The Lusitania Resource > People > Second Cabin (Second Class) Passenger List > Mrs. Florence O’Sullivan (Julia O’Neill)

Mrs. Florence O’Sullivan (Julia O’Neill)

Julia O'Sullivan, 25, was traveling with her husband Florence 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 and killed many others. Flor and Julia were separated when the Lusitania sank, but both husband and wife were saved. Julia was rescued by the naval patrol boat Heron.

Working for the Branders


Julia was born in Roscarbery, County Cork, Ireland.  After she left Ireland for the United States, Julia worked for the Branders in Long Island, New York for eight years.  Julia described the Branders and "the nicest old couple God brought together and left childless."  Having no children, the Branders considered Julia as one of the family and often took her with them on vacations.  When Julia met Florence "Flor" Sullivan from County Kerry, Ireland, and fell in love with him, the Branders found Flor a job at the fashionable Stuyvesant Club in New York City.  Julia would often visit the club just to be with her fiancé. Flor’s family name was O’Sullivan but often recorded his name as “Sullivan,” as it had been convention for Irish to drop the “O” in their names due to pressure from the English who then controlled Ireland. The Branders died within three months of each other and left everything to Julia.  Julia and Flor were 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 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.
The disturbance caused by the water closing over the ship ripped them apart. From her account in the Cork Free Press, 8 May 1915:
'It was simply awful,' she said, 'to hear the hundreds of drowning men, women and children shouting and crying for help.'
Not long afterward she lost consciousness. Julia O'Sullivan was picked up by the naval patrol boat Heron.  Her lifebelt, into which she had stuffed £100, had to be cut away to haul her aboard. Fellow survivor Fred Bottomley recounted in the same article:
'The lady [Mrs. O'Sullivan] was very ill when she was picked up, and almost dead, but the unremitting attention of the crew of the trawler brought her round again'.
As she required immediate medical treatment the Heron landed in Kinsale instead of Queenstown. She was promptly attended to by Dr. Corcoran of the Military Hospital.

Kinsale


When Julia awoke, she was in Kinsale and asked a priest in the hospital what happened to her husband.  He told her that there was no Florence Sullivan in the hospital, but told her not to give up hope as there were several more survivors in Queenstown. That evening, Julia received a telegram that her husband was alive and well and that he had been notified that she was in Kinsale. According to Hickey and Smith, Julia gave her bank notes to a little girl who had lost her parents, brothers, and sisters in the disaster. The O'Sullivans were driven to their family home in Rosscarbery in a car lent by R. C. Pratt. Julia was accompanied by Miss Heard and military nursing sister. 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." On 7 September 1915, a leather case was that had been a part of her luggage was delivered to her.  The case had washed ashore.  All of her valuables, £324 10s. 0d. were recovered.

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, and Julia raised her two sons alone on the remote mountainous farm. Julia died on 18 October 1948. She is buried with her husband and daughters in Kilgarvan cemetery. Editor's Note: Julia's later interviews, as reported in Hickey/Smith, indicated a presence of an outdoor swimming pool on the ship.  Although the White Star Liner Adriatic, which debuted in May 1907, was the first to introduce an ocean-going, albeit indoor, pool, the Lusitania, which debuted four months later, does not indicate one on her deck plans.  Furthermore, no Channel-servicing North Atlantic liner had an outdoor swimming pool until the French Line's Normandie of 1935. Contributors: Senan Molony, Ireland Michael Poirier, USA References: Ballard, Dr. Robert D. with Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.   Warner Books, Inc.,  1995. Cork Examiner, 11 May 1915. Cork Free Press, 8 May 1915, page 6. “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 5-6. Molony, Senan. Lusitania: An Irish Tragedy.   Mercier Press,  2004. Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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