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O'Sullivan Crest


Story of Donal O'Sullivan Beare

The Last Chieftain, the story of Donal O'Sullivan Beare. Visit our book store for your copy

O'Sullivan Clan

The origin of the name O’Sullivan

Michael O'Sullivan

Michael O'Sullivan, Chieftain of O'Sullivan Clan

Calling All Beara People and O’ Sullivans to Dunboy Grounds, Castletownbere on the 26th of July at 2.00pm

Dunboy event

A once off festival will be held in the grounds of Dunboy Castle on the 26th of July at 2.00pm.
The opening ceremony will include horses in a parade on the grounds of the Castle. The Beara vintage car club will be present at the Castle grounds. The event will highlight a music and dancing session, poetry by famous National and Local Poet Leanne O’ Sullivan, a tasting of the new Dunboy Beer accompanied by locally produced world famous Milleens Cheese.

A large O’ Sullivan Clan Gathering will be held on the day and an update on the March of O' Sullivan Beara walking trail to Leitrim will be presented. A barbeque and local food will be available on the day. This event will suit all ages and all are welcome. We hope this will be a great Beara event in a spectacular setting, celebrating the heritage and culture of the Beara Peninsula. The event will be free to the public, including parking. For more information, please email

The surname O’Sullivan or in Irish Ó Súilleabháin traces its origin from Míl Espáine or Milisius, King of the Milesians (or Celts), King of Spain through the line of his son, Heber, first absolute King of Ireland 504 BC.  The surname O’Sullivan is derived from the words Súil (eye) and abháin, (one) and in its Irish form Ó Súillabháin means descendant of the one eyed or descendant of the hawk-eyed.  The O’Sullivans were descendants of Eoghan (Owen) Mór, the father of the famous Olioll Olum, celebrated King of Munster in the third Century.  Olioll Olum had three sons, Eoghan, Cormac Cais and Cian, and by his will he commanded that the kingdom should be ruled alternately by one of the descendants of Eoghan and Cormac Cais.  From Eoghan, the eldest son of Olioll Olum, descended the Eoganachts or Eugenians, who were styled Kings of Cashel.  The Eoghanachts possessed Desmond or south Munster, the present counties of Cork and Kerry; they also held most of the present county of Tipperary.  The O’Sullivans were one of the principal families of the race of Eogan or Eoghanacht (i.e. descendants of Eoghan) of Munster.  There were three principal branches of the O’Sullivan Clan:-
1. O’Sullivan Beara: This branch of the family had the ancient territory of Beara, now the baronies of Beare and Bantry in the county of Cork, and were called O’Sullivan Beara and styled princes of Beara.
2. O’Sullivan Mór: This branch of the family were lords of Dunkerron, they possessed the barony of Dunkerron near the river Kenmare and their chief seat was the castle of Dunkerron.
3. O’Sullivan of Croc Raffan: This branch of the O’Sullivans were chiefs of Knockgraffan in Tipperary and the territory they possessed in Tipperary was situated in the barony of Middlethird, between Cashel and Cahir.
The O’Sullivan family motto is Lamh foistenach abu meaning ‘The steady hand to victory’.
The name O’Sullivan and its variant forms are the third most numerous surname in Ireland.  There are an estimated 41,500 bearers of the name resident in the island at the present time.  However, we must not forget that there are possibly ten times that total of O’Sullivans living outside the shores of Ireland, in the two Americas, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Europe, the African Continent and to a lesser extent Asia and the rest of the world.  There is an O’Sullivan family in every county in Ireland, but the main branch of the family is associated with the province of Munster.
The O’Sullivan’s of Munster.
The O’Sullivan’s of Munster are descended from Olioll Olum, King of Munster, through his descendants the Eoganachts to Aodh Dubh were the first princes of Eoghanacht Mór, Cnoc Graffan, in the Barony of Middlethird and their lands included Clonmel, Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir, and Cashel.
O’Heerins verse recalls their former glory:
O’Sullivan who delights not in violence
Rules over the extensive Eoghanacht of Munster
About Knockgraffan he obtained his lands
After the victory of conflicts and battles.
The name of the O’Sullivans territory in Tipperary is still retained in the parish of Knockgraffan, where the O’Sullivans had their principle seat, and in which is an ancient mound or rath near the river Suir, which was a residence of the Kings of Munster.  In 1193 the Normans forced the O’Sullivans of Knockgraffon to exchange their fertile lands in Tipperary for the mountains in Cork and Kerry.  The Normans later built a castle on the symbolic rath of Knockgraffan depriving the O’Sullivans of their historic seat of power.  The O’Sullivans driven out of their territories in Tipperary moved south and by conquest took possession of the greater part of the Baronies of Glanerought, all Dunkerron and a considerable portion of Iveragh in Kerry.  From their first coming into Cork and Kerry the clan divided into two great branches – O’Sullivan Mór and O’Sullivan Beare.  The O’Sullivan Beare took the lands south of the Kenmare River, which consisted of the Baronies of Beare, Bantry and Glanerought.  The seat of the Chief of the O’Sullivan Beare branch was at Dunboy and he also held the Castles at Bantry and Carriganass.   The territory of the O’Sullivan Mór was more extensive.  It was bounded by the shore of Kenmare Bay from Caherdaniel to Kenmare in the east, in the north by a line drawn from Kenmare to Killorglin, in the west by the shoreline of Dingle Bay, in the south by the coastline from Derrynane Bay to Valentia Island.  The principal castle of the Chief O’Sullivan Mór at Dunkerron was two miles west of Kenmare town.  Dunloe Castle, six miles from Killarney, was also built by O’Sullivan Mór in the thirtieth century and was used to guard the only pass (Gap of Dunloe) which gave access from north Kerry to his country.


Having spent some time resting with O’Rourke he went to Ulster and accompanied Hugh O’Neill to London to ask pardon and restoration of his lands from James I.  Like O’Neill, O’Sullivan was also refused a formal pardon and on returning to Ireland he made preparations to sail for Spain with his wife and family.  He sailed for Spain in 1604 and was received with open arms by King Philip III of Spain, who made him a knight of St James and Count of Berehaven and gave him a monthly income. He lived for fourteen years in exile in Spain under the patronage of the King, until he was struck down by a servant’s knife in July 1618 in Madrid.  His son Donal died fighting at the siege of Belgrade in the service of France.  Donal’s brother Dermot, who had been on the march with him to Leitrim, also travelled to Spain with him.  This Dermot O’Sullivan brought his wife, son Donald and his two daughters, Helen and Nora, to Spain with him, where he lived to the age of 100 years and is buried in the Franciscan Church in Corunna. 
Philip O’Sullivan Beare commonly known as Don Philip, son of Dermot O’Sullivan Beare and nephew of Donal O’Sullivan Beare was born 1590 at his father’s castle in Dursey Island.  He was sent to Spain 1602 as hostage to King Philip III in return for agreed aid to the O’Sullivans.  Having received his education at Compostellan he joined the Spanish Navy and served his time aboard the Spanish ships of war.  In 1619 he was aboard the squadron requested to escort the fleet carrying treasure to Cape St Vincent.  His written accounts of their action against Barbery Pirates make interesting reading, and his literary talents were beginning to show.  He soon devoted himself to writing and his important work Historia Catholicae IberniaeCompendum produced in Lisbon in 1621 is the story of the Elizabethan Wars written as he heard them from his uncles, his father and others of their time – details of Donal’s epic march, the battles, the hunger, and heroism is all there, it also contains details of the pilgrimage to St Patricks Purgatory, the English in Ireland from the Anglo Norman invasion to 1588, and a history of O’Neill and O’Donnell’s wars.  Patricanna Deces and the Life of St Patrick and his numerous other books were all written in Latin.  He remained, although exiled, deeply devoted to Ireland.  The biggest cross he had to bear in exile was the death of his near relatives in a short space of time.  His sister Helen was drowned while on a voyage home to Ireland, his brother Daniel was killed fighting the Turks and his parents died within a couple of years of each other.  His death in 1660 was recorded by Father Peter Talbot, later Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, as follows:
'The Earl of Berehaven is dead and left only one daughter of twelve years to inherit his titles in Ireland and his goods, here which amount to 100,000 crowns.’

USS The Sullivans

USS The Sullivans being refuelled at sea, and below achored in Berehaven

USS The Sullivans

USS The Sullivans paying a courtesy visit to Berehaven

USS The Sullivans with Bere Island



Historic March of 1603

This famous and epic march undertaken by O' Sullivan Bere to Leitrim through the Counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and eventually Leitrim arose as a result of the Irish and the Spanish defeat in the Battle of Kinsale at the hands of the Crown forces. The Battle of Kinsale began on the 17th of October 1601 with the 3400 Spanish soldiers under the command of Aquilla supported by O'Sullivan Bere, O'Driscoll and the O'Connors of Kerry. Aquilla surrended on the 12th January 1602 and handed over the four Spanish defended castles along the South West Coast. Donal Cam, chieftain of the O'Sullivan Bere Clan rushed back to Dunboy and began to fortify the castle against an attack that started on June 6th and lasted 11 days with the Crown forces storming the castle and bombarding it with cannon-fire.

Harassed by the Crown forces and having lost his lands and his herds of cattle and sheep, he left the Beara peninsula and the Bay of Bantry, where the French invasion took place in 1796, to begin the long march to Leitrim to meet the O'Rourkes.


Accompanying him were 1,000 men, women and children representing the first large-scale exodus of people from Beara peninsula region. When the Beara men travelled from West Cork as well as his followers were members from other clans O'Collins, McAuliffe, O'Rourke, Fitspatrick, McGuire, O'Keeffe, O'Donoghues,O'Driscoll, McCarthy, McSweeney, Carrs, Quigleys and Naughtons. In the middle of January 1603 they finally reached their destination with only 35 people remaining, many settling along the route and been known since then in these localities as the Bearas.


After Dunboy (the home of the O'Sullivan Bere Clan) and Dursey Island castles and their defenders were wiped out in June 1602, O'Sullivan Bere went on a campaign of guerrilla warfare around West Cork, where he took at least six castles. By December 1602 Donal Cam and his followers were camped for the winter in Glengarriff. Crown forces, under Wilmot, attacked and took his creacht, 4000 cattle and 2000 sheep. Faced with overwhelming odds and starvation, the O'Sullivans left Beara on their epic march to Leitrim.

'The March of O'Sullivan Beare' by Lucius J. Emerson. 'March into Oblivion'
by Michael J. Carroll

Beara to Breifne
by Donal Stùrthachain

  These books are available from various sources including some local bookshops and craft shops.  
  Videos on the O'Sullivan clan click here  

World premiere of Aidan Dooley’s new one man show

O ‘Sullivan Beara - The last Gaelic Chieftain

Aidan Dooley is bringing his new show to Gougane Barra this summer.
His previous work TOM CREAN – ANTARCTIC EXPLORER is a worldwide success. A tale of an Irish hero forgotten for decades.
Aidan awakens again another hero in our midst.
O‘Sullivan Beare, is a great hero of our Gaelic traditions. He represents the pivotal changes of life in Ireland prior to the last major change in our governance. The only Chieftain never to surrender!

We all know and have heard the name now let this new theatre show bring him to life!

ARTISTS OUTLINE for the proposed production of
O ‘Sullivan Beara - The last Gaelic Chieftain

Following on from the artistic success of TOM CREAN - Antarctic Explorer
I Aidan Dooley am embarking on another one person presentation of an unsung Irish Hero.
I will present ‘O’Sullivan Beara’ in the first person in dialogue with the audience.
I will use Celtic iconography in the set design – hanging cloths particularly and incorporate myths and stories of ancient Ireland to expand on this exceptional story. He is our last Chieftain before this Islands Angleisation. I will beg the question of the Irish Chiefs, of their complicity in the years of surrender and regrant, for personal profit. Was it ignorance? Many were unaware of how these Tudor laws would slowly erode their rights of Kingship and eventually lead to the demise of the Brehon way and the laws of Tanistry, which had been in governance here for two thousand years. This, along with the strangulation of the age long trade with Spain and France, the slow but steady dependence on a mercantile connection with England and The Tudor’s fear of an invasion of England by Spain through Ireland, led to a punishing application of Tudor laws in the later part of the 16th Century. This led to the rebellions of the Desmonds and then the Great O’Neill which involved O’Sullivan Beara.
O’SullivanBeara was used by Queen Elizabeth as an example to the other Irish Chiefs as to what they could expect if they rebelled again. His Castles were destroyed, his people slaughtered, his cattle taken, while all of the other Munster Chiefs were pardoned. His tragic long march (retreat or victorious salute) with the remnants of his clan and army to Breffni over 2 weeks in the winter, is a feat of endurance, guile and leadership.
He represents the pivotal changes of Gaelic life prior to this last major change.
The show will explore, using the above mentioned myths and history to tell how the land has changed hands many many times in the centuries and milennia before. Who were they? The Firbolgs – The Tuath de Dannan – The Nemediansetc etc. How occupation and assimilation has occurred many times but our burning culture lives through. We are a combination of it all, good and bad, but who ‘we are – we are!’ We are ‘The Gael’ and while we may not quite be the same as ‘The Gael’ in 1601, we are still here. Therein lies the hope and the message in this performance.
The performance will tell the story of O’Sullivan Beara’s fight to possess the land of Beara following his fathers murder – his driven legal argument with his uncle to win it back – his disillisionment with the Colonists when they granted him only half – and thus his decision to put his military strength behind Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell when the Spanish landed at Kinsale. His eloquent letters to Philip of Spain voicing his brotherhood with the King and their joint Milesian roots. Why the defeat at Kinsale happened will be explored and his significant attempt to keep the momentum of the Gaelic rebellion in the ascendancy in the months following Kinsale. Its consequences to the Beara lands and castles – the siege of Dunboy where 3500 of the 4000 attacking soldiers were Irish and how it wasn’t an English army that defeated The Beara but a combination of Irish Chiefs in liason with them for their own political gain.
“There was never a gaelic nation only a gaelic people” Sean O’Faolain

Finally his flight to Spain and the lifelong efforts to convince the Spanish to invade again. Such was his continued annoyance to the English Crown that they had him assassinated in 1618 in Madrid by a double agent by the name of ‘Sir John Bath of Drumconda’, earning him £500 for the deed. Yes The O’Sullivan Beara was a thorn in their side right up to his end.

He was the leader of the steadily increasing Irish community in Galicia, where ironically the Milesians Brothers had sailed from to Eriu, two thousand years before. He is responsible for the creation of a school for young men in the university of Santiago, later becoming a famous seminary of Santiago de Campostella.
My hope is to tell his story and in doing to tangentally question who/what we are as a people.
His story deserves to be told.


A link that might be of interest: The Beara Historical Society

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