Mr. Florence O’Sullivan

Florence O'Sullivan, 26, Irish name Flortaid and nicknamed Flor, was traveling with his wife Julia O'Sullivan aboard Lusitania to return to Ireland after living in the United States for several years. Both Flor and Julia avoided boarding the a lifeboat that spilled. Flor and Julia were separated when the Lusitania sank, but both husband and wife were saved.

From Ireland to America


Flor's family name was O'Sullivan but is recorded in Cunard records as "Sullivan." It had been convention for Irish to drop the "O" in their names due to pressure from the English who then controlled Ireland. Flor was from Clounlea, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, Ireland.  When he came to the United States, he met Julia, who lived in Long Island, New York, and they fell in love.  Julia lived with a wealthy old couple by the name of Branders, and the Branders helped Flor find a job at the fashionable Stuyvesant Club in New York City.  Julia would often visit the club just to be with her fiancé. After the Branders died, Flor and Julia married and moved into the city.  Flor's father often wrote asking the couple to come back to Ireland to manage the family farm, but enjoying their life in America, they kept putting off the trip.  Flor's father eventually died and the O'Sullivans had to go back to Ireland or lose the farm.

Lusitania


For the return trip to Ireland, the O'Sullivans packed their belongings, inherited from the Branders, into crates and loaded onto the Lusitania.  According to Hickey and Smith, Flor knew Lusitania's purser, James McCubbin, who promised the couple the best cabin and table in second class, and the couple became friends with Patrick Callan during the voyage.  These claims have not been independently verified Julia O'Sullivan pretended that this trip on the Lusitania would be their second honeymoon, as she had no desire to leave a comfortable life in America to work on a farm in Ireland. The O'Sullivans attended the ship's concert on the night of 6 May.  When Staff Captain Anderson made an appearance at the concert, the audience, including the O'Sullivans, broke into a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." According to Hickey and Smith, after the concert, the O'Sullivans saw a fight break out between two card players in the saloon cabin smoking room.  Staff Captain Anderson hurried in and broke up the fight.

Torpedoed


Friday morning, 7 May, was so cold and foggy that the O'Sullivans decided to have breakfast instead of trying to spy Ireland through the fog. When the fog parted, Ireland came into view, and the O'Sullivans went on deck to see the land to which they were returning. That was when the Lusitania was torpedoed. From Flor's account in the Cork Free Press, 10 May 1915, page 6:
'I saw it happen,' he said. 'I saw the ripples along the water - it was like a fish. It came from the land side. Then I heard a crash, something like the sound of glass broken with a hammer. When I found things were wrong I rushed down to the cabin for lifebelts and when I returned, after an absence of ten or eleven minutes, I found the deck awash.
From his account in the Irish Independent, 10 May 1915, page 6:
'I rushed below to my stateroom to get a lifebelt, previous to which I lashed my wife to the ship's rails. I came back to her and saw the boats being lowered. They were full of people, but many of them overturned.
Returning to the Cork Free Press account:
'The gangways were inclined, and children were clambering up; but they were being shoved on one side. I then went to the stern portion of the ship, and saw a boat being lowered by a man from Clifton (Clifden). He was doing it nice and quietly. The boat was full of passengers. Another man cut the rope, and the whole lot of the occupants were thrown into the water. 'Another boat was just being launched at the time, and I wanted my wife to go in it, but she would not go. This boat was broken off the side of the ship. We both remained standing on the deck for a few minutes, and just before we were thrown into the water we both shook hands, and I gave my wife all the money I had - about three hundred dollars. Of course, if she were saved, it would be useful to her.
Hickey and Smith states that this same boat was the one Patrick Callan was in, and he was killed when the lifeboat upset. As the O'Sullivans thought the lifeboats unsafe, they did not get into them and went down with the ship.
'I could do something for myself. I did not see my wife after we got into the water. When I reached the water the mast broke and sent me under, but I rose again and caught some floating wreckage.

Adrift


Flor's account in the water, continued, from the Irish Independent:
'I saw a large empty box in the water, and I struck out for that. There were about ten people clinging onto it. A lady in the water held up her hands in which there was a bag and said - 'This is my purse.  It contains nothing but money and I will give it to anyone who saves me'. A man clinging to the box answered 'I will.' She threw the purse at him and he grabbed at it. In doing so, he upturned the box and the persons clinging to it and all went down again. When he once more rose, he found near to him what he described as a large tin vessel or box which floated like a buoy. To this he clung, but owing to the size and shape, he was barely able to keep his head above water. The sensations of the sinking of the vessel and his terrible predicament after he came to the surface, he said, were something awful, and couldn't be described. While he was floating around, many bodies, numbers apparently lifeless, struck against him.
Stewardess Mary Jones suddenly grabbed Flor's right arm so tightly that she left deep marks on his arm. They drifted in the water for about two hours, striking against lifeless bodies in the water. Mary Jones was losing strength and kept asking if there was any boat in sight. Flor described her cries as "heartrendering." As Flor saw a boat in the distance, she died and lost her hold. Flor was picked up by the destroyer O10. He had kept himself mentally sharp throughout the ordeal in the water, but as soon as he was hauled aboard the destroyer, he collapsed. Flor arrived in Queenstown, not knowing what had happened to Julia.  He soon received word that Julia was alive and recovering in a hospital in Kinsale. Julia gave her bank notes to a little girl who had lost her parents, brothers, and sisters in the disaster.  Arriving at the Sullivan farm in Clounlea, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, the Sullivans held several Masses for "all the souls that went down on the Lusitania."

Later life


The Sullivans had four children (?), one was a daughter named Nellie and another was a daughter named Mary.  Mary became a nurse at St. Paul's Hospital in London, but died during the Blitz in World War II when a bomb fell on her hospital. She was killed by falling masonry.  Julia thought, "Maybe the Germans wanted to finish from the sky what they had failed to do from the sea." Nellie died on New Year's Day, 1941, at the age of 21 after a mystery illness. Flor died on 7 July 1941 at the age of 55 (though this would make him 29 in 1915, not 26). He is buried with his daughters and Julia at Kilgarvan burial ground. Julia raised her two sons alone on the remote mountainous farm until she died in 1948. Contributors Senan Molony, Ireland Michael Poirier, USA References Ballard, Dr. Robert D. with Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.   Warner Books, Inc.,  1995. "A Kilgarvan Man's Story." Cork Free Press. 10 May 1915, page 6. Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981. Irish Independent. 10 May 1915, page 6. Molony, Senan. Lusitania: An Irish Tragedy.   Mercier Press,  2004. Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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