Sullivan together with O'Sullivan are the third most common names in all Ireland, and is the commonest surname in both County Cork and County Kerry. These two counties account for about eighty out of every hundred families of the name living in Ireland. The two branches of the O'Suileabhain sept from which the Sullivans and the O'Sullivans descend were known as O'Sullivan Mor and O'Sullivan Beare. The stronghold of the former was in the barony of Dunkerron South in County Kerry, whilst the later held sway on the other side of the estuary of the river Kenmare in West Cork in the baronies of Bear and Bantry. Ireland is one of the earliest sources of the development of patronymic names in northern Europe. Irish Clan or bynames can be traced back to the 4th century B.C. and Mac (son of) and O (grandson or ancestor of) evolved from this base, the original literal meaning of which has been lost due to the absence of written records and linguistic ambivalences which subtly but inexorably became adopted through usage. Genealogists and lexographers accept that the patronymic base does not refer to a location, quite the contrary. The use of the prefix 'Bally' (town of) attaching to the base name, identifying the location. The base root was also adopted by people residing in the demographic area without a common ancestor. These groups called 'Septs' were specially prevalent in Ireland. The first Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries to form an alliance with the King of Leinster. Under Elizabeth I in the 16th century, settlers from England established themselves around Dublin, then under English control and Presbyterian Scots emigrated to Ulster, introducing English and Scottish roots.
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