, 29 April 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/155A/53 and WO 35/159B/16 (TNA); Seán O’Mahony Papers, MS 44,047/3 (NLI); Joseph Aherne’s WS 1367, 52-58 (BMH); Michael Kearney’s WS 1418, 21-23 (BMH); Patrick J. Whelan’s WS 1449, 51-58 (BMH); John P. O’Connell’s WS 1444, 15 (BMH); John Kelleher’s WS 1456, 23-24 (BMH); Patrick J. Higgins’s WS 1467, 3-7 (BMH); Diarmuid O’Leary’s WS 1589, 4-12 (BMH); Roll of Honour, Cork No. 1 Brigade (Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park, Cork); Last Post (1976), 81; O’Neill (2006), 62, 96-100; Borgonovo (2007), 88; McCarthy (2008), 232; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 84-85, 143; Rebel Cork’s FS, 190-95; Sheehan (2011), 125; UCC IRA Memorial; Midleton IRA Memorial, Main Street, Midleton; Cork No. 1 Brigade Memorial, Holy Rosary Cemetery, Midleton; Clonmult Ambush Site Memorial; Clonmult Village Memorial; http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015); http://midletonheritage.com/2015/12/11/few-families-suffered-as-we-did-war-of-independence-pension-files-associated-with-midleton/ (accessed 13 March 2016).    


Note: A member of A Company of the Fourth Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, Volunteer Patrick O’Sullivan was executed at Cork Military Detention Barracks on 28 April 1921. Born at Carrignafoy, he had been educated at the Presentation Brothers’ Schools in Cobh and later worked as an overseer or supervisor and an accountant in Haulbowline Dockyard. He was a noted hurler, playing ‘in the senior ranks for Cobh G.A.A. and later for the Collegians (U.C.C.)’. He ‘came from a staunch republican family’, having two brothers who also fought with the IRA. He was a classmate and bosom friend of Maurice Moore; the two later faced a firing squad on the same day. Both he and Moore joined the Volunteers together in 1916. O’Sullivan participated in all the actions of the Cobh Volunteer Company, the most notable of which were the captures of the Carrigtwohill and Cloyne RIC Barracks. He was ‘one of the original members’ of the Flying Column of the Midleton Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade and remained active in its ranks until its destruction at Clonmult. See http://irishvolunteers.org/cork-county-gaol-ira-volunteers-executed-memorial/ (accessed 3 Nov. 2015). In 1923 his father John O’Sullivan applied for a dependent’s allowance under the Army Pensions Act of that year and receved (after an appeal) a gratuity of £100 in July 1924.    


Patrick O’Sullivan was one of the five living children (seven born) of the Queenstown gardener John O’Sullivan and his wife Ellen. In 1911 four sons were co-resident with their parents on Thomas Street there. Patrick (then aged 14) was the youngest of their children. He was interred in Cobh after his execution in Cork city.


It was one of the oddities of the time that Volunteers killed or executed by crown forces commonly had close relatives who had served valourously in the British army or navy during the Great War. The story of Patrick O’Sullivan’s brothers was quite distinctive in this respect. His brother Michael, while serving with the Royal Horse Artillery, had been wounded four times in France and Belgium during the conflict; his brother Bartholomew had lost his life when the Germans torpedoed HMS Hawke in the North Sea in 1914; and his brother Thomas, also enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery, had been wounded once on the Somme and again in the Battle of Arras. See CE, 29 April 1921.


O’Sullivan left two published messages dated 27 April 1921, one to his mother and father, the other to his brothers (Michael, William, and Thomas), other relatives, and friends. In the latter he declared: ‘Pray for me, and when I get to heaven, I will also remember you. Don’t worry over me, but try and realise that it’s God’s holy will, and that He wished to have me with Himself in glory. I am perfectly happy and death will only make me happier. I have no fear whatever as I feel sure I will be happy with God in heaven.’ See II, 29 April 1921.


His mother Ellen was tormented by reported accounts and memories of his fate. According to her, he ‘was gassed and unconscious [at the ‘Battle of Clonmult’]; his vest and watch and money was taken by the black and tans. On the way to Cork they beat him with the end of their guns and tied him to the dead & to some dying bodies to torture him. He was nearly my sole support. He was sacked from Haulbowline for being too prominent a Shin Fainer [sic]. He could be working for me at Ford’s today, but he preferred to go in the column as he was a true Irishman. He told me in his last letter that anyone who died for Ireland would never die. He was my youngest child and the best boy that ever broke bread.’ See Ellen Sullivan to Army Pensions Board, 11 April 1924.


The sorrows persisted for the Sullivan family later in the 1920s. The aging parents paid for the passage of another of their sons to America in late 1925 or early 1926, but he died there of heart failure on Christmas Day in 1927. Barely two months later, his father died on 4 March 1928 ‘from a broken heart’, said his wife Ellen. In a letter to the Army Pensions Board in which she reported these tribulations, she closed by saying, ‘If you think I deserve anything in my old age, I will be very glad to hear from you.’ See Ellen Sullivan to Army Pensions Board, 27 March 1928, at http://midletonheritage.com/2015/12/11/few-families-suffered-as-we-did-war-of-independence-pension-files-associated-with-midleton/ (accessed 13 March 2016).   


Two other Clonmult prisoners—Diarmuid O’Leary and Patrick Higgins—had been tried by court martial on 19 March 1921, sentenced to death, and imprisoned with their comrades Patrick O’Sullivan and Maurice Moore in Cork Military Detention Barracks while awaiting execution. O’Leary recalled their circumstances: ‘The weeks dragged on without us hearing anything definite about the decision in our cases, and in the meantime I used continue to meet Paddy O’Sullivan, Maurice Moore, and Paddy Higgins at recreation. Higgins, in addition to the bullet wound in the mouth, was suffering from acute appendicitis, which, he told me, would need an operation. . . . On the evening of 27 April 1921, as O’Leary walked down the corridor to his cell, he ‘noticed that a sentry was posted outside the two doors of the cells next to mine, and that the doors were marked with a large cross (X). My door bore no such cross. In the two “marked” cells were Paddy [O’Sullivan] and Maurice [Moore]. . . . The following morning . . . I heard the cell doors beside me opening, and Maurice and Paddy passing my door answering the litany of the rosary. Very shortly afterwards I heard the shots which signalled the death of my two comrades. In the forenoon of the same day I met Paddy Higgins in the recreation yard. He had been operated on for appendicitis and was going for another operation. Relating to him the events of the previous night, Paddy remarked: “They are probably keeping you for me.”’ That very evening O’Leary was informed that his death sentence had been commuted to one of penal servitude for life; he was quickly dispatched to the British prison on Spike Island. All the other Volunteers captured and not killed at Clonmult (including Higgins) had their death sentences commuted in the same way, except for O’Sullivan and Moore. See Diarmuid O’Leary’s WS 1589, 10-12 (BMH).


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