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It says the main article is Sullivan, but the Sullivan page talks about the last name Sullivan, not O'Sullivan. Maybe they should be combined? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:39, 15 November 2007 (UTC)

River God?[edit]

According to Woulfe in Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall, Súilleabhán comes from súildubhán and I believe this to be the correct interpretation of the name. The double l would suggest to me a compensatory measure arising from the loss of the initial d in dubh. Another relevant example would be the surname Ó Ciardubháin which is pronouced as Ó Ciaruáin and anglicised as Kirwan. An Muimhneach Machnamhach 10:22, 30 October 2007 (UTC)

The common Irish surname "O'Sullivan" has suffered many misinterpretations of its meaning. The three roots that comprise the name are UA, SUILL, and ABHAIN. UA means "house of" and is a badge of honor among the Milesian aristocratic names of Eire. SUILL means "eye" in its modern form and "sun" in its ancient form. ABHAIN means "river". In The History of the O'Sullivan Clan by Gary B. Sullivan, the author reviews ALL of the entries in ALL of the extant annals for the name O'Sullivan and lists them in the book. Over one hundred references are listed and ONLY ONCE is the name misspelled "suildubhan". There is absolutely no historical basis for the spurious claim that the name means "grandson of the little dark eyed one"! REFERENCE: Sullivan, Gary (2007). History of the O’Sullivan Clan. Statesboro: Gold Stag, 3-4; 197-200. ISBN 978-0-6151-8013-7

Retrieved from "" —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:58, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

River God claim revisited[edit]

Whoever came up with this clearly lacks even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Irish language and it is becoming rather tedious at this stage to see it being reinserted into the text. I imagine Gary Sullivan (whoever he is) has spotted "abháin" in the name and concocted the fantastic and utterly ridiculous theory this somehow is one and the same word as "abhainn". No explanation is given as to how the monosyllabic "abhainn" suddenly sprouted a second syllable replete with long stressed vowel.ːɪ Even allowing for a disyllabic Middle Irish version, how on earth did the unstressed short vowel in the second syllable metamorphose into a long stressed one? Pray do explain. This nonsense must stop!An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 14:28, 22 July 2010 (UTC)

Personally I was worried this might have become popular among some O'Sullivans so I didn't remove it, although clearly nonsense. On an unrelated matter I see you have gone about with the fada or whatever they call it for every case of Donal, but that is also nonsense because it is an anglicisation of Domhnall, which does not actually have one. But the -mh- going silent would appear to have lengthened the vowel somewhat, or made it a diphthong, and so we do occasionally see the incorrect Dómhnall. This is, however, an English language article. DinDraithou (talk) 17:20, 22 July 2010 (UTC)
Dónal is not an anglicisation of Domhnall! And the o in Dónal absolutely must have a síneadh fada (acute accent). The name is a modern spelling of Domhnall which has been in use since about the 1940s when a wholesale reform of Irish spelling took place culminating in Gramadach na Gaeilge agus Litriú na Gaeilge - An Caighdeán Oifigiúil in 1958, being the new standardised and simplied spelling system universally employed today. The -mh- in Domhnall would indeed have been lost resulting in the subsequent lengthening of the previous short vowel, a process which was extremely common in Irish in the early modern period. Domhnall would therefore originally have been /dovnəl/. As for an anglicisation of Domhnall, we have Donald. Other examples of names simplified since the spelling were introduced are Sighle > Síle, Caoimhghin > Caoimhín, Seaghán > Seán. (talk) 09:14, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
Apologies, previous comment is from myself. Forgot to log in!An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 09:15, 23 July 2010 (UTC)
I stand corrected and apologize myself. I've never even been to Ireland and I have a greater knowledge of Old Irish (very little) than of today's Irish. I was going by the pedigrees I frequently refer to, like the ones printed by O'Hart.[1] In them it is always without the fada and so I assumed it was an anglicization, not having the knowledge that Domhnall was probably no longer used then except in history books. Back to the O'Sullivans this article needs a lot of work and so does the famous Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare's. He victoriously slew a kinsman of mine and I want it in there! This was the elder brother of Donal II O'Donovan, namely Dermot. If you want to try to work on it, have a look at O'Donovan to see how I'm doing ours. Also I have mentioned the O'Sullivans as the chief princes under the MacCarthys at Eóganachta but that article is also in bad condition, and wrong about a number of things. (First I wrote most of it before I knew all that much, and then someone came along and made it worse.) What is fascinating to me is how the family came to occupy its prominent position when it was not descended from a (known) king of Cashel later than the 7th century I believe, for which see Eóganacht Chaisil. I could be wrong about that. Anyway I have been writing MacCarthy Reagh too, because they were our princes in Carbery. In fact our position there was similar to that of the O'Sullivans in the Kingdom of Desmond, the article for which has a stupid narrative and says very little, with only the contents of its infobox to recommend it. DinDraithou (talk) 05:06, 24 July 2010 (UTC)
Some people still do use Domhnall as a Christian name here as well as another form Dónall although Dónal is nowadays much more common. To be honest, I think all of the articles on Irish surnames need to rewritten as they have clearly been written by people who have next to no knowledge of the Irish language, who have taken their information in many cases from texts by writers who themselves in all probability cannot speak a single word of Irish, hence all the dodgy spellings on Wikipedia. To be honest, I run a mile whenever I see any text containing the words "the Irish nation". The link you provided to O'Hart contains a strange mix and Irish and English spellings the authenticity of many of which is doubtful. Here a handful of examples from the same link: "Giolla na-Bhflainn" which should read "Giolla na bhFlann", i.e. the f is a capital as the bh is merely eclipsis on the initial f. "Dermod-an-Phudar" is almost certainly "Diarmaid an Phúdair" or "Diarmuid an Phúdair". "Dunbuidhe" should be "Dún Buidhe". "Dermod Balbh" should be "Diarmuid Balbh" or "Diarmaid Balbh" and then there is "Donal Crone" which is obviously "Dónal Crón". I find it strange that O'Hart writes "Donall [sic] Mór O'Sullivan". Why the mix of Irish and English? "Dónal Mór Ó Súilleabháin" would be better I think and the form he himself would have used in his own lifetime. I think in general that English corruptions of personal names should be excluded unless evidence as to these forms being used by the individuals in question can be provided.An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 15:01, 27 July 2010 (UTC)
Might I suggest that the Sullivan article be merged into this and a link established? Sullivan is nothing more than O'Sullivan with the O' chopped off.An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 15:30, 27 July 2010 (UTC)
That is exactly what I would do... in another article. It's been done for a few others. The problem is space and focus. The article should properly be about the descent and history of the family in Ireland, with another page or two created for the lists. The trouble is that everyone has an article at Wikipedia now and most are hardly significant. With O'Donovan I compromised and have simply included some people of excellence at the bottom, leaving out the insignificant. In the case of the O'Sullivans you have a larger dynasty to deal with the history of and so I would include no list at all, simply linking to it. Call it Notable O'Sullivans or something. DinDraithou (talk) 02:03, 29 July 2010 (UTC)

I am very interested in learning the academic credentials of “An Muimhneach Machnamhach” and “DinDraithou”. Are you officials with Wikipedia? Are either of you professors of the Irish language? Are you trained etymologists? Please advise. Gary Sullivan, author, The History of the O'Sullivan clan. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:19, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Actually I have some undergraduate background in linguistics and philology, just not in Irish. What are your academic credentials? I'm glad you've written the book, though. You should expand this article and focus on the history. DinDraithou (talk) 00:51, 10 August 2010 (UTC)
To Gary Sullivan: I am a translator of legal documents by profession, from English into Irish and vice versa. I have worked as a translator for the past eleven years, nine years in my current employment, and two as a freelancer. My primary degree is in Irish and French and I hold an MA in Modern Irish. I'm also greatly interested in Irish dialectology and in the phonology, morphology and syntax of the language in general. And now you might be so kind as to inform us of your own qualifications and knowledge of the Irish language, both in its modern forms and its historical development. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 13:54, 10 August 2010 (UTC)
While I'm here, it would be as well to mention that the standard texts on Irish surnames are Woulfe's Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall and Edward MacLysaght's The Surnames of Ireland. Unfortunately, there is some pretty dubious information floating around the internet about Irish "clans" descending form "royal Milesian blood" and other nonsense. Some of the claims made on the following site go beyond the surreal: There is even an "O'Sullivan song" (in English, of course), an O'Sullivan "clan tartan" (clan tartans are largely an 18th century Scottish invention) and an O'Sullivan "battle flag" under which is stated "The basic symbol of the O’Sullivan battle flag, the gold circle, represents the ordered energy of the Infinite Universe. This annular emblem is called An Fainne Naomh (The Holy Ring).". No evidence is supplied as to the historical authenticity of any of this. And "An Fáinne Naomh" should of course read "An Fáinne Naofa". Whatismore, the motto of Ó Súilleabháin "An Lámh Fhoisteanach Abú" is misspelt "Lamh Foistenach Abu". An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 14:37, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Thank you for responding so quickly. I truly appreciate your comments and insights. I am very familiar with the three references recommended (Woulfe, MacLysaght, and Butler). I did not ask for your credentials as an insult or a challenge but rather to determine if a valid etymological discussion could ensue. I have no time for an internet ranting session and I’m sure you don’t either.

As to my academic credentials: I am a physician with a B.S in Chemistry from Creighton University, an M.D. from Rutgers Medical School, and post-graduate certificates from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins Medical School, and the University of South Carolina. I dedicated twenty years of my life researching the myths, legends, history, genealogy, and culture of the O'Sullivan Clan. I will forward the bibliography of A History of the O’Sullivan Clan at a later time. However, my research continues and I am very willing to learn from you.

As to An Muimhneach Machnamhach’s tangential attack on the O’Sullivan Clan site, there is no “historical authenticity” claimed for the battle flag, the tartan, or the song. It is a site celebrating the clan identity and clan unity. Flags, tartans, and songs are time honored devices with which identity and unity are promoted. I can’t fathom why these innocent icons would arouse such animus.

As to An Muimhneach Machnamhach’s off-handed dismissal of the royal Milesian bloodlines, I respectfully disagree. As a scientist I started my research also assuming that all of those tales were meaningless inventions used to create tribal alliances or legitimize ancient prejudices. The more I learned about them my opinion changed. After twenty years of careful study, I am now convinced that the sundry Irish manuscripts, texts, and annals are as historically accurate as any ancient manuscripts, texts, and annals of any other civilization. While it is academically safe to assume a condescending nihilism when it comes to tribal histories, cowardice should not be confused with conviction and ignorance should not be paraded as resolve.

As to An Muimhneach Machnamhach’s issue with the spelling of the O’Sullivan motto, show me fifty Irish manuscripts and I will show you twenty variations in the spelling of a word or phrase.

The emotional insistence by An Muimhneach Machnamhach that the name “O’Sullivan” means “the little dark eyed one” is baffling. He proposes a personal theory to explain how “suildubhan” became “suilleabhain” but he refuses to see any possible relationship between the word "abháin" and the word “abhainn”. Perhaps the problem is a result of confusing modern Irish with ancient Irish. According to Rudolf Thurneysen in A Grammar of Old Irish , The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1980, page 213):


1. The flexion of aub oub ob (80 b) fem. ‘river’ is peculiar: acc. sg. abinn Thes. II. 242, 3 (Arm.), later abuinn abainn, gen. abae M1. 78b4 (Abae Thes. II 275,28), dat. Pl. aibnib M1. 81b3.

The gen. sg. has accordingly the same ending as neuter nouns. The oblique cases could all be derived from a stem *aben-, for the non-palatal b could have spread from the nom. sg., but perhaps there was also an ablaut form *abon-, (ep. O.Breitain. Abona, W. afon, O.Corn. avon, Mid. Bret. avon aven, ‘river’).

The unlenited –n in abinn, etc., which is later found in all case forms (e.g. gen. sg. abann), cannot be original. Possibly the gen. sg. In –(a)e gave rise to a gen. pl. in –ann modeled on the neuter flexion, and the –n(n) then spread to the remaining cases.

Also, according to Woulfe’s theory, wouldn’t Ó Suiledubháin become Ó Suiluáin and (like Ó Ciardubháin which is pronouced as Ó Ciaruáin and anglicised as Kirwan) be pronounced “O’Sull-wan” rather than “O’Sull-avon”? This same phonetic argument is reminiscent of O’Curry’s dismissal of the name meaning “one-eyed” (aon).

In any case, all credible scholars agree that the translation of the name is unresolved and An Muimhneach Machnamhach’s refusal to allow any translation but his own to be included in the text of the Wiki article casts doubt on his neutrality and weakens the strength of the article.

Could all of the proposed translations be included in the text of the article with a note to the reader to visit the discussions page to formulate his/her own opinion? A caveat that there is no consensus would alert the reader that this is not a settled issue. —Preceding unsigned comment added by173.86.157.9 (talk) 01:37, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

You did not answer the question I asked you Gary. What are your own qualifications and knowledge of the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics of the Irish language in its modern forms and its development during the Old Irish era down to Late Modern period? Please respond.

Please supply verifiable historical evidence of a traditional Gaelic clan structure centred around individuals whose surname happens to be Ó Súilleabháin existing into present time among the indigenous inhabitants of of Béarra, Uíbh Ráthach and Dún Ciaráin.

So Gary, you admit that there is no historical authenticity for the battle flag, the tartan or the song and that the website makes no claim of such. Well if that is the case, why on earth were they put on the website in the first place? Furthermore, the website does not inform the reader that the flag, the song, etc. are not based on historically authentic and verifiable sources, which it is surely the duty of the authors to do so. Do you not think it is disingenuous in the extreme to mislead individuals who stumble on the website believing that there actually is a real life “O’Sullivan tartan” when in fact it was fabricated out of thin air by some American? “Flags, tartans, and songs are time honoured devices with which identity and unity are promoted”. Where would that be then Gary? Here in the real world or on the set of Braveheart?

As for animus, yes, Gary I am rather cheesed off at the idea of someone suggesting that I should wear a tartan kilt and sing some twee song in the Queen’s English. I don't wear skirts and I don't speak the Queen's English.

What is more, I see the following under “O’Sullivan Tartan” in the aforementioned website (

In June, 1994, Gary Brian O’Sullivan [121G] commissioned the O’Sullivan MacCragh tartan to be designed by Chris Aitken of Geoffrey (Tailor) High-land Crafts Ltd.

Presumably, Gary Brian O’Sullivan is one and the same as Gary Sullivan. Now, why on earth would someone even think of inventing a tartan for an Irish surname? Clan tartans specifically relating to Scottish Highland clans were invented in the 19th century. There were never any native Irish tartans specifically relating to certain families. This country is Ireland. Not Scotland. I think Gary Sullivan needs to buy himself a good atlas.

Tartans originated in Ireland, and were later introduced to Scotland by the Irish Celts. The earliest tartans were a type of shirt that ended just above the knee, known as the léine in Irish Gaelic. It was made of linen, and dyed a dark yellow shade, which led the English to describe it as “a saffron shirt”. In later times, stripes of various colors were incorporated into the léine to indicate the rank of the wearer.

I think poor Gary is confusing tartans with kilts. He can buy a good dictionary while he’s in buying that atlas. There is no evidence whatsoever of the native Irish wearing “clan tartans” and one asks oneself what on earth is the point of fabricating one out of thin air?

The same site also claims the “Blackthorn Rose” as the “clan flower”. No evidence as to the historical authenticity of this is provided. Besides, the blackthorn is a species of prunus not rosaceae and is therefore not a “rose” at all.

The site also claims the existence of an “O’Sullivan Planxty” and says of the word “planxty”:

It is also believed that its origin may stem from the Irish phrase "phlean on ti" meaning "from the house of".

Believed by whom? Phlean? Such a word does not exist in the Irish language. We have plean meaning plan. “On”? Is this “ón” preposition ó + definite article, or “’on”, a contraction of “dhon” from “don”, preposition do + definite article? “Ti” one presumes is in fact “tí” genitive of “teach”, but one is still at a total loss as to what this sentence could possibly mean.

So Gary, are you claiming that all people who by accident of birth bear the surname Ó Súilleabháin and the Anglicised O’Sullivan and Sullivan are all related genetically to some ancient Milesian bloodline and that this is a provable scientific hypothesis? An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 19:23, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

Anyway, to return to the origin of the name. Gary Sullivan states above: “He proposes a personal theory to explain how “suildubhan” became “suilleabhain” but he refuses to see any possible relationship between the word "abháin" and the word “abhainn”. Perhaps the problem is a result of confusing modern Irish with ancient Irish.” Uh, no Gary. This is not a “personal theory”. I have not plucked this out of the air like that tartan of yours. I have taken it from Woulfe and a colleague of mine and Irish language scholar of note informs me that Donncha Ó Cróinín also proffered a similar explanation.

At no point in this dicussion have I claimed that this is the only explanation however to claim that abhán comes from abhainn is utterly ridiculous and displays your ignorance of the Irish language. And no, I do not confuse modern Irish with Old Irish. I have studied both in depth. Gary, have you ever heard of something called a síneadh fada? Or an tuiseal ginideach? You provided proof for your “river” theory from Thurneysen though I cannot see where exactly in the extract provided Thurneysen shows a historically short unstressed vowel in abhainn subsequently being lengthened and possibly stressed to become abhán.

“Also, according to Woulfe’s theory, wouldn’t Ó Suiledubháin become Ó Suiluáin and (like Ó Ciardubháin which is pronouced as Ó Ciaruáin and anglicised as Kirwan) be pronounced “O’Sull-wan” rather than “O’Sull-avon”? This same phonetic argument is reminiscent of O’Curry’s dismissal of the name meaning “one-eyed” (aon).” Sorry Gary, I haven’t a Chinese hen what you’re on about here. Are you referring to /w/ versus /v/ resulting from a glide? I don’t know what “O’Sull-wan” is supposed to represent. Can you rewrite it in IPA symbols please? Again, I ask you, síntí fada, ever heard of them, Gary? Are you claiming the long vowel of súil was originally short? When was it lengthened and how so?

“In any case, all credible scholars agree that the translation of the name is unresolved and An Muimhneach Machnamhach’s refusal to allow any translation but his own to be included in the text of the Wiki article casts doubt on his neutrality and weakens the strength of the article.”

I’ve never said anything of the sort, Gary and have in fact inserted material from MacLysaght. My objection from the start is to you coming on here and claiming that abhán stems from abhainn based on nothing more than your own guesswork. That is original research and should have no place on Wikipedia. If you cannot cite a source for this claim then it should not be included in the article. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 20:30, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

To An Muimhneach Machnamhach: Thank you for amending the Wiki article. I think that the change adequately informs the reader that the meaning of the name "O'Sullivan" is contested. I was very impressed with your credentials and was hoping to learn something from you concerning the etymology of the name "O'Sullivan". Unfortunately, I think your open disdain for me has clouded your thinking. As I stated in my preface, I do not have the time to participate in an internet ranting session. I lament that we did not meet under better circumstances. I am certain that I could have learned from you and perhaps you could have learned some things from me. Go in peace, brother. Gary Sullivan Past Chairman Center for Irish Studies Georgia Southern University —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:17, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

I do not hate any individual, Gary, what I disdain is the sort of plastic paddyness on display here and at I honestly and sincerely hope for the sake of your own academic credibility as much as for anyone reading the material on that website and seeking to get an historically authentic viewpoint of the Súilleabhánaigh that you do not really believe that ua means house of, súill means sun in its ancient form or that abhán is in fact abhainn. I think it is very sad that you would not stick around here and debate the issue. I would implore you to learn the Irish language and to avail yourself of Niall Ó Dónaill's Foclóir Gaeilge agus Béarla, Patrick Dinneen's Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla and DIL, an online link to which is here: Thank you for a stimulating debate and good luck. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 21:06, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

To An Muimhneach Machnamhach: You didn't debate. You argued. Before agreeing to a bout, I asked you specifically if you had any formal training in fencing. You assured me that you did. As I stood in proper stance, with foil in hand, you came barreling across the field wearing the mask of an alias and brandishing a mace. Like a maddened berzerker you tried to smash me and anything else in the room. Look at your weapon, a mace has no point.

You are incensed by people like me who are trying to preserve a cultural identity that you feel strongly never existed. You have been convinced by an English dominated educational orthodoxy that the Milesian tradition is a provincial collection of lies and a never ending source of embarrassment to a thoroughly modern and sophisticated Irishman. You even doubt that the bulk of the people in Ireland that are named O’Sullivan are actually genetically related.

It seems to me that there are two ways to envision pre-Strongbow Ireland. The first is an ancient tribal system that had an advanced legal system, a flourishing culture, a recorded history, an acute sense of genealogy, and a robust economy with access to international trade. This vision is supported by the Milesian tradition. The second is a motley collection of ignorant street gangs and war lords who were so busy bashing each other over the head with their shillelaghs that they couldn’t muster a good fight against the civilizing force of the Norman English. This vision is supported by Campion, Spenser, et. alii. We don’t seem to share the same image.

M-M, I am not the green-beer drinking, Oh-Danny-Boy-singing, Irish American in a leprechaun suit that you envision me to be. If you can put your prejudices aside I am still very interested in getting a better understanding as to why you think it is impossible that “abhainn” could be one root in the name, "O'Sullivan". Is there any way you would consider continuing the discussion via e-mail? It may eliminate the temptation for either one of us to “grand-stand”.

Hope all is well. Gary Sullivan —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:37, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

Right, Gary. I'll ask one more time. Perhaps you might grace us with an answer this time: what are your qualifications, knowledge, experience etc. of Irish phonology? Go on, Gary, fill us in. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 11:36, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

MM: I already answered that on August 11. My academic background is medicine. I have no formal education in the Irish language. I have, however, served as the chairman of the Center for Irish Studies at Georgia Southern University and I spent about twenty years researching the O'Sullivan clan and its related history. By its nature this research included the etymology of the name. My original objection with you was not that I thought my theory should be included in the Wiki article but rather you insisted that only your interpretation should be presented. I actually agree with you that an un-reviewed theory like mine does not have an inherent right to be presented in the article. But when someone (not me) edited the article to include my theory as one new interpretation, you erased it and claimed that Woulfe’s interpretation was the only acceptable one for the article. That’s where you lost me.

If it is impossible that "abhainn" could be a root in the name than I am going to amend my theory in a subsequent edition of my book. The Irish expert that I originally discussed it with the first go round did not share your vehement objections. I am sincerely interested in your opinion on this so I can have it reviewed by the Irish speakers I know. You are a very difficult personality but I certainly recognize your expertise. If you review the transcript of our rocky acquaintance you will see that I have suffered a barrage of insults from you in an effort to learn something from you. Luckily, I have family members who are very much like you so I am somewhat immune to your venom. (You must be an O’Sullivan yourself.)Please put your mace down and consider presenting in a non-emotional (and non-snarky) manner your educated opinion as to why it would be impossible to have “abhainn” as a root for the name O’Sullivan. Please address the possibility of an evolution of words from Old Irish to modern Irish such as Thurneysen’s assertion that the original spelling of “abhainn” was “abhain” and “abhann” was “abhan”. If there is no proof that my theory is absolutely impossible then please advise me honestly. This would be greatly appreciated and if it results in my amending a future edition of my book I will give you the academic credit. If you would prefer you could e-mail it to me. If you don’t care to do this, I still wish you only the best in all of your future endeavors. Gary Sullivan, author, A History of the O’Sullivan Clan. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:36, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

Thank you Gary for finally admitting to us that you have no qualifications in the Irish language. You claim to have spoken to an "Irish expert", you mean someone holding an academic qualification in the Irish language from a recognised institution and who is a fluent Irish speaker? Who is this person? As for my giving you my email address, sorry Gary, I don't hand out personal contact details on the internet. So now, the floor is yours, Gary. Please answer the questions I have already posed several times: how does a historically short unstressed syllable in abhainn become lengthened and under what process? If this did indeed happen, when did it happen? From where do you draw your claim that súil (please note spelling) means sun? And that ua means house of? Do you have sources for these? I've gone through Ó Dónaill, Dinneen and DIL and cannot find anything to back up those claims. What is your explanation for the double l in "súill"? Are you familiar with Wikipedia's policy on original research?

As for me being a "difficult person", two words come to mind, Gary; "Pot" and "kettle". You see, Gary, it is very difficult to take you seriously when you are on here and elsewhere on the web claiming that your are the great "Taoiseach of the O'Sullivan Clan" and that the Súilleabhánaigh have a "clan tartan", "a clan song", "a clan flower", a "clan planxty" etc. knowing as you do that all of this is utter fakery. It is even more difficult to take seriously an individual who admits to having not a word of Irish in his head and yet continues to demand that his half-baked theory of the name's origin be inserted into the article. I laughed myself silly at the following: You are incensed by people like me who are trying to preserve a cultural identity that you feel strongly never existed. You have been convinced by an English dominated educational orthodoxy that the Milesian tradition is a provincial collection of lies and a never ending source of embarrassment to a thoroughly modern and sophisticated Irishman. This coming from a non-Irish speaking American. I rest my case.

So as I said, the floor is now yours, Gary. How does a historically short unstressed syllable turn into a long one and how so, Gary? Away you go. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 10:02, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

To An Muimhneach Machnamhach: I will research your point concerning the short unstressed syllable turning into a long one and the double 'l' in súill. Thank you for giving me so much of your time and expertise. It is sincerely appreciated. Gary —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:18, 14 August 2010 (UTC)


O'Sullivans, I'm not going to write your article for you, but I will help you with sources when I can. Here is a very nice one,[2] beginning on p. 121. The article is old, but Butler was a master scholar and is still cited today. Read it through carefully and you will gain a clear understanding of your high position in Desmond. DinDraithou (talk) 21:16, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

Here is another.[3] Begin on p. 115 or 120. DinDraithou (talk) 23:53, 10 August 2010 (UTC)
Chapters towards a History of Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth, by Philip O'Sullivan Beare, edited and translated into English by Matthew J. Byrne. DinDraithou (talk) 21:24, 11 August 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for that. Fair play. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 21:46, 11 August 2010 (UTC)
Military Services and Public Life of Major General John Sullivan. DinDraithou (talk) 23:16, 15 August 2010 (UTC)

Origin of the name[edit]

Just to get Gary and all his mates from the “clan” thinking, Ó Súilleabháin is not the only Irish surname to contain the elements -abháin. Indeed we have, for example, Ó Caoindealbháin, anglicised as Quinlevan, which Woulfe translates as gracefully shaped, in clear reference to the adjective caoin (smooth, gentle, refined) and the noun dealbh, also found in the form deilbh (frame, figure, shape, appearance) plus the diminutive suffix -án. The diminutive suffix -án is extremely common in Irish and is found in many words: cnocán, gallán, lochán, mullán, corpán, brachán, uanán, etc. Another name following a similar pattern is Ó Gealbháin (effectively pronounced as Ó Gealabháin, with an epenthetic vowel between the consonantal cluster -lbh-) which is anglicised as Galvin and which according to MacLysaght comes from geal (bright) and bán (white). A particularly relevant example to the discussion on the meaning of Ó Súilleabháin is the surname Ó Ceanndubháin, anglicised as Canavan, which according to MacLysaght contains the elements dubh (black). The first element is almost certainly ceann (head). Now while MacLysaght gives the form Ó Ceanndubháin, I know for a fact that the name is pronounced as /oː kʹanəˈvɑːnʹ/ in speech, as in the sean-nós singer from Conamara, Peadar Ó Ceannabháin Muiris Ó Droighneáin in An Sloinnteoir Gaeilge agus an tAinmneoir Gaeilge gives Ó Ceannubháin. Getting back to Ó Súilleabháin, in further support of Woulfe’s claim that it emanates from Súildubhán, a possible explanation for the double l in the modern form, may be found in the fact that in at least one part of Munster, Ballymacoda in east Cork, historic ll was frequently pronounced ld in intervocalic position but also commonly in terminal position. /bilʹdʹɪ/ for buille, /buəxɪlʹdʹiː/ for buachaillí, /fɑldə/ for falla, etc. As Brian Ó Cuív points out in Irish Dialects and Irish-Speaking Districts (ISBN 0 901282 48 0), although unlenited and lenited palatal l gradually fell together and became indistinguishable from one another in the rest of Munster, Ballymacoda retained the difference between tense and lax palatal l’s by replacing the tense l with ld. Hence, buile and buille, while indistinguisable in speech in the rest of Munster are quite different in Ballymacoda : buile /bilʹɪ/ and buille /bilʹdʹɪ/. Ó Cuív goes on to state that “this ld represents not only Middle Irish ll but also other consonant groups which in Modern Irish had given ll. Thus dl in codladh, Nodlaig, thus cola, Nolaig, has developed otherwise in Ballymacoda to give ld, thus colda, Noldaig” (page 66). Ó Cuív also mentions modern mallacht which was originally maldacht in Early Modern Irish and meld in Early Modern Irish which from which modern Irish mealla may be derived (does Ó Cuív mealladh here?). I think there is a good chance that a similar situation may have arisen in terms of Súildubhán metamorphosing into modern Súilleabhán. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 19:48, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

Nice discussion. But you missed O'Donovan! Also see this resource.[4] It changes exactly like O'Sullivan. By the 12th century I believe the -d- was gone.
Some early occurences of O'Sullivan in the Annals of Inisfallen: text translation
So apparently we were having some sort of quarrel in 1283 and you thought two of us needed killing. Diarmaid in 1581 was to refresh our memory of who was victorious. DinDraithou (talk) 21:09, 13 August 2010 (UTC)
Have found more. Here you have two (one) with the -d- in 1196:

Here only nine years later appearing differently:


Finally here he is himself in the Rawlinson B 502 pedigrees:[5][6]

According to Diarmaid Ó Murchadha, in his masterful Family Names of County Cork (2nd edition, 1996. p. 300), the rare name occurs only twice in the sources, once in your case and once among the Laigin. Your Súildubán lived in the 10th century and is eighth in descent from Fíngen mac Áedo Duib. For a nice scholarly account Ó Murchadha is an excellent read and you have 13 pages + an ancient map of the Siege of Dunboy in his volume. There are a limited number of copies available for sale from used book sellers online, the title being out of print, so please keep other families in mind and only purchase if you must. There are surely a number available in libraries. DinDraithou (talk) 22:28, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

Oh and according to Ó Murchadha the meaning is dark-eyed. DinDraithou (talk) 23:11, 13 August 2010 (UTC)

To both An Muimhneach Machnamhach and DinDraithou: Thank you. This research took time and thought. I appreciate it and will digest it. Gary —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:10, 14 August 2010 (UTC)

My pleasure! DinDraithou (talk) 01:26, 14 August 2010 (UTC)

Nice work! Fair play to you. Thanks for the link. I see now that Donnabhán originally was donndubhán. Certainly there are a number examples of dn and perhaps nd in Early Modern Irish becoming nn later, the one that comes most readily to mind is céadna which later became céanna /kʹianə/ or /kʹeːnə/ (same), presumably bearing /N/, a velarised unlenited n. There’s almost certainly donn /doun/ (brown) in the name anyway and then dubh /duv/ followed by the diminutive affix. Before a vowel in Munster, the diphthong is restored to a short vowel: donnabhán /dunəˈvɑːn/, the vowel being raised before a nasal sonant.

I’ve just been perusing Gary Sullivan’s book The Oak and Serpent on Google Books . There’s no doubt that Gary did a lot of work on this book and that he would score ten out of ten for enthusiasm alone but his paltry knowledge of the Irish language trips him up badly in many places. Gary doesn’t seem to comprehend what the síneadh fada (acute accent) does in Irish and how it indicates the length of vowels. Indeed, he seems to have adopted a policy of not putting any síntí fada in anywhere lest he put them on the wrong vowels. I strongly believe that this is the reason for Gary’s belief that the second element is abhainn. It’s jarring to see Gary being quoted in several places on the web as claiming that his bizarre theory is the one “true explanation” of the name’s origin and all others are in error. Gary has not based his theory on any sound linguistic criteria. It’s really late here in Ireland at the moment and I need to get a good night’s sleep but I’ll just mention a few brief examples from his book if I may:

Gary mentions that O’Curry, Hennessy and Dáithí Ó hÓgáin (Gary mispells Dáithí’s name at least three times, calling him “Dr O’hOgain” and even “Dr hOgain”!) all proffer súildubhán but he then shoots them all down by claiming that a) because súildubán is mentioned only once in the texts that he has examined that therefore means that the theory cannot hold water. Not necessarily so, Gary, and b) “dark-eyed” meant that the bearer of the name suffered from some physical blemish and under Brehon Law could not be chief, and furthermore that the members of the clan would not sanction a nickname referring to said physical blemish. This last claim is pure supposition by Gary, as he admits himself (“It is also very doubtful that . . .”) but nevertheless Gary opines that it is “very clear” that the name does not mean “dark-eyed”. Well, clear to Gary anyway. The idea that “dark-eyed” could only refer to a physical blemish is in itself speculation. The possibility that “dark-eyed” might mean just that; an individual of dark complexion is not discussed by Gary. Occam’s razor Gary! Occam’s razor! There are numerous Irish surnames where the original bearer was named for the colour of their hair or skin or eyes or some other distinct physical feature. The process of naming people like this survives to this day in Gaeltacht areas. Gary claims that “there is absolutely no basis” for O’Curry’s “O’Suildhubhain” [sic!!] and that neither “dark-eyed” nor “hook-eyed” are “acceptable” explanations for the name. Strong words indeed, based on a handful of fairly flimsy assertions and assumptions.

But then Gary trips himself up very badly in the succeeding paragraphs. The preceeding paragraphs are obviously there so that Gary can dispense with the opposition before wheeling out his pet theory. He stumbles upon “Ui Shuilleabhain” [sic!] in a book by Diarmuid Ó Murchadha [take a good, long, hard look at the spelling, please, Gary. . . ]. Gary dissects “Ui Shuilleabhain” [sic!] into three “root words” “Ui”, “Shuille” and “abhain”. Gary opines that “many authors” ignore these “obvious root words”. Now remember that this is the very same Gary B. Sullivan who admits to not having any formal knowledge of Irish phonology. But in fact there is worse to come. According to Gary the three “root words” are:

1) ui [sic] meaning “descended from of or tribe of”. “This point is universally agreed upon”, Gary assures any would be doubters.

2) suile [sic] - sun or eye, (quoting O’Siochfhradha [sic!!!] though until we actually see the entry in that dictionary, we don’t know if this is in fact true.) Gary then announces that the “Gaelic” word “suile” is of one and the same origin as the Latin “sol”.

3) abhainn - river, or according to the bould Gary, also has an “allogorical meaning” of “blood or bloodline”.

Gary obviously doesn’t know that uí is the genitive singular of ua, nowadays written ó. A man called Seán Ó Súilleabháin in the nominative, would be Seáin Uí Shúilleabháin in the genitive as in, for example, casóg Sheáin Uí Shúilleabháin. Take note please Gary of how, a definite noun is lenited in the genitive case and watch those síntí fada. What are they doing and why are they there?

The word is “súil” not “súile”, Gary. “Súile” is either genitive singular or nominative plural. Súil has the same origin as sol? Where is the evidence for that, Gary?

Abhainn has an allogorical meaning of “blood or bloodline”? Really? I can’t see that anywhere in Ó Dónaill, Dinneen or DIL.

Gary has not just tripped up himself up badly at this stage, he’s positively knocked himself out cold on the hallway floor, knocking a few teeth out in the process. After this paragraph, things get even freakier. It’s seriously late here now, I need my beauty sleep but I hope to discuss the rest of Gary’s piece tomorrow or Monday. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 01:33, 14 August 2010 (UTC)

M-M: In Sanas Gaoidhilge-Sagsbhearla, An Irish English Dictionary by Edward O'Reilly, Dublin, 1817 the entry reads: "suil", see "sul". Under "sul" it reads "sul" s. m. the sun; "sul" s.f. an eye. The next entry reads "súil" s. f. the eye. As you know, in the Annals of Innisfallen the name is written with the "sul" root throughout the thirteenth century. I have found three experts in Irish to whom I sending a copy of my book and a transcript of our discussion. If they agree with you I will honestly tell you. By the way, my teeth look fine. Thank you. Gary —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:35, 15 August 2010 (UTC)


There is also in existence the extremely rare surname MacSullivan. I remember seeing at least one MacSullivan in the 01 (Dublin and environs) phonebook a number of years ago. MacLysaght makes no mention of it, and I don't have Woulfe here at home with me. Anyone know anything about this? Might be useful to add to the article. A quick Google search reveals a few individuals with the surname MacSullivan or McSullivan. Apart from the individual in the phonebook, I've never met anyone in Ireland called MacSullivan or Mac Súilleabháin or heard of anyone called MacSullivan. The names seems to be largely extinct in Ireland. Here for example is a death notice from The Irish Times: As an aside, I've seen the name O'Stein in film credits and wondered where it comes from. MacLysaght makes no mention of it. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 10:48, 14 August 2010 (UTC)


In Gary Sullivan's book The Oak and Serpent (, Gary Sullivan makes the following comment in relation to the origin of the name Eoghan, eugenics being the study of genetic improvement, especially of human improvement by genetic control (page 148). Gary, if you are reading this, perhaps you would like to explain what exactly you mean by eugenics being the study of human improvement by genetic control. How exactly does eugenics improve humanity, Gary? An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 14:57, 16 August 2010 (UTC)

Gary, can we therefore take it that you believe that eugenics involves the genetic improvement of humanity? An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 09:01, 18 August 2010 (UTC)
I ask the question in all seriousness, Gary, as I believe that no further dicussion of your etymological theories can be made without some clarification on this point. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 09:03, 18 August 2010 (UTC)

Phoney "clans"[edit]

I read with interest the following extract: One area which caused the writer particular concern was that of spurious 'Clans' and bogus 'Chiefs'. In the first place, as Edward MacLysaght and other authorities were at pains to point out, Ireland never had a clan system like that of Scotland, and MacLysaght advised that the term 'sept' is more appropriate in the Irish context. (1) In the second place, the thorough destruction by the English of Gaelic political structures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, allied with the loss of so many Irish records over the centuries, mean that only a handful of families can truly trace their lineages back to a duly inaugurated Chief. Nevertheless, Government and tourism interests required that Irish 'Clan' organisations should be brought into being, and that new 'Chiefs' should be found. Thus although it regularly pleaded lack of resources adequate to perform basic genealogical tasks, in 1989 the State's Genealogical Office/Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland found space in its new premises in Kildare Street, Dublin, for the organisation known as the 'Clans of Ireland'. It would be fair to say that most Irish genealogists acquiesced in the face of this tourism-driven 'clansterism', or indeed actively supported it. (2) For his pains in opposing the march of pseudo-genealogy and pseudo-heraldry and attempting to assert some kind of standards, the writer found himself isolated from most of his professional colleagues and effectively barred from contract work in the Genealogical Office from 1993. Sound familiar to anyone? Ireland never had a clan system like that of Scotland, and certainly no fake tartans either! An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 17:06, 18 August 2010 (UTC)

I think it is fairly amazing that in the list of notable O'Sullvans you do not list Joseph O'Sullivan born 1897 and executed in 1922. He, along with Reginald Dunne assasinated Field Marshall Lord Wilson triggering the start of the Irish Civil war in 1922. Lord Wilson was responsible for many an atrocity in Terrorist type actions against the Irish. He was a signatory to the Anglo Irish Treaty signed on 6th Dec. 1921. Collins was the signatory of Ireland to the Treaty. However, Collins had no authority to sign the Treaty and caused what Churchill and the British set out to do, and that was to divide and rule the Irish. This act divided the Irish as it was seen by the informed, as a "clayton's" Treaty...the Treaty you have without having a Treaty. My great great Uncle Joseph O'Sullivan was justified in the assasination of this terrorsit Lord Wilson. Lord Wilson could only be compared to Osama Bin Ladin in todays world. He and Dunne were denied true justice and refused to have their resons for the act to be heard by the jury who sentenced them to hang only a few months after the act. They died heroes of the Irish, eradicated the world of a terrorist, and yet you do not list Joseph O'Sullivan as a significant person. WOW !!-- (talk) 14:30, 31 January 2012 (UTC)

Gary Sullivan[edit]

I really don't have time to be keeping an eye on this article but an American called Gary Sullivan (sometimes calls himself Gary O'Sullivan) "Taoiseach" of the "O'Sullivan Clan" [sic] has been coming on here and inserting nonsense about Ó Súilleabháin coming from abhainn. I've already explained to Gary at length why this is simply not possible. Gary Sullivan appears to have next to no knowledge of the Irish language and will not accept anything other than his own ill-informed theories on the name's origins using nothing more scientific than simply opening a dictionary and looking for words which look superficially similar to "-eabháin". It's depressing. I've removed Gary Sullivan's text but don't know how to remove the book reference at the bottom of the page. I am an Irish language translator and linguist working with and through the Irish language. An Muimhneach Machnamhach (talk) 10:01, 31 July 2013 (UTC)