O’Sullivan – descendants of 3rd century royalty

History of the Irish name O'Sullivan. Image copyright Ireland Calling

O’Sullivan is the third most popular surname in Ireland and the most common to have reinstated the Gaelic ‘O’ prefix to the name.

The O’Sullivans originally come from the Munster region of Ireland. They are descended from Eoghan Mor, whose son Olioll Olum was the King of Munster in the 3rd century.

Eoghan Mor is also an ancestor of the MacCarthys, O’Keeffes and O’Callaghans.

Dark eyed or one eyed?

The name O’Sullivan derives from O’Sileabhin. The word ‘sil’ means eye and scholars believe that O’Sileabhin means either ‘one eyed’, ‘dark eyed’ or ‘hawk eyed’.

In the 1100s, the O’Sileabhins were Lords in Cahir, County Tipperary. They later split into two septs and spread further afield. The O’Sullivan Mor sept settled in what is now South Kerry and the O’Sullivan Beare went to West Cork.

The motto on the O’Sullivan coat of arms reads ‘Lam Foisteanac Abu’ which means ‘The steady hand to victory’.

Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I

In 1602 Donal O’Sullivan Beare joined forces with the O’Neills and led his clan in the rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. They had been supported by the King of Spain. However, Spanish general Juan del Águila, surrendered.

O’Sullivan elected to fight on and his men were under siege at Dunboy Castle, but they were able to withstand the attack.

O’Sullivan then led them 200 miles to safety in the territory of his allies, the O’Rourkes. Many of the men died of starvation or in battles during the journey but O’Sullivan is still seen as a hero for his resistance to the Queen’s army.

He later took many of his family members to Spain after being invited by King Philip III. Many O’Sullivans served in the Spanish army and navy.

He is the first person with the name O’Sullivan to be recorded in writing. His exploits were noted in the book ‘Records of Dunboy, Bantry Bay’.

Owen Roe O’Sullivan

The poet Owen Roe O’Sullivan was born in 1748. He was a talented songwriter and poet but had to flee to England when he was caught having an affair with a married woman. He joined the British navy but regretted doing so and often tried to leave.

Ronnie O'Sullivan. Photo copyright Anne Marie Forker CC3

Despite this he was an excellent navy man and was commended for his bravery during battles with the French. Ironically, his death came in a fight, not against the French military but with servants of Captain Cronin who had been the subject of criticism in O’Sullivan’s poetry.

Famous O’Sullivans throughout the world

Katherine D Sullivan, from Paterson, New Jersey, became the first American woman to walk in space on 11th Oct 1984. She was part of STS-41-G, which was the 13th flight of NASA’s space shuttle program. It was also the first mission to involve two women on the crew.

The first heavy weight boxing champion of the world was ‘Boston Strong Boy’ John L Sullivan. World titles didn’t exist when he was active and he was honoured as the first World Champion many years later for his defeat of Charley Mitchell in 1888.

Ronnie O’Sullivan was born in Essex, England. He is a six time world snooker champion and is considered by many experts to be the most naturally gifted player of all time.

History of Irish surnames