Donnell O'Sullivan Beare

O'Sullivan Beare, Donnell, Lord of Dunboy, in the County of Cork, was born about 1562. [The O'Sullivans originally occupied a territory in the present County of Tipperary. Dispossessed by the Anglo-Normans, they moved south, and pressed out the weaker tribes in the vicinity of Bantry and Glengarriff.] In 1581 the Four Masters recount Donnell's defeat of a body of native auxiliaries of Captain Zouch, one of Queen Elizabeth's lieutenants; yet in 1593, his uncle, the rightful O'Sullivan Beare, was dispossessed by order of the Irish Council, and he was put in possession of the lands and stronghold of Dunboy, on Bantry Bay. On the arrival of the Spanish fleet under Don Juan d'Aguila,in September 1601, Hugh O'Neill and O'Donnell appointed him to the chief command in the south, "for he was, say the Four Masters, "at this time the best commander among their allies in Munster for wisdom and valour."

O'Sullivan gladly received a Spanish garrison into Dunboy; but when Kinsale capitulated in January, and he found that the terms included the surrender of all the Spanish garrisons in the south, he, partly by stratagem and partly by force, repossessed himself of it, and with a garrison of 143 men (chiefly Irish, with a few Spaniards, under his Constable MacGeoghegan), determined to hold it to the last. The place was speedily invested both by land and sea by Carew with a force of some 4,000 men, many of them Irish, under Irish chiefs. Its defence of twenty-one days, in May and June 1602, one of the most interesting episodes in Irish history, is detailed in Pacata Hibernia. Every nerve was strained and every engineering resource was resorted to both by besiegers and besieged.

The place was at length taken by assault on 18th June, and the small remnant of the garrison (some fifty men) were mercilessly hanged by the President. MacGeoghegan, the Constable, was despatched in the vault of the castle, as, mortally wounded, he was dragging himself, with a lighted torch in his hand, towards a barrel of gunpowder. A few days before the assault and capture, O'Sullivan had left temporarily to meet a vessel with supplies from Spain. When news reached him of the disaster, he gathered together his followers and entrenched himself in Glengarriff. There he held out for some months in the hopes of Spanish assistance; but his heart failed him on receipt of the news of O'Donnell's death. Winter was upon him; the mountains were covered with snow; his resources were exhausted; and he was cooped up in the glen, with a crowd of helpless people, the aged and infirm, women and children, with only a few hundred fighting men to protect them.

He at length resolved to leave his wife and younger children in concealment in the glen, under the care of his foster-brother MacSweeny, and to fight his way northward to Ulster, conveying the women and children, the aged, sick, and wounded of his clan. With 400 fighting men, and 600 non-combatants, he secretly quitted Glengarriff early in January 1603. On the following morning the English found the camp deserted by all but those who were too ill or too severely wounded to be moved — "whose paines and lives by the souldiers were both determined." O'Sullivan and his band passed by way of Ballyvourney, Duhallow, Ardpatrick, Solloghod, Ballynakill, Latteragh, and Loughkeen. The annalists say: "He was not a day or night during this period without a battle, or being vehemently and vindictively pursued; all which he sustained and responded to with manliness and vigour." His principal enemies were Irish chieftains and their followers — anxious to ingratiate themselves with the Government. They stopped two nights to rest in a wood on the banks of the Brosnach, near Portland; and then crossed the Shannon in the face of their enemies, in eleven boats made of osiers covered with the raw hides of their horses. Passing on through Connaught they were attacked at Aughrim by a large party of Anglo-Irish under Sir Thomas Burke and Captain Malby, who were both killed in the engagement that ensued.

With varying fortunes — sometimes finding the people friendly and at other times bitterly hostile, they proceeded by Slieve Mhuire, Ballinlough, over the Curlew Hills to Knockvicar, and at length (on 16th January) found an asylum and rest with Brian O'Rourke at his castle of Leitrim. The party of one thousand, who set out from Glengarriff were reduced by famine, fatigue, desertion, and the sword to thirty-five. Amongst the survivors were his brother Dermot, an old man of seventy, the former lord of Dursey Castle, with his delicate wife. His nephew, in his Historiae Catholicae Compendium, gives interesting particulars of this retreat. O'Sullivan remained with O'Rourke for some days; and after various adventures in Ulster, went to England, after the accession of James I., with Hugh O'Neill, Rury and Niall Garv O'Donnell, and other Irish chieftains.

Unable to obtain a formal pardon or a restitution of his territory, he secretly rejoined his wife and children, and sailed for Spain in 1604. He was graciously received by Philip III., who made him a Knight of St. James, and Count of Bearhaven, with a pension of three hundred pieces of gold monthly. After living fourteen years in exile, he was assassinated by his servant as he was returning from Mass, 16th July 1618, aged 56. His nephew describes him as of a tall and graceful stature, with handsome features. His son Donnell fell at the siege of Belgrade.


75. Catholicae Iberniae, Historiae: D. P. O'Sullevano Bearro: Edidit Matthaeus Kelly. Dublinii, 1850.

134. Four Masters, Annals of Ireland by the: Translated and Edited by John O'Donovan. 7 vols. Dublin, 1856.

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

275. Pacata Hibernia: Thomas Stafford. London, 1633.