O'Sullivan Beare, Philip (1590–1636), writer, soldier, and exile, was born on Dursey Island, Co. Cork, one of seventeen children of Johanna McSweeny and Dermot O'Sullivan, a member of the local ruling family. After the Irish defeat at Kinsale, Philip was sent to Spain in February 1602 in the company of Donal and Dermot, sons of Domhnall O'Sullivan Beare (qv) (Donal Cam), who had led the pro-Spanish revolt in west Cork. At Corunna these refugees were received and assisted by Luis de Carillo, the count of Caracena and governor of Galicia. Subsequently Philip was sent to be educated at the nearby University of Santiago de Compostela – in his later writings he praised the teaching of Patrick Sinnott in grammar, Rodrigo Verdanna in physics, and Pedro Marcilla in philosophy.
In Spain Philip was joined by his father who had been fighting alongside Donal Cam in Ireland and who fled with him. His father, whom he described as lord of Piñalba (a place we can identify as Cloghfune in Kilnamanagh parish on the way to Dursey), received a pension of fifty crowns a month from the Spanish authorities. Philip himself obtained the degrees of master of arts and bachelor of canon law before being expelled from the Irish College in Santiago – which Donal Cam had established as a residence for Irish nobles – for opposing its takeover by the Jesuits. Instead of proceeding to ordination, Philip emerged in the second half of the 1610s as one of a group of hawkish Irish catholics headed by Donal O'Sullivan and Florence Conry (qv), archbishop of Tuam, who were petitioning Philip III for renewed Spanish military intervention in Ireland.
It was amid this fraught atmosphere of exiled conspiracy that Donal Cam, now acknowledged as the count of Birhaven, was accidentally killed on 18 July 1618. Philip O'Sullivan was engaged in a duel with John Bathe (qv) (d. 1630) of Drumcondra, which he alleged was occasioned by the Anglo-Irishman's denigrating remarks about the noble pedigree of the Gaelic Irish. When Birhaven arrived on the scene in a street close to the royal palace, he tried to break up the fight but Bathe slashed out with his sword and cut his throat. Philip ran off and sought asylum in the French embassy. The king of Spain coming along in his coach was alerted by the Irish howling over Birhaven's corpse and ordered the arrest of Bathe and an investigation (its results have not survived). However, Bathe, writing to the count of Gondomar from his prison cell, gives the impression that he was cornered by a gang of Irishmen rather than intent on fighting a formal duel. Indeed it may be that this incident was more political than Philip's later account in his Catholic history makes out. Bathe, formerly a close associate of the hawks, had come to be regarded as an informer and traitor to the cause since a recent visit home, when it was believed by Florence Conry that he had been turned into an English agent.
Two days later at the French embassy Philip learned that his only surviving brother, Donal, and his cousin, Cornelius O'Driscoll, had been killed while serving as marines in the royal fleet against the Moors. He says that neither this news nor the murder of Donal distracted him from writing his history, which he completed at the beginning of December 1618. After this Philip followed in the footsteps of his kinsmen, moving to Cadiz, where he took up a commission in the navy. The fleet's activities are recorded in letters of his, which form appendices to the book. These included escorts of merchantmen in the Atlantic, joint operations with the English and Dutch against Moorish and renegade Christian pirates operating from North Africa, and Philip III's review of the fleet on a visit to Lisbon. The book eventually passed the censors and was published at Lisbon in 1621 under the title Historiae catholicae Iberniae compendium (‘Compendium of the history of catholic Ireland’).
O'Sullivan's Catholic history, as it is better known, was one of the key polemical works of Irish political thought published in the early modern period. His intention was to provide catholic dissidents at home and abroad with an interpretation of Irish history and of their contemporary difficulties. This involved establishing Ireland's unique contribution to catholicism as the island of saints and scholars, and a full account of the country's most famous pilgrimage site, St Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg. It also involved showing how it was wrecked by the grant of the country to the English king Henry II (qv) under the papal bull Laudabiliter, which the latter had allegedly obtained by misrepresenting the customs of the Irish. Thus Ireland had come to be ruled by schismatics and heretics and its people persecuted. But because the people were divided between Old English and Gaelic Irish groups and indeed each family divided within itself, the country was unable to free itself, the most notable and recent example being the great insurrection led by Hugh O'Neill (qv) and Hugh O'Donnell (qv). Revolutionary action was legitimised by application of catholic natural-law resistance theories, most notably those of the Jesuit thinker Suarez, but the action nevertheless failed because Providence was bent against the Irish, who were being punished for disunity brought about by the sins of pride, envy, and greed. The only solution was a Spanish conquest forwarded by the new king, Philip IV, to whom O'Sullivan dedicated the book. He should answer his true calling by recognising the terrible plight of Irish catholics and by liberating their country. To this end O'Sullivan made much of Irish connections with Spain, including the famous myth that the Irish were descended from King Milesius of northern Spain. Furthermore he emphasised the sufferings of his own family at the hands of the heretics – providing the epic account of his uncle's retreat from Bantry Bay to Breifne – and, afterwards in exile, their military services to the Spanish crown. O'Sullivan had based his book on ancient histories and eyewitness testimonies of veterans of the recent war, though he admitted he lacked many of the necessary sources for such a task.
O'Sullivan's book was not well received. His anti-English protestant broadside coincided with the Spanish match negotiations and was followed by the abortive visit of Prince Charles to collect his bride in Madrid in 1623. As a result of the influence of what he calls the pro-English faction – presumably he means here the count of Gondomar – he became persona non grata at court. His book had also condemned the lack of support afforded by the Old English clergy to the war effort of O'Neill and O'Donnell as the chief cause of Irish defeat, and not surprisingly Francis Nugent (qv), head of the Irish Capuchins, complained to Rome about the book. James Ussher (qv), Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh from 1625, was annoyed by O'Sullivan's justification of insurrection against the English crown in Ireland. He took advantage of the many inaccuracies of dating, place, and personal names in the Catholic history to characterise O'Sullivan as ‘the most egregious liar of any in Christendom’. It was doubtless the book's play on Irish wartime divisions which enabled Ussher to identify O'Sullivan as author of ‘A brief relation of Ireland’ (TCD MS 580, ff 95–8), which Conry had presented to the Spanish government in 1618. This document, presenting the Irish aboard as vitiated by the same sort of divisions in exile as at home, had plainly been acquired by an English agent such as Bathe was alleged to have been. However, when war broke out between England and Spain in 1625, O'Sullivan Beare was able to renew his advisory role in Madrid. Now styling himself lord of Piñalba, he sent Philip IV a lengthy proposal (Paris, Affaires Étrangérès, Éspagne, 264/142) to utilise his home territory of Dursey Island as a springboard for liberating Ireland from heretical foreign rule. The plan, apparently originally conceived by his father, envisaged a 300-strong Spanish garrison on this rocky outcrop, in the manner of the impregnable Spanish praesidios in the Mediterranean. This hare-brained scheme shows a severe deficit in O'Sullivan as a strategic thinker.
O'Sullivan was also responsible for at least two polemical works – the ‘Zoilomastix’, preserved in a manuscript in Uppsala (Uppsala University Library, MS H 248), and the ‘Tenebriomastix’ (Poitiers, Mediathèque Francois Mitterand, MS 259 (97)). Although these went unpublished, they involved O'Sullivan in the two issues most agitating Irish intellectuals – the publication in print of the works of the twelfth-century writer Gerald of Wales (qv), and the contemporary attempt by Scottish catholics to claim Irish saints as their own. In these works O'Sullivan structured his argument using similar rhetorical methods – probably learned in the Jesuit ratio studiorum – with retaliationes or refutations of the obnoxious writings divided into certamina or sub-headings. The objective of the exercise was to set the record straight with point-by-point refutation, but O'Sullivan often resorted to personal abuse when he ran out of facts. The ‘Zoilomastix’, written in the mid 1620s, had five parts: part one sought to correct Gerald's views of Ireland's geography and natural history; part two dealt with religion, showing that the English were in fact the barbarous race in this regard; part three upheld the antiquities and glories of the Irish nation against the English Johnny-come-latelies; part four defended the character of the Irish against the calumnies of Gerald; and part five attacked Richard Stanihurst (qv), whose De rebus in Hibernia gestis (Antwerp, 1584), was considered merely a modern reworking of Gerald of Wales. The most important part of this polemic was undoubtedly O'Sullivan's description of Ireland's flora and fauna. Though heavily influenced by Pliny's Natural history, O'Sullivan nevertheless deployed unique knowledge derived from his own Munster childhood experience. The ‘Tenebriomastix’ was composed by O'Sullivan as a response to David Chambers's De Scotorum fortitudine. Pietate et doctrina (Lyon, 1631). Chambers, head of the Scots College in Paris, was a follower of Thomas Dempster, whose Scotorum scriptorum nomenclatura (Bologna, 1619) had caused a furious reaction from Irish writers. Though Dempster's work had since been placed on the papal index, Chambers repeated his claims about Scotia and the ancient Scoti, thereby appropriating Ireland's saints for Scotland. He also went a step farther by claiming that Hibernia had also once connoted Scotland. O'Sullivan's long-winded refutation of these claims and his vituperative denunciation of its author has survived in manuscript from the Irish Jesuit College of Poitiers.
A more positive aspect was O'Sullivan's work on hagiography. He urged the Bollandists to begin their great publishing project with the life of St Ailbe (qv) but this was rejected as too error-ridden. However, a life of St Mo-Chua (qv), which he also submitted, was published by Jean Bolland in the first volume of the Acta sanctorum in 1635. On his own account, O'Sullivan published a life of St Patrick (qv), Patritiana Decas (Madrid, 1629), though this was marred by a concluding section in verse entitled ‘Archicornigeromastix’ (‘a whip for the arch-horned one’), aimed at James Ussher. Philip also developed an interest in astronomy during his time in the Spanish navy, but only a fragment of his work on this subject survives, appended to the Uppsala manuscript. Our last notice of O'Sullivan is an index and laudatory verse which he contributed to a book edited by his friend Tomás Tamayo de Vargas, the historiographer royal, in 1635. He died in the second half of 1636.