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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Assassination of RIC Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan

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The Irish Republican Army (IRA) kills twenty-three-year-old Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan in Dublin on December 17, 1920 while he is walking with his fiancee. O’Sullivan is from County Cork.

O’Sullivan is the son of Florence O’Sullivan and Margaret Aloysius O’Sullivan (née Barry) of Denis Quay, Kinsale, County Cork, who were married in Wicklow, County Wicklow in 1895. His father is a solicitor, practising in Kinsale.

O’Sullivan joins the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on June 8, 1918. He is sent for training to HMS Hermione, an Astraea-class cruiser, from where he is sent on August 22, 1918 to “Our Allies,” the mother ship for motor launches. He later serves on Motor Launches 386 and 530. While serving on a motor launch in the Mediterranean Sea, he is awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the Second Battle of Durazzo on October 2-3, 1918. He is demobilised on July 8, 1919, with the rank of Lieutenant, but this is later reversed as he had not yet reached the minimum age of 22.

O’Sullivan then qualifies as a solicitor, and subsequently joins the Royal Irish Constabulary on July 24, 1920. He is appointed a District Inspector on October 1, 1920.

O’Sullivan is engaged to a Miss Moore and he meets her near the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin on December 17, 1920. They are walking down Henry Street when he is assassinated by a group of four men. One man shoots him in the head, but Miss Moore manages to grab the revolver from him. A second man shoots him as he lay on the ground. He dies one hour later in nearby Jervis Street Hospital. The cause of death is listed as shock and haemorrhage resulting from bullet wounds. His body is identified by his father. He is buried in the grave of his grandfather.

O’Sullivan had been identified by Ned Kelliher, possibly also from Kinsale, who had trailed him for a week. He points out O’Sullivan to members of Michael Collins‘s Squad, one of whom is Joe Byrne. Miss Moore states that she had been warned some time previously that O’Sullivan was “one of the Black and Tans” and she should have nothing to do with him. She had dismissed the threat.

O’Sullivan’s death is registered on January 7, 1921, on foot of a certificate received from a Military Court of Inquiry, following an inquest held on December 18, 1920.

The assassination is recorded by Joe Byrne in Witness Statement No. 461 to the Bureau of Military History, dated December 16, 1950. “I remember an evening in December 1920, when I was instructed, with others to proceed to Henry Street to assist in the shooting of D.I. O’Sullivan. About four of us comprised the party. A couple of us were detailed not to take part in the actual shooting but to cover off the men who were to do the job. I saw the D.I. being shot by a member of the Squad and when the shooting was over we returned to Morelands.” Morelands is a shop on Abbey Street, Dublin, used as a base by The Squad.

O’Sullivan’s name is included on the supplementary list of the Glasnevin Cemetery War Memorial.

(From: The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: Photograph of District Inspector Philip John O’Sullivan, Cork Examiner, December 21, 1920)

Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017). I have also served on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, Chairman 2017-2018) and the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board (2015-2020, Secretary 2017-2020).

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