Select O'Sullivan Surname Genealogy

The Gaelic 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 westward 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 the 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 result was defeat.  The O'Sullivan Beare fortress of Dunboy castle was 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.  Morty Oge O’Sullivan Beare, having fled abroad, did return but was 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 and O'Sullivans outside Ireland than within. 

The clan history was first recounted in the Book of Sullivan, 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. 

England.  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 Sullivan 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.

India.  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 India Company.  He was described as being “unburdened 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.

America.  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 years old.  The Sullivan family of Berwick had some distinguished offspring.:
  • one of his sons John was a General in Washington’s army in the 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.
The earliest 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 the 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.

The 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 was
between 1882 and 1892 the 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 circuit.” 

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 James Sullivan was found murdered in a police cell in 1856.

.  Denis and Mary Sullivan came to Canada from Kerry in 1849 at the time of the potato famine, 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 Surrey, 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

Select O'Sullivan Miscellany

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

Select 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 Show.
Ronnie O'Sullivan, the "Rocket," is considered the best snooker player in England today.

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.

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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