John O’Brien, Seaman, Royal Naval Reserve, was born in Youghal, a seaside town in East Cork, on the 18th February 1885, the second surviving child of John and Ellen O’Brien (née Hallahan). His father was a fisherman from Monatray, County Waterford, born 1858, and his mother was born in Youghal. The couple married on the 3rd of March 1878 in Youghal and their first child Hannah was born on the 15th April 1883. Two years later, when John was born, the family were living at Power’s Lane.
Youghal had enjoyed a long period of prosperity and growth during the 18th century but during the 19th century a number of factors contributed to a decline in the town’s fortunes. In the early 1800’s the population was over 10,000 but by 1900 it had shrunk to just 6,000. Despite this Youghal did see some significant developments in this period. Fishing and lace making became vitally important and provided much needed employment. Tourism also became an important industry with the seasonal influx of visitors arriving on the Cork train from 1860 onwards.
When the census was taken in 1901 John O’Brien was living at 9 North Cross Lane Youghal with his mother Ellen and his two sisters Hannah and Nora. By this time he was 16 years old and already working as a fisherman.
John married Catherine (Kate) Donoghue, also the child of a fisherman, on July 31st 1910 in Youghal. Kate worked as a lace maker at the time of their marriage and John was still working as a fisherman.
In the spring of the following year when the census was taken John and Kate were living at 37 Windmill Lane, Youghal. John was still earning a living as a fisherman and the couple were awaiting the birth of their first child. His mother Ellen and younger sister Nora were living just a couple of minutes walk away at 7 Water Lane. According to the census Ellen had given birth to ten children, all born alive, but only three were still living in April 1911. Kate’s parents and seven of her siblings were just around the corner on South Cross Lane.
Two days after the census, on the 4th of April 1911, Kate gave birth to a daughter who would be named Eileen (Eily). John and Kate went on to have two more children; Anastasia (Ackie) born 12th April 1912 and Mary Kathleen (Kitty) born Aug 6th 1914. They still lived on Windmill Lane when Kitty was born but by the time she was informed that John was lost in the sinking of the Laurentic Kate’s address was North Cross Lane.
Eily, Ackie and Kitty, who had just lost their father were soon to lose their mother too. Kate died on the 23rd of May 1922 after suffering from tuberculosis for six months. The children were brought up by their maternal grandmother after Kate’s death.
It is not known when John joined the crew of H.M.S. Laurentic and whether he actually made it to a lifeboat after the ship struck two mines. As far as we know his body was never recovered but it is possible, as with any of the lost men, that he was amongst the seven unidentified men who are buried in St Mura’s churchyard, Fahan.
Family tree John Doyle family
We are indebted to Bob Clark, grandson of John and Kate O’Brien, for providing the portraits of John and his wife and daughters.