Select O'Sullivan Miscellany

Here are some O'Sullivan stories and accounts over the years:

Sullivan and O'Sullivan

In Ireland the “O” prefix for O’Sullivan fell into disuse with the strengthening of English rule from the 17th century.  By 1866 only 4% used it.  

The 20th century saw the trend reversed, although the prefix has not been equally restored in all locations.  O’Sullivans were 96% in the Cork area, while in nearby Bantry they are 80% and in the Dublin area about 83%.  The average for all of Ireland is in the order of 89%. 

Outside Ireland, however, Sullivan remains the main spelling.  The following is an estimate of the numbers today.

Numbers (000's)
Elsewhere (1)
(1) Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Early O'Sullivan History

The time-line below shows some O’Sullivan accounts from the Irish annals.  The conflicts with their neighboring McCarthys were a recurring feature:  

1193. Normans forced Sullivans from Knockgraffan to Cork and Kerry.
1214. Sullivan boys killed by McCarthy.
1280. Sullivan united with McCarthy against Normans.
1317. Sullivans rebelled against McCarthy
1320. The Bantry monastery in O'Sullivan's country founded by O'Sullivan from Franciscan friars.
1398. McCarthy killed O'Sullivan the Bold and two sons of O'Sullivan.
1404. War between McCarthy and Sullivan.  Sullivan drowned.
1485. Donal O'Sullivan Beare died.1549. Dermot O'Sullivan, a kind and friendly man to his friends, was burned by gunpowder in his own castle

Dunboy Castle and the O'Sullivan Curse

Dunboy castle was built on the Beara peninsula in county Cork in the 15th century and shortly afterwards became the primary residence of the O’Sullivan Beare.Its positionenabled the clan to control the sea fisheries off the Irish coast and to collect sizeable taxes from Irish and Continental fishing vessels sheltering in the haven.

In 1549 the chief of the clan accidentally blew himself up with gunpowder there.  True to humorous form, the Irish memorialized him with the nickname Diarmuid a Phudair, or “Dermot of the Powder.”

After the O’Sullivan defeat at Kinsale in 1601, the English laid siege to Dunboy castle.   It fell after a bloody battle. 
The 58 survivors of the two-week siege were executed in the nearby market square. The English then destroyed all of the remaining standing walls of the castle with gunpowder.

In the 1700’s the English Government granted the O’Sullivan lands at Dunboy to the Puxley family.  The O’Sullivans were outraged and foretold misery and bad luck to the interlopers. The legend of the O’Sullivan curse was born.

The Puxley family brought copper mining to the area and became quite wealthy as a result. The manor grew along with every Puxley generation until the copper dried up and tragedy stuck the Puxley family.   Henry Puxley was orchestrating a new addition to the Puxley mansion when his wife died in childbirth.  He was so distraught by her death that he packed his bags and left Ireland forever. The house was unfinished and left in the hands of caretakers.  Then in 1921 the IRA, convinced that the house was meant to house English troops, torched Puxley Manor.

The Dunboy estate remained abandoned for years.  In the early 2000’s an investment group started building a new luxury hotel on the site of the ruined estate.  However, in 2008 the worldwide financial crash put the project in a tailspin and it was abandoned.  The O’Sullivan curse had struck again

Morty Oge O'Sullivan Beare

In the Beara area along the shores of Bantry Bay, it was said that a thousand traditions hanged on the name of Morty Oge.  He was the last of the chiefs of the princely line of the O'Sullivan Beares and was reputedly as picturesque as the wild mountain scenery of his native home.  

At the time of his birth his family had been broken in fortune.  So he went abroad, as did many of the “Wild Geese” at that time.  He fought for the Spanish in the Austrian War of Succession. An official recorded him in 1738 as “Muirtead Oge O' Sullivan of Eyeries in this country” and he was presented with a richly mounted sword for his bravery during the fighting.  He was a dark, handsome man with a fine figure and, according to the local tradition, “the finest man in the Irish Brigade.”

Around 1750 he returned to his native Ireland and, with his boat and the support of a body of some trusted men, engaged in smuggling.  Each of his trips to the French coast meant scores of new recruits for the Irish “Wild Geese” and a return cargo of smuggled goods. Morty Oge’s activities attracted the attention of a revenue agent named John Puxley.  At one point they met and John Puxley was shot and killed.  After that Morty Oge was a marked man.  

He escaped to France.  Although outlawed he still managed to make frequent visits home to his family.  However, on this final visit in 1754, he was betrayed and captured by the English.  He was executed and his body towed headless to Cork.  The Lament for O’Sullivan Beare commemorates him.

Father Daniel Sullivan of Ballylongford

Father Daniel Sullivan was the parish priest of Ballylongford in county Kerry from 1823 until his death in June 1832 at the time of a cholera epidemic.

Before his death he had expressed a wish of being buried inside the church.  Suspecting, correctly, that the cholera epidemic would cause a problem with this, a group of Ballylongford people secretly buried him at night, at two o’clock in the morning, inside the church.   The next day a Catholic magistrate ordered his body disinterred and then buried in the church grounds.

This created much controversy.  The body was indeed exhumed and re-buried "amidst the execrations and yells of hundreds, who certainly, had it not been for the presence of the police, never would have allowed the remains of their priest to have been treated with such indignity."

The Sullivan Family of Berwick, Maine

Owen O’Sullivan and Margery Brown both arrived in York, Maine in 1723 on the same ship from Limerick. Owen was 33 years old at the time and Margery a nine year old orphan.  Twelve years later Owen O’Sullivan was Master John Sullivan and he married Margery Brown despite their 20 year difference in age.  They made their home in the Pine Hill area of Berwick, Maine.

John did not involve himself in the physical labor of running his farm, but instead spent his time studying and reading.   While Master Sullivan poured over his books, she managed the farm, the household and the six children.  These children inherited the intelligence of their father and the grit of their mother.   Four were Revolutionary War heroes and two were Governors.  She used to say: “I have dropped corn many a day with two governors, a judge in my arms and a general on my back.”

The children John and Margery Sullivan raised in Berwick, Maine were as follows:

  • Benjamin (1736-1767) who served in colonial navy, but was lost at sea.
  • Daniel (1738-1782) who fought in the Revolutionary War, but was captured by British soldiers and later died in a prison ship in New York harbor.
  • John (1740-1795) who distinguished himself as General Sullivan during the Revolutionary War.
  • James (1744-1808) who was Judge James Sullivan and Governor of Massachusetts in 1807.
  • Mary (1752-1827) who was their only daughter and was, like her father, a well-known schoolteacher.
  • and Eben (born in 1753) who fought in the Revolutionary War, was captured, but eventually released.

Sullivan's Hollow

When Tom Sullivan first settled there in the early 1800’s from South Carolina, this part of southern Mississippi was still Choctaw territory.  According to family lore, Pappy Tom and his sons built their house by cutting pine logs in the daytime and assembling them after dark, using large bonfires for light.  After clearing the land, the Sullivans farmed it.  By 1830 they were well established in what became known in Smith county as Sullivan’s Hollow. 

For the next century Sullivan’s Hollow developed a famous, some would say notorious, reputation for being “the meanest, roughest, toughest place around.”  The meanest of the Sullivans there was probably “Wild Bill” Sullivan in the early 1900’s:

"He killed numerous individuals, some say as many as fifty, although seldom could anyone name a victim.  Others said he was the meanest son-of-a-gun that ever walked the face of the earth and that he took his grandfather's place as the tyrant of the valley. His mother called him lead-proof, the clan called him wild, and his enemies called him everything their imaginative ire could think of.  He drank heavily and brawled weeknights as well as on Saturdays, fouling the air with curses and drunken shouts."

It was generally agreed that few blacks were welcome in the Hollow.  Once Wild Bill Sullivan caught a black man, he would tie a bundle of bobwire to his back and make him get down on all fours and crawl a mile, before telling him to leave the Hollow.

There has been both a book written (by Chester Sullivan) and a documentary film made about Sullivan’s Hollow.

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