O’Sullivan Kerry & Beara

I get a large number of queries and consultations on Sullivan/O'Sullivan families both in Kerry and in the Kerry Catholic Diocese of the Beara Peninsula, so I thought they needed a blog of their own.  For the very few of you who don't know the importance of the O'Sullivans to this part of Ireland, I would refer you to Library Ireland or if you want to read of the historic march of Dónal Cam O'Sullivan Beara in 1602:

'They had set out from Glengarriff a fortnight before, one thousand in number; and that morning only thirty-five entered O'Rourke's castle: eighteen armed men, sixteen servants, and one woman, the wife of the chief's uncle, Dermot O'Sullivan. A few others afterwards arrived in twos and threes; all the rest had either perished I or dropped behind from fatigue, sickness, or wounds.'

In Griffiths Valuation 1852 there were 4,850 Sullivan families in Kerry.  and 1753 families in the Barony of Bear, Cork.  In the 1901 Census of Ireland there were 11,081 individual Sullivan people in Kerry and in 1911 there were 9634.

So you can see the problems when trying to research and find your own particular Sullivan.   In the 18th and 19th century, the O'Sullivans (as they are now properly titled) themselves found a way to differentiate the many Sullivan families - by adopting 'branch' names.  In effect each family in these  generations, and in a lot of cases to the present day,  adopted what some would call a 'nickname'.  It was usually some name that would denote one family from another.  Whether it was to do with the colour of their hair,  their occupation, or their disposition, this branch name was what the individual family, daughter, son, father, grandfather, great & great grandfather, was known by.   As we had more of an 'aural'  interpretation of names than a visual one in those times, some emigrants became known by their branch names in their country of adoption.  This can cause total confusion and needs to be understood by every O'Sullivan descendant

Distribution of Sullivans Griffiths Valuation

For instance I have spent hours looking for a Margaret Cooper who was one of the Kerry Girls sent to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme.   Quite by accident, after hitting a brick wall at every turn, I discovered that she was in face Margaret O'Sullivan (Cooper).   A few weeks ago again I spent hours looking for a 'Downs' family in Kilgarvan to discover that I should have been looking for an O'Sullivan (Donn).  When this family emigrated to the U.S. and were asked on marriage for their mother's name they said 'Donn' (dark) and this was interpreted in the marriage register as 'Downs'

I was very lucky recently to acquire a copy of the Annals of Beara (Vol 1) by Riobard O'Dwyer, N.T. and by going through this I was able to extract a large number of the 'branch' names of these various O'Sullivans, with just a few here:

O’Sullivan (Gow) - Blacksmith

O’Sullivan (Suonish)- Peaceful

O’Sullivan (Hurrig) - Marshland

O’Sullivan (Cumba) - Descendant of Irish Brigade who fought for France in 17th century

O’Sullivan (Seer) - Tradesman

O’Sullivan (Barrule) - Opinionated!

O’Sullivan (Rua) - Red haired

O’Sullivan (Ukirre) - Weaver

O’Sullivan (Vallig) - Bealach or passage way

O’Sullivan (Fune) - Fair haired

O’Sullivan (Shearhig) - Descendant of Shearhig (Jeffrey)

A very good website on the O'Sullivan Clan with many more of these branch names here

November 2017 Addendum:   More Sullivan branch names from the Killorglin area Ahane,Aharkugh/Aherkugh/Ahurkugh/Aharkagh/Arhakra,Aye/Aii,Balardus, Baltinny/Battinny,Bane/Bawn, Brack, Buss, Buye/Bweey, Coarthu, Cassure, Coasclagh, Cuck/cock, Darragh/Darrig. Dillagh, Dirreen, Dirtagh, Donihy/Dorohy/Dorogha, Duff/duve, Fiely, Gaunka/Gaunkagh/Gauncough, Girria/Giria, Gou,Gow, Liah/Liagh/Leagh, Mahig. Marr, Nagragh/Na Quoe,Namoe, Phil, Pew/Pue, Pormds, Quart, Roe, Rua, Rue, Tut, Vahig, Weaver.    


  1. Cyndi Birkmeier Cyndi Birkmeier
    June 12, 2017    

    Thank you so very much for the detailed and interesting breakdown of the O’Sullivan name and people! I am very grateful for you sharing your knowledge and expertise! My Sullivan ancestors all had red and auburn hair…perhaps the Rua clan of Sullivans! (but also they were opinionated, so then there is the Barrule clan) This is all so interesting. I am looking forward to reading the info on the links you included as well. Just got back to the States from County Kerry…. so incredibly beautiful there!! Part of my heart was connecting and feeling “at home” in Kerry.

  2. Mary McCarthy Simpson Mary McCarthy Simpson
    June 13, 2017    

    Very interesting information regarding the O Sullivan clan sub names, but I should love to be able to find out more about pinpointing WHICH bit of the O Sullivan family we have! G Grandmother Julia O Sullivan, born in 1813 in Minish southeast of Killarney, daughter of Thomas O Sullivan and Gobinet Counihan of Minish, but Thomas was from Cloghereen at his marriage. Her Godparents were Daniel and Mary O Sullivan, grandparents??. She married Edmund Spillane in 1834 in Killarney and lived in Lower Lissivigeen and Lissivigeen before moving away southeast to Droumdiralough – now called Lough Guitane. Thomas O Sullivan was born and christened before parish registers were entered so have no way of finding out earlier generations. SO, unless you already know, or have been told, how is it possible to discover a branch name???
    Would love to know more …. Julia has been confirmed as of our family not only from family info and parish registers but also from Donagh Spillane from Glenflesk.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      June 14, 2017    

      Mary, thanks for your comment on the O’Sullivan branch names. I suppose the quick answer to your query is that it will be impossible to find out which ‘branch’ you might be, unless there are living descendants who might recall family folklore. In your case, your O’Sullivans may not have had a ‘branch’ name at all as there were not as many O’Sullivans in the Killarney area as there were in Kenmare/Kilgarvan/Beara Peninsula where it was necessary and families are stil known to certain extent to this day.

      • Eve Fitzgerald Napoli Eve Fitzgerald Napoli
        June 22, 2017    

        My maternal grandmother, Honora (Nora) O”Sullivan (Bawn) Fitzmartin was born in Kilgarven at a farm that I’ve always heard called Cahir East. She was married to my grandfather, Patrick Fitzmartin, and had one child, my mother, Mary Fitzmartin Fitzgeraldin 1915. My grandmother was in her 80’s whe she died during the 1950’s. She died in the family farm which belong to her brother’s daughter at the time. It is now owned by my cousin Paddy Callaghan.

  3. Madelaine Singleton Madelaine Singleton
    June 14, 2017    

    My O’Sullivan is Mary from Cahvirseen(?) She was born in 1830 or 1847

  4. October 14, 2017    

    Very interesting about the branch names. Both of my great great grandmothers were Sullivans and one was a Sullivan Suonish. They were both from Tuosist as far as I’ve been able to see from records, however I don’t have townlands for them. They’re as far back as I was able to trace them as the records back further than the 1820’s don’t exist anymore, I believe.

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      October 16, 2017    

      Marianne, if you give me names and dates, I can do a quick ‘look-up’ on possible townlands for O’Sullivan Suonish in my copy of Annals of Beara Vol. 1, Kay

  5. Len Swatkowski Len Swatkowski
    October 17, 2017    


    Is determining the clan as easy as knowing the town our ancestors were from?

    My Grandparents were from Killurly East, Cahersiveen (Michael Sullivan) and Dooneen, Cahersiveen (Kathleen Riordan) and my Sullivan Great Grandparents (Timothy “Tadgh” O’Sullivan and Bridget Mary (Golden) Sullivan). were also from Killurly East, Cahersiveen.

    Len Swatkowski

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      October 21, 2017    

      Len, no there aren’t different ‘clans’ of the O’Sullivans in different towns or locations. You would have to get this knowledge from a relative or sometimes they ‘branch’ name might be listed on their tenancy in Griffith’s Valuation, just to differentiate one family of O’Sullivans from another. Kay

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