S is for Sullivan

Sullivan Coat of Arms
Sullivan Coat of Arms

The Sullivans are the family that make up the “Clover” half of The House of Crimson and Clover series. The Sullivans are a family of Irish lawyers in New Orleans, who have worked hard for everything they have. They are proud, loyal, and have come a long way from their Irish roots.

You can find my posts on the “Crimson” family, The Deschanels, here.

The humble beginnings of the Sullivan family of New Orleans can be said to correspond with the foundation of their family law firm. The youngest member of the direct line of descent in the family and future member of the firm, Colin Austin Sullivan, or Oz as he is referred to by those intimate with the family, is living proof that family bonds breed success and stature.

The law firm was founded in 1839 by Oz’s fourth great grandfather, Aidan O’Súilleabháin of Ireland, who came first to Savannah and then to New Orleans. The O’Súilleabháin family dropped the Gaelic form of their name soon after arriving in New Orleans and thereafter became known by the anglicized version, Sullivan. The firm’s original name was Sullivan & Belafonte, but the name was changed after the Civil War when the founding members had all deceased.

Aidan and all four of his sons, Aidan Jr., Tadhg, Padraig, and Liam, Oz’s third great grandfather, and the remaining male Sullivan cousins and uncles all served The Cause under General Beauregard. Having been Irish landowners, they were no strangers to fighting for their land and were more than eager to have the opportunity to protect that they had only recently just gained. All but Liam died doing so.


After what was later referred to as the Sullivan Disaster, the Sullivan men stayed off the battlefields. In both World Wars, only two cousins enlisted and none were drafted for the Vietnam War. Leaving a legacy for the next generation and family honor, those became the principles of the Sullivans. That left no room for fighting, despite what was in the blood. It is interesting to observe how quickly and swiftly war can rearrange a family. Their numbers had decreased and as a result of that, so had the very traditions that shaped them.

When the Civil War ended, Liam was twenty-five. The matrons of the family left widowed by the war looked to him as the only remaining male of the family, responsible for keeping alive the Sullivan name in all matters proper.

In 1890, when his only son Seamus turned eighteen, he too joined the firm and so the name Belafonte was dropped and henceforth became known as Sullivan & Associates.

From Seamus came Patrick, and then Colin Sr,. and family Oz’s father Colin Jr. Each had other sons and grandsons as well. All lawyers for the firm, all loyal to their calling. Colin Sr. is currently in retirement after over fifty years, his heart condition keeping him home full time to tend to his garden. Colin Sr.’s brothers, Jerome and Jamie, have recently retired.

Claiborne Cottage, one of the homes that was the blueprint for Oz Sullivan's house
Claiborne Cottage, one of the homes that was the blueprint for Oz Sullivan’s house

When first arriving in New Orleans, the family occupied a series of three townhouses in the French Quarter, beating the Irish immigrant rush by only a few years. By 1859, Americans had swarmed into the Garden District buying up land ravenously. The successful Sullivans, wanting to fit into the new culture, purchased a lot in the Garden District at Third and Prytania and hired famed architect James Gallier (fellow Irishman and client of the firm, born Gallagher) to design their Greek Revival home.

St. Alphonsus Church in New Orleans

Living in a primarily Protestant neighborhood, they attended the Catholic St. Alphonsus Church in the Irish Channel, but were sneered at the by the lesser fortunate proletarian Irishmen of the wharves and so eventually held their services privately in the home. For, while the unskilled Irishmen labored in the lavish homes of the Garden District, the Sullivans owned and lived in one. Perhaps out of embarrassment, they did not hire the Irish and German of the Channel as was the fashion of the time. Instead, they owned a small team of slaves up to the war.

Although the family was still very much Irish, the years in America have removed the old ways and dialects. What still remains is the strong sense of family and the pride that comes with their land and estate.

St. Charles at Dusk follows the story of Oz Sullivan and the unhealthy relationship he bears with the young Adrienne of the Deschanel family. As the series progresses, we are introduced to many other Sullivans, and slowly begin to see that the connection to the Deschanels runs far deeper and further back than even they know.

Below is a snapshot of some of the early Sullivan ancestors:


More family trees can be found by visiting each of the individual books in The House of Crimson and Clover series.


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