O'Sullivan Mor Family Crest Photo by: Google Images

Irish roots: The O'Sullivan clan


O'Sullivan Mor Family Crest Photo by: Google Images

See our photo gallery for some famous O'Sullivans!

Irish derivation: Ó Súilleabháin

Name meaning: "Descendant of the hawk/dark eyed one"

Counties associated with the name: Cork, Clare, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford  

Coat of arms motto: The steady hand to victory

Interesting Facts: 1. The term “Manifest Destiny” was coined by a journalist named O’Sullivan, who supported the expansion of the United States into the western territories. 2. The father of the skyscaper was a Sullivan who also originated the famous architectural axiom "form follows function." 3. The great Chicago Fire of 1871 was started by a Sullivan. 4. The first tank ever acquired by the state of Israel was a gift from an O'Sullivan 5. First heavy weight boxing champion of the world was a Sullivan 6. The man hit by the most lightening strikes was a Sullivan 7. First American woman ever to walk in space was a Sullivan. 

Famous O'Sullivans: Maureen O'Sullivan (1911-1998) Irish born actress; Denis O'Sullivan (1948-) Irish golfer; Eddie O'Sullivan (1958-) head coach of Irish rugby union team; John Francis O'Sullivan (1850-1911) Irish-American awarded the medal of honor during the Indian Wars; Ed Sullivan (1901-1974) American television personality; Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) teacher of Helen Keller. See below for more!


The O'Sullivan Clan of Munster has produced fine military leaders, sporting heroes, politicians, movie stars, songwriters, and even a space walker, as the following history of one of the most popular Irish names illustrates. The O'Sullivans or Sullivans are one of the most populous of the Munster families. In Irish O'Sullivan is O'Sileabháin. And there is no doubt that origin of the name comes from the word Sil (eye) but whether it is to be taken as "one-eyed" or "hawkeyed" is in dispute among scholars.

Originally lords of the territory around Cahir, County Tipperary, in the 12th century, they migrated to what is now West Cork and South Kerry, where the name is still very prominent. The ancient family had two main branches called O'Sullivan Mor (or Great), whose chieftain held Dunkerron Castle in Kenmare, and O'Sullivan Beare, whose seat was at Dunboy Castle on Bantry Bay.

In 1602 the O'Sullivans were among the Gaelic families who joined with Hugh O'Neill in his rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Following the defeat of the Irish forces at Kinsale, the O'Sullivans first withstood a siege at Dunboy Castle, and then, led by Donal O'Sullivan Beare (1560-1618), the family and their followers began a famous march of 200 miles on foot to the safety of the northern territories of their allies. The majority perished on the journey.

The family later emigrated to Spain where they have distinguished service to the Spanish court and Army. During the 18th century the O'Sullivans produced several famous poets, among them the remarkable Owen Roe O'Sullivan (1748-1784), who was one of the most popular poets and songwriters of his time. A wandering laborer and schoolteacher, he was forced to leave Ireland due to his misconduct with a married woman. In his haste, he was pressed into the British Navy. Despite his attempts to escape the navy, he was commended for his bravery in several sea-battles against the French. Returning to Ireland, and to his wild ways, he was killed in a scuffle with the servants of a Captain Cronin whom he had lampooned in his poetry.

In Ireland the writer Maurice O'Sullivan (1904-1950) is best remembered for Twenty Years A Growing, a description of growing up on the Blasket Islands off the coast of County Kerry. Among the many other artistic Sullivans deserving of a mention were Sir Arthur Sullivan, the music-writer of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan partnership; and also Louis Henri Sullivan (1856-1924), who is said to be the father of modernism in American architecture. Born in Boston, he practiced in Chicago, where he built some of the most celebrated buildings of his time, including the Auditorium Building.

Sullivans have also been prominent in the world of sport. James Edward Sullivan (1860-1914), born in New York, was one of the founders of the Amateur Athletic Union of the U.S., formed to counteract the sham amateurism which had developed under the direction of the National Association of Amateur Athletes of America. Within years the latter association disappeared and Sullivan's Association governed the sport. In practice Sullivan himself governed the sport since his decision was final in all matters. The respect for his integrity and sincerity was such that there was no real opposition to his dominance. He was also director of the American Olympic Teams from 1906 to 1912. When the U.S. team returned from the 1906 Olympics, the banners read "Welcome home J.E. Sullivan and the American Team!"

Probably the most famous sporting Sullivan was the boxer John L. Sullivan (1858-1918). Born in Boston, he began his boxing career by responding to a challenge from a prize-fighter in a Boston theater. He himself became a prize-fighter and later world champion and dominated the ring for ten years until he was finally beaten by Corbett in 1892. He was a popular hero, his fans at one time presenting him with a $10,000diamond-studded belt.

Another popular Sullivan hero was Tim Daniel Sullivan (1862-1913). Born in extreme poverty in New York, he rose from paper-boy to bar-owner to theater entrepreneur. As a politician, his rise was also rapid-from member of the assembly at 23, to a senator at 32. He was the uncrowned king of the lower East Side of New York and gave famous turkey dinners for 5000-7000 people each Christmas, at which all those invited were given presents of shoes and socks. Although the source of at least part of his fortune was through a levy on gambling, his involvement was not seriously questioned. One of the most magnetic personalities in American politics, he was elected to Congress in 1902 but retired in 1906. Tragically, he became senile and after wandering from his home was killed by a train in 1913.

Some 279 Sullivans served in the American Revolutionary Army, including Captain Sullivan of the Privateer Willing Maid, and Lieutenant Jacob Sullivan of the New York Militia. In World War II, five Sullivan brothers perished after their ship, the U.S.S. Juneau, was sunk during the battle of Guadalcanal. The U.S. Navy named a new ship, The Sullivans (DDG68), in honor of the brother in August 1995. An earlier destroyer, The Sullivans (DD537), was in service from 1943-1965.

Of the many Sullivan families prominent in American history, the most remarkable must be that of John Sullivan. Born in Limerick in 1696, he was a teacher in New England for 60 years and a major local influence for independence. He was the father of a governor of Massachusetts, of the first judge appointed in New Hampshire, of a major general in the Revolutionary Army, and of four other sons who were officers in that army. His grandsons included a governor of Maine, a New Hampshire United States senator, and an attorney general of New Hampshire.

In the entertainment field, Maureen O'Sullivan, born in County Roscommon, has enjoyed a remarkable acting career from the Golden Age of Hollywood to more recent film hits such as Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1984) and Woody Allen's Hannah and her Sisters (1986), in which she co-starred with her daughter, Mia Farrow. In television, Ed Sullivan of the long-running show of the same name is considered one of the all-time greats, and will be remembered for showcasing the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

In the space age, Kathryn Sullivan, born in New Jersey, became the first woman to walk in space during the October 1984 flight of the space shuttle Challenger. Kathryn's grandfather hailed from Kerry. Notable on the business front is Thomas J. Sullivan, Executive Vice President of McGraw-Hill, the multimedia publishing and information services company that boasts revenues of $2 billion. Sullivan's parents are from County Cork.

See our photo gallery for some famous O'Sullivans!


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