Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare

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Donal O'Sullivan.

Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare, Prince of Beare, 1st Count of Berehaven (Irish: Domhnall Cam Ó Súilleabháin Bhéara) (1561–1618) was the last independent ruler of the O'Sullivan Beara sept, and thus the last O'Sullivan Beare, a Gaelic princely title, in the southwest of Ireland during the early seventeenth century, when the English crown was attempting to secure their rule over the whole island.

Early life[edit]

Donal's father was killed in 1563, but his son was considered to be too young to inherit and the clan leadership passed to the chief's surviving brother Eoin, who was confirmed by English authorities in Dublin with the title Lord of Beare and Bantry. To consolidate his position, Eoin accepted the authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England and was knighted. In 1587 Donal asserted his own claim to leadership of the clan, petitioning Dublin to put aside Eoin's appointment with a claim derived from English laws based on absolute male primogeniture. These laws did not recognise age as relevant to inheritance rights. Keen to extend English legal authority over Ireland, the Dublin commission accepted Donal's claim. He now became "the O'Sullivan Beare".

Nine Years War[edit]

By 1600 Munster had been devastated by battle, and the Gaelic clans lost over half a million acres (4,000 km²) of land to settlers from England following the defeat of the Desmond Rebellions.[citation needed]

In the lead up to the Nine Years' War O'Sullivan kept his distance from the rebel cause, but in time he joined a confederation of Gaelic chiefs led by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Ulster. Conflict had broken out in 1594, and O'Neill secured support from Philip II of Spain. The Spanish sent a force under the command of Don Juan D'Aquilla in 1601. O'Sullivan wrote to the Spanish king in submission to his authority, but the letter was intercepted by the English. In early 1602 the allied Irish and Spanish forces met the English at the Battle of Kinsale and were defeated.

O'Sullivan resolved to continue the struggle by taking control of the castle of Dunboy. In June 1602 English forces attacked Dunboy and the castle fell after a vicious siege. The entire company of defenders was killed in combat or executed.[1]

O'Sullivan's march[edit]

Donal himself was absent from the siege of Dunboy, having travelled to the north of the island for a conference with Hugh O'Neill. His letter to Philip left him with little hope of a pardon from the English, and he continued the fight with guerilla tactics.

He was eventually forced to gather up his remaining followers, including women and children, and set off for the north, on a 250-mile march which he and his people (1,000 in number) completed in 14 days. On 31 December 1602, Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare, the chieftain of Beara and Bantry, abandoned Beara and began the epic march of survival northwards. He had hoped to meet up with Hugh O'Neill on the shores of Lough Neagh. He fought a long rearguard action across Ireland, during which the much larger English force and their Irish allies fought him all the way. The march is one of the most poignant in Irish history and was marked by enormous suffering as the fleeing and starving O'Sullivans sought food from an already decimated Irish countryside in winter, often resulting in hostility, such as from the Mac Egans at Redwood Castle in Tipperary and at Donohill in O'Dwyer's country, where they had raided the Earl of Ormonde's foodstore. O'Sullivan marched through Aughrim, where he raided villages for food and met with local resistance. He was barred entrance to Glinsk castle and led his refugees further north. On their arrival at the O'Rourke's castle in Leitrim on 4 January 1603, only 35 of the original 1,000 remained. Many had died in battles or from exposure and hunger, and others had settled along the route. They had marched over 200 miles, crossed the Shannon in midwinter, fought many skirmishes and had lost the vast majority of his people during the hardships of the journey. In Leitrim, O'Sullivan sought to join with other northern chiefs to fight the English and organised a force to this end, but resistance ended when Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone signed the Treaty of Mellifont. O'Sullivan, like other member of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland who fled, sought exile, making his escape to Spain by ship .


When he left Ireland, Cornelius O'Driscoll and other Irish knights helped him and his clan. In Spain O'Sullivan was welcomed by King Philip III. His princely status was reconfirmed, and he received a commission as an imperial general. His cousin, Pilib Ó Súilleabháin Bhéara, was particularly important in this regard and his 1618 disquisition in Latin, A Briefe Relation of Ireland and the diversity of Irish in the same was particularly influential.[2]

In 1618, O'Sullivan was murdered just as he was leaving mass in the Plaza de Santo Domingo in Madrid. The murderer was John Bathe, a young Englishman who had been disfigured in a duel by the prince's nephew, on account of some arguments between Bathe and O'Sullivan; it is also said that the man was a spy on behalf the English Crown.

O'Sullivan enjoyed a wide reputation, which helped to open doors for later soldiers from his line. About 165 years later, one descendant, John Sullivan, served as a general in the American Revolution.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Last Prince of Ireland by Morgan Llewelyn
  • March into Oblivion by Michael J. Carroll
  • O'Sullivan's Odyssey by Rick Spier