O’Sullivan Surname Genealogy

root of O’Sullivan is Suileabhan – with suil meaning
“eye,” dubh possibly “black” or “dark,”
and the diminutive –an acting as a suffix. Some think Suileabhan
means one-eyed, others hawk-eyed.
Suileabhan was a person, born in 862 and a descendant of Finghin the King of Munster in the 7th century. He has been seen as the first of the O’Sullivan line. Many consider that the O’Sullivan clan represents the most senior bloodline of the Gaelic families.
O’Sullivan and Sullivan are the two main spellings today. The “O” in O’Sullivan has been retained or restored in Ireland generally, but has dropped off elsewhere.
Select O’Sullivan Resources on The Internet

Ireland. The
original home of the O’Sullivans was Tipperary. They were driven
from these lands by the Anglo-Normans in the 1190’s and divided into
two main septs:

  • the
    O’Sullivan Mor (the larger or the
    greater) in the Iveagh peninsula in south Kerry
  • and
    the O’Sullivan Beare (from the Beara
    peninsula) on Bantry Bay in west Cork.

The early
O’Sullivan history
was characterized by ongoing feuds with
their neighbors the MacCarthys. But they
generally prospered – at least until
1590’s when they came up against the English. In a final
confrontation in
1601 Donal O’Sullivan Beare had taken command of the Irish Munster
forces and,
with their Spanish allies, they faced the English at Kinsale. The
was defeat. The O’Sullivan Beare fortress of Dunboy castle
then lost. Donal led the retreat of his
troops but he himself
died in 1618.

After the Kinsale
debacle, there were later assaults on O’Sullivan lands by Cromwell’s
troops and
confiscations during the penal years.
Oge O’Sullivan Beare
, having fled abroad, did return but
outlawed. In 1756 he was captured and
executed by British forces and his body towed headless to Cork. Many O’Sullivans at this time or later left
Ireland. There are now more than three times as many Sullivans
O’Sullivans outside Ireland than within.

The clan history was first recounted in the Book of
, but that book disappeared in the early
1800’s. Gary Sullivan’s 2007 book History
of the O’Sullivan Clan
is a modern account.

France. Colonel Dermot
O’Sullivan Mor
was one of the
“Wild Geese” who fought in Irish brigades for France in the 1640’s. The O’Sullivan McCragh branch in Kerry
departed Ireland and acquired Dunderry castle in the Loire valley. These O’Sullivans became the O’Sullivan
chiefs when the last of the O’Sullivan Mors died in 1762.
They remain at Dunderry today.

Charles O’Sullivan of Nantes was the grandson
of an Irish emigrant who was sent to the guillotine in the 1780’s for
being a
Royalist. His brother John, a fencing
master, was tried for the same offence but acquitted.

Almost half of the Sullivans in England in the 1881
census were to be found in London. Their
numbers included Arthur Sullivan, the collaborator in the Gilbert and
operas and E.J. Sullivan the illustrator.
Many Sullivans came to the East End of London in the 1850’s
after the
potato famine. A later Londoner, John
Sullivan, devised the hugely popular TV program Only Fools
and Horses
in the 1980’s.

Laurence Sulivan (not Sullivan) was born in Cork, it
is believed, and arrived in India sometime around 1740.
After marrying the daughter of a rich
merchant, he used this connection to rise through the ranks of the East
Company. He was described as being
by scruples, remorseless, and vindictive.”
In London he directed the company’s affairs during its heyday. Probably through his patronage Sullivan
kinsmen from
Cork became important figures in British rule in India in the late
18th and
early 19th centuries

John O’Sullivan of the
O’Sullivan Beares was an early arrival in America, coming to Virginia
in 1655
as a planter. His father had fled
Ireland with his family after the failure of the 1641 Rebellion. Later generations of these Sullivans migrated
to South Carolina and Alabama.

Owen O’Sullivan left his home in Limerick in 1723 and
settled as a schoolmaster with his wife Margery in the frontier town of
Berwick, Maine. Known as Master John Sullivan, he lived to be 104
old. The Sullivan family
had some distinguished offspring.:

  • one of his sons John was a General in Washington’s army in
    Revolutionary War
  • another son James became Governor of Massachusetts
    in 1807.

  • and a great grandson of James Sullivan was the
    Boston writer Thomas Russell Sullivan

records for Judge Jeremiah Sullivan were in the 1780’s in Augusta
county, Virginia. He was in 1818 an early
settler in Indiana
and his home in Madison, which still stands, is reckoned to have been
first brick
mansion built in the state. He had three
illustrious sons:

  • Algernon
    Sullivan who
    co-founded the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell in New York;
  • and
    Jeremiah and Thomas Sullivan, both Union
    generals during the Civil War.

Tom Sullivan migrated from South Carolina to Mississippi
in the early 1800’s and was the forebear of the Sullivans of Sullivan’s Hollow, said to
be some of
the meanest folks around.

Sullivan arrivals in the 19th century were mainly focused on the big
cities on
the East Coast like Boston. John L.
Sullivan, the son of Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Boston and was
nicknamed the “Boston Strong Boy.” He
1882 and 1892
first world heavyweight boxing champion, having
previously been the king of bare-knuckle boxing

“An interesting point about John L. Sullivan is that he
was a heavy
drinker until he met and married his second wife who helped reform him. He ended up as a speaker on the temperance

James Sullivan from Cork had
an unusual route to America. Convicted
by the British authorities of theft in 1838, he was transported to
Australia. Then, having served out his
sentence in 1849, he and his wife Bridget and their family embarked on
a ship
for San Francisco. Sadly, the Irish were
being victimized by vigilante groups in San Francisco at that time and
Sullivan was found murdered in a police cell in 1856.

Canada. Denis and Mary
Sullivan came to Canada from Kerry in 1849 at the time of the potato
suffering many hardships in their voyage to Quebec.
They made their home first at Pakenham in
Lanark county before their six sons set out for Brudenell in the
wilderness. Also
in 1849 and also from Kerry came Jeremiah Sullivan and his family who
settled with
other Kerry arrivals in Kingsbridge in Huron county.
Three of their sons – Tom, Henry and Jerry –
headed west around 1900 to set up a timber and logging operation in
British Columbia at what came to be known as the Sullivan station.

Edward Sullivan was an Anglican bishop from county
Armagh who took up positions in Canada in the 1850’s and 1860’s. His son Alan Sullivan made his mark in Canada
as a poet and writer of short stories in the 1920’s.

O’Sullivan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

O’Sullivan Names


Donal O’Sullivan was the last independent chief of the O’Sullivan Beare sept.  Owen Roe O’Sullivan who wrote in the 18th century is considered the last of the great Gaelic poets.  Alexander Sullivan was the editor and proprietor of The Nation, a proponent of Irish nationalism in the 19th century.  Louis Sullivan, an architect working in Chicago in the 1880’s, is considered the father of the modern skyscraper.  John L. Sullivan was the first recognized heavyweight boxing champion.  Arthur Sullivan was the composer of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  Ed Sullivan was the American host of the TV Ed Sullivan ShowRonnie O’Sullivan, the “Rocket,” has been considered the best snooker player in England in recent times.

Select Sullivans/O’Sullivans Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 72,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 64,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

O’Sullivan is the #3 ranked surname in Ireland.

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