The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

William O'Sullivan


William O’Sullivan was born in Westport, Co Mayo on the 15th of April 1884 to John Sullivan and Bridget Walsh. (The name appears to have become O’Sullivan after 1900). John Sullivan, born in Cork, was a Soldier with the 54th Regiment of Foot (West Norfolk Regiment) which was in Mayo in 1870. Stationed in Westport, he met and married Bridget, a native of the town. They had a child, John Patrick, in February 1871 and in 1872 his regiment was sent to India. John Patrick died in Westport in 1881, aged ten.

In the 1911 census Bridget Sullivan declared that she had had nine children and that four were alive at that date. In the 1901 census the birthplace of four, all born in the 1880s, was given as India. However, as spouses of ‘other ranks’ did not normally travel with the soldiers in that period and John Sullivan returned to Ireland about 1880/81, this information must be incorrect. Birth certificates for two of the four have been identified in Westport. On William’s certificate in 1884 and on John’s in 1887 John Snr’s occupation is given as ‘Writing Clerk’, while on Margaret’s in 1885 it is ‘Army Pensioner’.

By 1901 the family had moved to Cork and were living in three rooms in 90 Roches Buildings, a third class dwelling, in Cork city. John Sullivan was an Army Pensioner, the two girls were Tobacco / Sweet Factory hands, the elder son was a Printer’s Assistant and the younger a Shop Messenger. William Sullivan has not been found in this census, and may have been in England, though he has not been found there either. By 1911 the two sons had left home and the two daughters were married, with one living with her parents and a child in Roches Buildings.
In April 1902 William O’Sullivan enlisted in the Royal Navy in Devonport, Plymouth and served on multiple ships. He received an award for his work on HMS Ramillies and was on board HMS Aboukir in 1909-1911, fortunately before it was sunk in 1914. In December 1911 he married Katie Barry in Cork and they settled in Evergreen Buildings, Industry Road in the city. A daughter, Mary Bridget, was born in May 1918. There may have been other children, not identified.

From May 1918, then a Leading Seaman, he was serving on RMS Carysfort and was returning from leave in Cork in October. He travelled to Dublin by train with Able Seaman David White where they then met with White’s female cousin who was returning to work in England. They left Kingstown on the 10th of October, but only William O’Sullivan survived the sinking.

He continued in the Royal Navy until May 1924 when he received his pension. He appears then to have worked in the Cork Docks and in February 1928 suffered a serious accident. According to the report in the Cork Constitution on the 27th he was working in Albert Dock with a number of others unloading a steamer. A hoist struck him and knocked him into the water. He was rescued quickly and taken to the South Infirmary with a broken leg. However, as was reported the following day, he died that night in the hospital. A Coroner’s Inquest took place immediately which gave the cause of death as “Gas Gangrene and Sepsis due to his fractured leg”. He was buried in Douglas cemetery. The newspaper report mentioned that he was a well-known amateur boxer.




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