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Sullivan Family History

“Lam foisteanac abu”

The gentle hand to victory

Ó Súleabháin- anglicised as Sullivan, and meaning either ‘one-eyed’ or ‘hawk-eyed’, according to MacLysaght ('Irish Families' 1980) . Woulfe, however, in ‘Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall’ (1923) says it is ‘súil-dubhán' and means 'black-eyed'.

Ó Súleachán- originally anglicised as Sullehan and Sullahan, is mentioned by both Woulfe and MacLysaght as being absorbed by Sullivan.

(O) Sullivan is heavily concentrated in Munster, their original homeland being in south Co Tipperary, just above the town of Cahir on the river Suir. In the period following the Norman incursions they spread into Cos Cork, Kerry and Limerick, where their numbers remain. Descended from the legendary Eoghan Mor, they were of the leading families of the Eoghanacht. It was in the extreme south west of Munster that they developed into the powerful dynasties of O' Sullivan Mor and O' Sullivan Beare. They appear in the Irish Annals from this period onwards. The north shore of Kenmare Bay, Bantry and the Beare Peninsular belonged to these powerful clans. From these territories they fought with the Elizabethan Conquistadores like Grey and Raleigh with bitter determination.

O' Sullahan, which was also anglicised Sullivan, was a name of Cos Longford, Cavan and Louth.

In Sir William Petty's '1659 Census' of Ireland the following appear in the list of Principal Irish Names:

In Co. Cork: city, O' Sulleuane (19 families); Kinnalea Barony, Sullivane (22); Kierycurrihy Bar. Sullevane (10); Kinalmeaky Bar, Sullivane (25); Ibawne and Barrymore, Sullevane (11); Coursies Bar. Suliuane (11); West Carbery, Sullivane (37) Beere and Bantry, Sullivane (9). Barrets Barony, O Sulevane (26); Barrymore O Sullivane (19); Kilmore and Orrery, O' Sulevane (27).

In Co Kerry, Trughanach Barony, O' Sulevane has 24 families: Iraghticonnor has Sulleuan (9); Maquinihy, Sullivane (8); Glauneroghty Barony, Sulliuan (26).

I found no trace of them in Petty's returns for Co Tipperary. Nor have I found any name resembling Sullivan or Sullahan in Petty for Cos Longford and Louth. There are no returns for Cavan in Petty.

By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1848-1860) of households, most Sullivan households are in counties: Cork (3630) Kerry (2567) Limerick (486) Tipperary (272) and Waterford (199)

(O) Sullivan has been the most common surname in Munster for some time, and is third most numerous in all Ireland.

Two famous (O) Sullivans (among so many!):
Donal O' Sullivan Beare (1560-1618) a great military leader, who is remembered for his amazing march to Ulster after the defeat at Kinsale.
Colonel John William Sullivan (b 1700) was Bonny Prince Charlie's adviser and supporter in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

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Areas of origin

  • Tipperary, Munster, Ireland

    Learn more about Tipperary on Ireland101

  • Cork, Munster, Ireland

    Learn more about Cork on Ireland101

  • Kerry, Munster, Ireland

    Learn more about Kerry on Ireland101