From Kenmare to the WWI battlefields

Nephew talks of uncle’s role as an army chaplain on the Western Front

Stephen Fernane

One of the most extraordinary aspects of WWI has been the discovery of relatives that took part in one of history's bloodiest conflicts. Army chaplain Rev Patrick Alphonsus O'Sullivan from Kenmare was involved in battles along the Western Front from 1917 to 1918. Fr Pat's involvement has now been made public thanks to his nephew, Patrick V O'Sullivan.

"We had always known of Fr Pat's involvement in the war. But the recent commemorations to mark the end of WWI prompted me to gather some information together and put it out there," Patrick said.

Fr Pat left Kenmare for the diocese of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he was ordained in June, 1914. On November 13, 1917, he enlisted for service in the War where, according to records archived from the Cork Branch Western Front Association, Fr O'Sullivan was 'gazetted' into the army chaplaincy, 4th class army rank of captain in Belgium.

Fr Pat came from a family of six brothers and one sister, and he was born in Kenmare in 1886. He is also from the popular clan known locally as 'Gullaba O'Sullivan'.

According to Patrick, whenever Fr Pat was on leave from the War, he would disembark from British warships sailing off the southwest coast. From here he would make his way to Kenmare to visit family and friends via coal boats to Kenmare Pier.

Fr Pat once returned home with a German helmet and knife, which are still in the family's possession today. Fr Pat was awarded with the standard British War Medal and Victory Medal. Following the armistice of November 11, 1918, Fr Pat returned to his parish work at St Bede's Church in Carlisle. Both Fr Pat's home address in Kenmare and the Church's address at St Bede's are engraved on his army index card.

In October 1927, Fr Pat was promoted to the position of Rector at St Mary's in Preston. Following his retirement, he returned to Ireland to live in St Joseph's nursing home for retired priests in Beaumont, Dublin.

Fr Pat celebrated his Golden Jubilee on June 29, 1964, and died peacefully on March 8, 1976. He is buried in the grounds of St Peter and St Paul's Church, Kilmallock, County Limerick.

"We should be proud of our ancestry, regardless of the opinions of the present. Knowledge of Fr Pat's part in the War has been known to the family for a long time. But like many men from that time, they never spoke about the horrific things they saw. It's nice that a climate now exists where we can commemorate people like Fr Pat with pride and remember them," Patrick added.

Fr Pat is also a relative of the late Mary C O'Connell, Noleen and Lily O'Sullivan, and former Kerry footballer Mickey Ned O'Sullivan.