William Vincent O’Sullivan (b. 1943 )
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William Vincent O’Sullivan (b. 1943 )


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Track 1: Billy O’Sullivan of Killarney has carried out research on his uncle Fr Donal O’Sullivan who was a British Army chaplain in WWI. Donal O’Sullivan attended St. Brendan’s Seminary in Killarney in preparation for the priesthood, went on to Maynooth, was ordained and returned to serve in the Diocese of Kerry. Billy explains that when war broke out in 1914, many Killarney men joined up, many to get an income. As so many men were enlisting, particularly from the south Kerry area, the bishop decided they should be accompanied by a chaplain. Fr Donal O’Sullivan volunteered to go. Billy explains that Donal’s brother, Dr Ivo O’Sullivan, had already joined up and had been at Gallipoli. Their widowed mother, Hannah, had been living over the shop at 5 High Street, Killarney, and when Billy’s father, William, bought a house outside the town, she came to live with his family. Billy says that even though she died when he was seven years old they were very close, and he recalls her difficulty with speaking of her dead son Donal. Billy explains that some years ago when moving house, Donal’s personal items which had been sent back from the war came to his attention once more. He recalls the fact that two chalices were given to a clerical cousin some time ago. Also among the items is a little wooden plaque, bearing Donal’s name burnt in poker work, and made from a timber case which was used to carry rifles. Apparently this was his ‘shingle’ which he hung on his tent so that soldiers knew where he could be found. Also in the personal collection are his rosary beads which he was carrying when he was killed on the battlefield, and which have never since been cleaned. Also included are two boxes used to carry communion hosts, and a diary which he kept from the day he left Killarney to the day before his death. Track 2: Billy describes the various objects that Fr Donal had with him at the Front including his diary, the King’s telegram and some photographs. He also mentions postcards sent by Fr Donal to his mother and he recalls how much material was sent out to the soldiers. He explains that in Ireland it was considered fair that priests and medical doctors had to serve, unlike the ordinary men who were fighting. He speaks about the healing which has occurred only recently between different factions and its real manifestation in the Irish Peace Park memorial in Belgium and in the recent visit of Queen Elizabeth II. He reads from some entries in his uncle’s diary, written in 1916, and he explains that chaplains of any religion looked after all the men in a particular area to which they were assigned. Initially, Fr Donal was not immediately assigned to an area but was given a few days to acclimatise, during which he spent time visiting hospitals and units. Track 3: Further readings from Fr Donal’s diary, including descriptions of his visits to the trenches to give spiritual aid and to attend the wounded. He visited the Front and gave general absolution before a big push. His last diary entry was written on July 4, 1916. On the following day he was anointing an English soldier when he was fatally injured by an exploding shell. Billy explains that this English soldier survived and after the war he visited Mrs O’Sullivan to tell her of Fr Donal’s last moments. Fr Donal lies at rest in Bouzincourt cemetery in the Somme in France. It is an emotional experience for Billy to read the diary and he feels that he knows his uncle well through his own research. He treasures a medallion which Fr Donal was awarded and on which his name is engraved. Billy recalls the fire at 5 and 6 High Street, Killarney in which his brother Donal tragically died and he explains that the medallion was recovered from the wreckage.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The Irish Country House and the Great War


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

10.88 MB, 7.71 MB, 13.73 MB, 11.38 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



Fr Donal O'Sullivan, Chaplain

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore