The O’Sullivan side – Part I

I’ve previously focused more in my genealogical inquiries on my father’s side of my family but there are plenty of stories and lore on my mother’s side as well. As outlined in earlier posts I do take great pleasure in a long Dublin heritage on my Dad’s side and there are plenty of Dub’s on my Mam’s side as well. This is just the first part of a longer series.

Family tree pic

Both my grandmother Carmel and grandfather Thomas were born in Dublin. Carmel was born in July of 1915 at number 5 Cowper Street near the North Circular Road. Thomas was born in March of that same year on St. Agnes Terrace in Crumlin. Thomas attended Belvedere College and upon leaving went to work in the New Ireland Assurance company as a 17 year old. Carmel attended St. Gabriel’s national school on Cowper Street and later worked in Pim’s department store on South Great George’s Street. The Pim family were Quaker business-people and their huge department store occupied the site that is now home to the Castle House office building, next to the George Nightclub. Carmel and Thomas were married on the 28th July 1941 in the Church of the Holy Family in Aughrim Street. At the time Nana was living around the corner at 24 Carnew Street while Thomas wasn’t too far away, north of the city this time, at 33 Swilly Road in Cabra.

Carnew Street

Carnew Street

Thomas’ parents were John and Ethel O’Sullivan. John was originally from Co. Cork, but we’ll come back him in a later post. Ethel was born Ethel Beahan in Ellen Villas, once a part of Emmet Road, in June of 1884. The family moved a number of times during her early life but stayed in the wider Inchicore/Kilmainham area. In the 1901 census the Beahan family were living at 10 Hawthorne Terrace (part of the Tyrconnell Road) before moving again to 3 St. Patrick’s Terrace, a terrace of fine red-brick, two-storey homes that survives to this day and is situated close to the Inchicore railway works. Ethel was resident in St. Patrick’s Terrace with her family at the time that she married John O’Sullivan in the Catholic Chapel of Goldenbridge in September of 1907.

The Beahan family home on St. Patrick’s Terrace, and their focus on the Kilmainham/Inchicore area was not by chance, Ethel’s father Thomas was employed in the Inchicore works as a clerk for the Great Southern Railways. Thomas had married Mary Meehan in October 1883. Mary Meehan (now Beahan) was a near neighbour of Thomas’s being only from down the road in Goldenbridge.

One thing that jumped out upon carrying out a little bit more research on Thomas Beahan was that unlike his wife, or his nine children who were all born in Dublin, Thomas the railway clerk was born in India. As a result it has been much harder to find information about Thomas’ early life but we know from his marriage cert that his father’s name was James and his profession was listed as a clerk.

What we know about James Beahan is that before he was a clerk he was a soldier in the British army, and it was while he was serving in India that that Thomas was born around 1857 though later documents such as the census of 1901 suggest the later date of 1859. We know from the British Army worldwide index of 1861 that James was stationed in Meerut, India which is about 70 kilometers northeast of New Dehli as part of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, a cavalry regiment.

By the time of Thomas’ birth in around 1857 James Beahan had already been in the British army for almost ten years.  Born in 1830 in the small village of Ballon, Co. Carlow he had joined the army as a 19 year old in 1849. This was still in the midst of the Great Famine and as James had listed his original profession as a Labourer, most likely a farm labourer, a stint in the Army would have offered decent pay and a chance for adventure as well as an escape from the horrors of the domestic situation in Ireland at the time. He joined up in Dublin and was initially he was part of the 6th Dragoon Guards, a cavalry regiment. In 1857 James was promoted to the rank of Corporal and in early 1861 he transferred regiments to join the 8th Hussars another cavalry regiment. By 1864 he had been promoted again to Sergeant and he remained at that rank and with the same regiment until he left the army in October of 1873.

James’s military records also provide us with some level of personal descriptive information, for instance we know he was 5′ 9″ in height with grey eyes and light brown hair. His commanding officer General John Charles Hope Gibsone stated that his character was “very good” and noted his attainment of good conduct stripes and a good conduct medal. In total he was in the British army for just over 24 years and served for 8 and half of those years abroad.

The 8 and a half years of service abroad consisted of a posting to the Crimean War with the 6th Dragoon Guards for a period of 11 months before spending almost 8 years serving in India. To try and put everything into the context of the geopolitical situation would take thousands of words but to summarise very briefly, the Crimean War began in late 1853 between an alliance that included Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire against the forces of Tsarist Russia. The War became famous, or perhaps better described as infamous, for it’s violence, the suffering of it’s soldiers and the foolish decisions of it’s generals. It also became associated in the popular imagination with a number if key events and figures. Florence Nightingale became a national hero in Britain for her commitment in nursing wounded soldiers, Leo Tolstoy was a soldier on the Russian side and his experiences directly impacted his literary works. Alfred Tennyson wrote his famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade which commemorated the braveness or the British rank and file cavalry as well as the foolishness and incompetence of their leadership that became features of the war. The charge of the light brigade was an action that was part of the larger Battle of Balaclava, itself part of the wider Siege of the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The 8th Hussars were one of the cavalry regiments involved in the charge of the light brigade but James Beahan had yet to join that regiment.

However James was present during the Siege of Sevastopol with the 6th Dragoon Guards after they were transferred there in 1854. They would have had to endure horrific winter storms where many men and cavalry horses died of starvation and disease. Indeed starvation and disease killed far more men than the Russian guns. The Siege of the great port city continued all the way through to September 1855 with the final assault on the city being made by a force of around 60,000 men, the British forces were originally repulsed by the Russians but the French forces under the command of General MacMahon (a French descendant of an Irish lord who fled to France after the Williamite Wars of the late 17th Century) managed to break through, ultimately forcing the Russians to abandon Sevastopol.

The defeat at Sevastopol was the beginning of the end for the Russian forces who sought to make peace in March 1856. We know that James’s regiment the 6th Dragoon Guards were involved in the Crimean War and from his records we know that he received the Crimean Medal and that as well as serving at Sevastopol he was also stationed in Turkey for a period during the War.

James’s regiment was sent to India in 1857 as part of the British response to the India Mutiny which began in the city of Meerut in May of that year. There were many causes of the uprising which began among the Indian troops within the armed forces of the East India Company, but one of the main flash-points was around the use of grease manufactured from animal fats on the bullet casings of the ammunition provided to the Indian troops. Islam precludes the consumption of pigs while Hinduism precludes the consumption of beef, the bullet casings, which had to be bitten to get them to fit properly in the rifles were reported to be covered in the grease from the fat of both animals. Many Indian soldiers saw this as grave mark of disrespect to their respective religions.

The Indian Mutiny was hugely violent and led to the death of over 800,000 people by some estimates when events such as famine and disease caused by the violence are taken into consideration. The British response to the Mutiny was extremely ruthless, especially in retribution for the incidents such as the killing of civilians by the Indian mutineers during the Siege of Cawnpore. There are even descriptions of British troops tying captured Indian troops to the mouth of cannon before blowing them to pieces as a form of execution. The legacy of the Mutiny was that the British Crown took over the running of India as a colony, rather than as an area to be administered by the British East India Company. Violence wasn’t constrained just to combatants and the whole episode was marked by the deaths of many thousands of civilians.

James Beahan’s regiment saw little action during the India Mutiny but he pops up again in 1871 and then again in the year of his discharge (1873), as he plays a small role as a witness in one of the most infamous and controversial court cases of the 19th Century, a court case dubbed the Tichborne Affair by the press. The case centred around a man who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy and family fortune, who disappeared and was presumed dead, only to return some twenty years later after a supposed shipwreck and a long interlude living in the Australian bush. Sir Roger Tichborne had been an officer in the 6th Dragoon Guards at the same time that James was serving. They had been stationed together in barracks in Tipperary.


Roger Tichborne

Many doubted the identity of the claimant. It was assumed the real Roger Tichborne had perished when the ship he had been travelling on had capsized off the coast of South America in 1854, however, others, including Lady Tichborne were convinced that the man who arrived from Australia in 1866 was indeed her long, lost son. Lady Tichborne died in 1868 and the supposed Sir Roger outraged many of her descendants by claiming the position of chief mourner at her funeral.

A civil case began in 1871 (effectively to decide if the claimant was indeed Sir Roger) but fell apart soon after, with the claimant being gaoled in Newgate prison for perjury. A criminal case began in 1873. James testified in both these cases and was one of a number of witnesses who claimed that the claimant was indeed the Sir Roger Tichborne that they had known from years before in Ireland.


Arthur Orton

All evidence seems to suggest that the claimant was in fact a man named Arthur Orton and that he had no connection to the Tichborne family, George Bernard Shaw, writing much later, highlighted a paradox whereby the Claimant was perceived simultaneously as a legitimate baronet and as a working-class man denied his legal rights by the elite. Whatever his true identity he had managed to convince James Beahan, his supposed mother, and the general public of his legitimacy as the heir to the Tichborne estates and titles. Arthur Orton (or was it really Roger Tichborne?) died in 1898, he was still infamous enough that 5,000 people attended his funeral. Such was the lasting impact of the case that a film on the subject was made in 1998 entitled The Tichborne Claimant featuring the likes of Stephen Fry and John Geilgud, though no actor is mentioned as playing the role of James Beahan.

James Beahan died two years later in 1900 at the age of 70 surrounded by his family in Dublin.



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