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Surname:  O¬'Sullivan
Branch:  O'Sullivan
Origins:  Irish
More Info:  Ireland

Background:  The O'Sullivan clan descended from the followers of Milesius who were the first Celts to colonize Innisfail, their "island of destiny". They had migrated from an area of the northwest coast of Spain which is now known as the province of Galicia.

Motto:  Lamh foistenach abu, What we gained by conquest we secure by clemency.
Battle Cry:  O'SullivanÖAbu!, O'SullivanÖVictory!.
Arms:  Per fess, the base per pale, in chief or a dexter hand couped at the wrist gules grasping a sword erect blade entwined with a serpent proper between two lions rampant respecting each other of the second, on a dexter base vert a stag trippant or, on the sinister base per pale argent and sable a boar passant counterchanged.
Crest:  On a ducal coronet or a robin re-breast holding in the beak a sprig of laurel all proper.

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In Irish O'Sullivan is O Suileabhain. The derivation of the name is in dispute among scholars. There is no doubt that the root word is suil (eye), but whether it is to be taken as one-eyed or hawk-eyed must be left an open question. While not quite as numerous as Murphy and Kelly, Sullivan, which is by far the commonest surname in Munster, comes third in the list for all Ireland. Almost eighty per cent of the Sullivans (or O'Sullivans) in Ireland to-day belong to the counties of Cork and Kerry, the remaining being mostly of Co. Limerick, or of the city of Dublin, in which, of course, families from all the four provinces are found.

Thus the O'Sullivans, as is almost always the case with the great Gaelic septs, are still concentrated in or near their ancient homeland. It was not until after the Anglo-Norman invasion that the O'Sullivans came to the fore. Their origin, however, is illustrious: descended from Eoghan (Owen) Mor, the father of the famous Oilioll Olum, they were with the O'Callaghans, the MacCarthys and the O'Keefes, one of the leading families of the Munster Eoghanacht. Some at least of them were lords of a territory near Cahir prior to the invasion: from 1200 onwards, however, they are to be found in the extreme south-west of Munster. There they became very numerous and powerful, dividing into a number of branch septs of which O'Sullivan Mor and O'Sullivan Beare were the most important. The former had his principal castle at Dunkerron on the shore of Kenmare Bay, the latter was lord of the modern baronies of Beare and Bantry.

Though seldom appearing in any of the Annals before 1400, they were prominent in the sixteenth century. Outstanding at that period was Donal O'Sullivan Beare (1560-1618), hero of the siege of Dunboy and particularly famous for his almost incredibly hazardous march to Ulster after the disasters of the battle of Kinsale and the capture of Dunbly. His nephew, Philip O'Sullivan Beare (1590-1660), was a soldier in the Spanish army, but is better known as a historian: his Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium recounts the events of the Elizabethan wars as told to him by his uncle and other participants. From a junior branch came Col. John William O'Sullivan (b. 1700), close companion of "the Young Pretender" in his Rebellion of 1745. Since his time the name has been made famous by many O'Sullivans and Sullivans.

In the field of literature Owen Roe O'Sullivan (1748-1784) and Tadgh Gaolach O'Sullivan (d. 1800) were two of the best of the eighteenth century Gaelic poets: Humphrey O'Sullivan (1780-1837) kept a most interesting diary in Irish which has been partially published by the Irish Texts Society; the brothers A.M. Sullivan (1830-1884), and T.D. Sullivan (1827-1914), as well as being authors of note, were leading Nationalist M.P.'s the former being a Young Irelander in 1848. On the stage Barry Sullivan (1821-1891), and Charles Sullivan (1848-1887), were celebrated actors, and Maureen O'Sullivan is famous to-day in the same sphere, while Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, was of Irish descent. If we add, from a very different sphere, John L. Sullivan (1858-19187), perhaps the best known pugilist of all time, we have recorded but a tithe of the O'Sullivans of note to be found not only in Ireland itself but also in the Irish Brigades, in the French Revolution (on both sides) and in the history of the United States.

Another Account
The O'Sullivan clan descended from the followers of Milesius who were the first Celts to colonize Innisfail, their "island of destiny". They had migrated from an area of the northwest coast of Spain which is now known as the province of Galicia. There they had founded a city they called Brigantia. They had remained there for several generations before embarking on the last leg of their odyssey. They arrived in their promised land in approximately the year 800 B.C. They conquered the people that were there at that time, the Firbolg and the Tuatha de Dannan.

In the Irish language O'Sullivan is O'Suilleabhain. Language experts suggest that it means one-eyed or hawk-eyed. Suilleabhain was a direct descendant of Finghin who was a king of Munster in the year 620 A.D. Suilleabhain was born 8 generations later which would place him in the year 862.

The Normans were descendants of Danes (Norsemen) that settled in France in what is now Normandy. In 1066 they invaded and conquered England. In 1169 they launched their first military campaign in Ireland.

The O'Sullivan clan was forced from their original homeland in County Tipperary by the Normans in 1193. They moved to the area which is now west Cork and south Kerry. Soon after, they divided into two branches, O'Sullivan Mor (Mor indicating larger or greater) in south Kerry and O'Sullivan Beare in west Cork. The Beare suffix came from the Beare peninsula that was named for the Spanish princess Bera, the wife of the first King of Munster. They continued to be harassed by the Normans and so allied themselves with the McCarthys and the O'Donahues. The three clans defeated the Normans in 1261 at the battle of Caisglin near Kilgarvan just north of Kenmare. They were again victorious the following year. These two battles settled the boundaries between the Normans of north Kerry (the FitzGeralds) and the three Gaelic families of south Kerry and west Cork. These boundaries were in effect for the next 300 years. In the interim, the Gaels and the Normans inter-married and became friends. They became military allies when Henry VIII decided to exercise his authority in Ireland by imposing his new religion on the populace.

The O'Sullivan Beare clan was further divided in 1592. When Donal O'Sullivan, the chieftain, was slain in 1563 his son of the same name was but a child two years of age. The Irish laws of Tanistry required that the title of chieftain be passed on to the most capable of the dead chief's family. As a result the clan decided that Owen, one of the brothers of the dead chief, would take over control of the clan and become Lord of Beare and Bantry. Owen acknowledged the English crown and was made a knight by Queen Elizabeth. In 1587 young Donal, now twenty-six years old, decided to claim leadership of the clan. He petitioned the authorities in Dublin, using as the basis for his claim English lineal law, whereby the oldest son should inherit his father's title regardless of his age at the time of his father's death. The English Commission in Dublin was receptive to his argument since they would prefer to have the English procedure followed throughout Ireland. In addition Sir Owen had lost influence in Dublin due to implication in the Desmond rebellion. The Commission found in favor of Donal. He was now the O'Sullivan Beare. Sir Owen had to be content with Whiddy island and part of Bantry. He died the following year and was succeeded by his son, another Sir Owen.

The O'Sullivans and other clans provided shelter to 12 year old Gerald FitzGerald when Henry's troops sought to capture him, the last member of his family and the heir to the Earlship of Desmond. The war of the Munster allies continued into the reign of Elizabeth. In the late 1590s, it was the O'Sullivan Mor clan and their close allies the McSweenys that bore the brunt of the fighting with the English forces. Donal O'Sullivan, now chieftain of the O'Sullivan Beare clan, held back from the fighting until the O'Donnells and O'Neills of Ulster entered the campaign.

By the year 1600 all of Munster was in a turmoil. As retribution for their support of the Desmond rebellion the Munster clans lost over one-half million acres of their land to English settlers. When the Earl of Clancarthy died in 1596 his lands were parceled out as well to settlers.

King Philip III of Spain agreed to send help to his co-religionists in Ireland under the command of Don Juan D'Aquilla. Rather than landing in Ulster, as suggested by O'Neill, the Spanish forces landed at Kinsale in County Cork to avoid encountering the English warships in the Irish Sea. The war weary and decimated Munster clans had difficulty mustering an army to join the Ulster and Spanish forces. Donal O'Sullivan Beare was given command of the Munster forces which consisted mainly of soldiers of his clan and those of the O'Driscolls, McSweeneys, and O'Connor Kerry. Daniel O'Sullivan Mor could only contribute token support because of the losses he sustained in the previous years.

The Spanish soldiers were given the responsibility of forming the garrisons for the castles of the O'Driscolls and the O'Sullivans so as to free the Irish troops for the battles to come. The rest of the four thousand Spanish soldiers remained at Kinsale to await the arrival of the Ulster forces. Donal marched to Kinsale with an army of one thousand men. He sent a letter to King Philip swearing allegiance to him as his sovereign. The letter was intercepted by English agents and was later used as reason for denying him pardon.

On December 24, 1601 at the coming of dawn the battle began. It was over in a matter of hours. It was a resounding defeat for the Irish forces. This was due in large part to the reluctance of the Spanish troops to leave the protection of the walled city of Kinsale and join the battle until it was over. O'Neill retreated back to Tyrone with his battered troops. O'Donnell handed over command of his soldiers to his brother and embarked for Spain to plead for more help from King Philip. General Aquila sued for peace and Lord Mountjoy, commander of the English, was only too happy to accept his request. Aquila agreed to surrender the castles his troops were defending. This meant that the O'Sullivans and the O'Driscolls had to fight the Spanish to regain their castles. Donal O'Sullivan wrote to King Philip complaining about the behavior of Aquila. When Aquila returned to Spain he was held in contempt by King Philip and put under house arrest.

Many of the O'Sullivan clan's non-combatants were sent to the island of Dursey to keep them out of harms way. An English force led by a John Bostock attacked the small garrison guarding the island. They butchered the entire population of the island, women, children, and the garrison. They cast their bodies, some while they were still alive, onto the rocks below the cliff overlooking the sea.

It became the responsibility of George Carew, the Lord President of Munster, to eliminate Dunboy castle, the O'Sullivan Beare principle fortress. It was the last rebel stronghold to hold out against the English. Donal was waiting at Ardea for reinforcements and weapons, and gold to pay his troops. He had been promised these by the Spanish envoy from Philip. While he was waiting, Carew's forces consisting of 4000 men and many cannon attacked the small garrison of 143 men left to defend Dunboy while waiting for the return of Donal and the Spanish reinforcements.

A two day bombardment reduced the castle almost to the ground, but the defenders fought on. After two more days of fighting the remaining defenders, having retreated to the cellar of the castle, attempted to surrender. It was finally accepted. All were put to death by hanging the next day, except for Brother Collins, a Jesuit lay brother, who was hung in his home town of Youghal two days later. He had been acting as messenger between the O'Sullivans and King Philip and was not a combatant.

Donal O'Sullivan now realized that the Spanish reinforcements were not coming. It was obvious that all was lost in Munster. Famine conditions now existed and though he had considerable Spanish gold, there was little food available. He and approximately one thousand followers consisting of four hundred soldiers and the rest civilians began a journey to Leitrim to the castle of his friend O'Rouark. He believed that he could hold out longer amongst his northern allies, the O'Donnells and O'Neills.

Carew declared them outlaws and decreed that anyone that aided them would be dealt with as outlaws as well. Throughout the 300 mile trek they were attacked by English forces and Irish that were loyal to Elizabeth. The country-side had been ravaged by war and famine; the people along the way were trying to stay alive themselves. They could ill afford to provide any aid or food. They began the march on December 31, 1602.

This epic march enjoys a proud place in Irish history due to the detailed account of it provided by Philip O'Sullivan Beare, a cousin of Donal O'Sullivan.

Name Variations:  O'Sullivan, Sullivan, Kerry, Sullavan, Sullivant, Sillivant, Silliphant, Sillifant.

One or more of the following publications has been referenced for this article.
The General Armory; Sir Bernard Burke - 1842.
A Handbook of Mottoes; C.N. Elvin - 1860.
Irish Families, Their Names, Arms & Origins; Edward MacLysaght - 1957.
The Surnames of Ireland; Edward MacLynsaght - 1957.
The Book of Irish Families Great and Small.

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