William K. Sullivan
William K. Sullivan PhD DSc MRIA, President, Queen’s College Cork, 1873-1890
William Kirby Sullivan (1822-1890) was born in Dripsey, County Cork in 1822, where his family operated a paper-milling business. He was educated at the North Monastery Christian Brothers School, Cork and later studied chemistry under Justus von Liebig at the University of Giessen, Germany, where he completed his PhD.
Sullivan published about the presence of phosphoric acid in rocks and minerals in 1845. This was a first description of the iron test for phosphates which became standard. He became an assistant to Robert Kane who was the director of the Museum of Economic Geology of Ireland (later the Museum of Irish Industry). In 1846 Sullivan was appointed chemist to the Museum. A decade later, he was appointed Professor of Chemistry in the Catholic University of Ireland in 1856 and was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1857. He published prolifically in the two decades after 1845, primarily in chemistry, but also in geology and Celtic studies.
Following the retirement of Sir Robert Kane, in 1873, Sullivan succeeded him as President of Queen’s College Cork. Unlike Kane, Sullivan dedicated himself wholly to the College. Under Sullivan’s Presidency the University flourished and witnessed many new developments including the acquisition of land to enlarge the original site; the initiation of the botanical gardens and plant houses, to the east of the Quadrangle; the development, through his friendship with local philanthropist William H. Crawford and others, of the observatory with state of the art design and instruments; and the construction of a student hostel. In 1882 he was conferred with the degree of D.Sc. by the Royal University of Ireland. Sullivan’s presidency also saw the admission of the first women students to Queen’s College Cork in 1884. His achievements as president were considerable and during his tenure the foundations were laid which ensured that the institution would continue to expand and develop.
Sullivan was active in the life of the city, reviving the Cork Literary and Scientific Society and he helped to found and develop the Munster Dairy School. His scholarly interests in antiquities, social history and philology were lifelong.
Sullivan was married to Frances Hennessy of Cork, sister of Sir John Pope Hennessy and Henry G. Hennessy (first librarian of Queen’s College, Cork). They had two sons and three daughters. Eilís Dillon was a great-granddaughter, whose husband, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, was Professor of Irish at UCC and Warden of the Honan Hostel.
Following a long illness Sullivan died in office, on 12 May 1890. He is buried at St Finbarr’s cemetery, Cork, with his wife who predeceased him two years before. The portrait of William K. Sullivan is on display in the Aula Maxima, UCC.
Select bibliography of publications of William Kirby Sullivan
Articles and chapters
‘On the presence of phosphoric acid in rocks and minerals’, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 3rd ser., 27:179 (Sep 1845), 161-163
‘Currents of electricity produced by the vibration of wires and metallic rods’, The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 3rd ser., 27:180 (1845), 261-4
‘The chemical history of pollen of plants’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 4 (1847-50), 374-379
‘Memoir of Bryan Higgins, M. D. and William Higgins, with a short notice of Irish chemists and the state of chemistry in Ireland before the year 1800’, Dublin Journal of Medical Science 8 (Nov 1849), 465-495
‘Analysis of a specimen of mica from the Co. of Wicklow’, Journal of the Geological Society of Dublin 4 (Jan 1850), 155-159
‘Abstract of a paper on the amount of sugar in Irish-grown bulbous roots’, Royal Dublin Society: reports of the proceedings of the meetings held for the discussion of subjects connected with practical science and art (December, 1850), 97-100
‘Abstract of a paper on the comparative value of large and small roots’, Royal Dublin Society: reports of the proceedings of the meetings held for the discussion of subjects connected with practical science and art (February, 1853), 188-193
‘On the influence which the physical geography, the animal and vegetable productions, etc. of different regions exert upon the languages mythology and early literature of. ..’, The Atlantis 1:1 (Jan 1858); 50-128; 2:3 (Jan 1859), 125-200
‘On the formation of several acids of the series Cn Hn O4 by the destructive distillation of peat’, The Atlantis 1:1 (Jan 1858), 185-201
‘Observations on some of the products of the putrefaction of vegetable and animal substances, and their relation to pathology’, The Atlantis 1:1 (Jan 1858), 202-212
‘On the presence of ammonia and nitric acid in the sap of plants’, The Atlantis 1:2 (Jul 1858), 413-437
‘On the influence which the individual constitution of plants exerts upon the seed’, The Atlantis 1:2 (Jul 1858), 437-450
‘Note on some prismatic forms of calcite from Luganurs, County of Wicklow’, The Atlantis 3:5 (Jan 1859), 176-180
‘On the change of caseine into albumen, with some observations on lactic fermentation’, The Atlantis 2:4 (Jul 1859), 486-492
‘Observations on the geological formation and chemical composition of the surface deposits from which vegetable soils are formed’, The Atlantis 3:5 (Jan 1860), 181-218
‘On the hydrocarbonates and silicates of zinc of the province of Santander, Spain. Geological conditions under which the ores of zinc occur’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 8 (1861-4), 5-25
‘On some curious molecular changes produced in silicate of zinc by the application of heat’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 8 (1861-4), 55-56
‘On a new hydrated silicate of potash, and on some of the conditions under which the reniform structure in minerals may be developed’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 8 (1861-4), 56-60
‘The position of the Celtic. Translated with the addition of a great many words from the Beitráge zur Vergleichenden Sprachforschung. By W. K. Sullivan’, by Hermann Ebel, The Atlantis, 3:6 (1862), 338-377
‘On a new hydrated state of silicate of potash, and on some of the conditions which under the reniform structure in minerals may be developed’, The Atlantis, 3:6 (1862), 441-445
‘On the deposit of sulphate of soda in the valley of the Jarama, near Aranjuez, in Spain’, The Atlantis 4:7-8 (1863), 288-315
‘Note on the chemical composition of a lacustrine dolomitic limestone from the neighbourhood of Madrid’, The Atlantis 4:7-8 (1863), 315-318
‘Notes illustrative of the geology and mineralogy of the part of the Spanish Province of Santander between the Bay of Santander and the River Deva’, The Atlantis 4:7-8 (1863), 319-447
‘On some curious molecular changes produced in disilicate of zinc, and some of its compounds with carbonates, by the action of heat’, The Atlantis 4:7-8 (1863), 448-450
‘On the occurrence of mammalian bones, brown coal and pebbles in mineral veins’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Ser. 1, 10 (1866-9), 397-401
‘On the formation of thenardite in connection with the date of the glacial period, and the temperature that prevailed during it, as deduced from the influence of the excentricity ...’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Science, Ser. 2, 1 (1869-74), 2-7
‘Note on the hornblende and augite groups of minerals’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Science, Ser. 2, 1 (1869-74), 37-45
‘Note on the great dolomite bed of the north of Spain, in connection with the Tithonic state of Herr Opel. With 1 plate.’ Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Science, Ser. 2, 1 (1869-74), 225-232
‘Celtic literature’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th ed., 297-328. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1875–1889
‘From the treaty of Limerick to the establishment of legislative independence. 1691-1782’, in Two centuries of Irish history, 1691-1870. London: K. Paul, Trench & Co., 1888
The manufacture of beet-root sugar in Ireland. Dublin: J. M'Glashan, 1851
Facts and theories; or, the real prospects of the beet-sugar manufacture in Ireland. Dublin: McGlashan, 1852
On the industrial training institutions of Belgium, and on the possibility of organizing an analogous system in connection with the national schools of Ireland, with Tristram Kennedy. Dubin: Browne and Nolan, 1855
Celtic studies: from the German, by Hermann Ebel. Translated with an introduction on the roots, stems, and derivatives, and on case-endings of nouns in the Indo-European languages. London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1863. Online at https://archive.org/details/celticstudiesfr00sullgoog
University education in Ireland: A letter to Sir John Dalberg Acton, Bart. Dublin and London: W. B. Kelly; William Ridgway, 1866
On the manners and customs of the ancient Irish: a series of lectures delivered by the late Eugene O’Curry, MRIA. Edited with an introduction, appendixes, etc., by W. K. Sullivan. 3 vols. London and New York: Williams and Norgate; Scribner, 1873
 Further reading: David Murphy and Linde Lunney, ‘Sullivan, William Kirby’, Dictionary of Irish Biography; Charles Mollan, William Kirby Sullivan (1822-1890)’, in It’s part of what we are, Science and Culture Series, No. 3: Vol. 2 Samuel Haughton (1821-1897) to John Stewart Bell (1928-1990) (Dublin: Royal Dublin Society, 2007), pp882-904; Deasmumhain Ó Raghallaigh, ‘Three centuries of Irish chemists’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 46 (1941), 25-54; George P. Sigerson, ‘Sketches in Irish biography, no. 22: Dr W. K. Sullivan’, The Irish Monthly 20 (Apr 1892), 190-5; Thomas S. Wheeler, ‘The Life and Work of William K. Sullivan’ Studies: an Irish quarterly review 34:133 (1945), 21-36; Thomas S. Wheeler, ‘William Kirby Sullivan, his work as second president of Queen's College, Cork’ Cork University Record 4 (Summer 1945).
 The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 3rd ser., 27:179 (Sep 1845), 161-163.
 Denis Gwynn, ‘The College 80 years ago. Dr. W. K. Sullivan and Mr. W. H. Crawford's benefactions’, UCC Record 35 (Easter 1960), 44-53.
 To encourage female students, a cloak room for their use was opened in September 1884: advertisement, Cork Constitution, 24 September 1884, p.1.
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