Sullivan, Francis Stoughton (1715–66), antiquary and lawyer, was born in Co. Galway, son of Francis Sullivan, lieutenant in the army; nothing is known of his mother. After schooling in Waterford under Mr Fell, he entered TCD (25 January 1732) aged 16. A scholar (1734), he graduated BA (1736) and was elected a jurist fellow (1738), which exempted him from celibacy or taking holy orders, as was required of ordinary fellows. He graduated MA (1739) and LLB and LLD (1745) and was called to the Irish bar in 1746 after studying (1742) at the Middle Temple, London. He acquired a limited admiralty practice, and some limited success in the ecclesiastical courts (c.1762–6).
Serving as regius professor of civil law (1750–66), senior lecturer in Greek (1755–8), lecturer in history and oratory (1759–60), and professor of oratory at TCD from 1759, Sullivan was appointed the first professor of feudal and English law (1761), which obliged him to resign his fellowship. He was only the second after William Blackstone to receive such an appointment. Sullivan pioneered the teaching of common law in a university setting in Ireland. George Faulkner (qv) published his Plan for the study of the feudal and English laws in the University of Dublin (1761), outlining his aim and means of giving students a grounding in the common law, and paying explicit homage to Blackstone; it sketched out a two-year syllabus, with close attention to the Magna Carta, on the development of feudal and common law.
A descendant of the Ó Súilleabháin Mór family, Sullivan had an interest in the Irish language that dated from at latest December 1742, when he set himself the task of producing a critical edition of the ‘Lebor Gabála Érenn’ (‘the book of conquests of Ireland’). On publication (1764) he dedicated it to Charles O'Conor (qv) (1710–91), whom he had met at Faulkner's dinner table, a lively locus of learned and antiquarian interests in Dublin. Sullivan gradually augmented TCD's collection of Irish manuscripts through his lifetime, purchasing what became available and employing scribes to copy other works. He employed (1742–58) Hugh O'Daly (regarded as a poor choice) to transcribe various manuscripts. The quality of this work was questionable: ‘[Sullivan] was very easily satisfied and ink was not the only fluid present on the scribal table’ (Harrison, 3). Significantly, Tadhg Ó Neachtain (qv) celebrated the patronage Sullivan extended to him in a verse in English (TCD MS H.26, p. 137). Despite this, O'Conor praised Sullivan for assembling ‘the best private collection of ancient manuscripts now in the kingdon, and none knows the use of them better’ (O'Conor, Dissertations on the history of Ireland (2nd ed, 1766), p. xi).
Sullivan was encouraged by O'Conor (July 1763) to publish a critical edition of the ‘Annals of the four masters’, which O'Conor hoped would gain the financial backing and patronage of the Dublin Society, of which Sullivan was a member. Sullivan responded enthusiastically, engaged the scribe Muiris Ó Gormáin (qv) on the project in November 1763, and sought for O'Conor to join him in Dublin to develop the outline of the planned publication as well as to lobby the Dublin Society and scholars more generally. O'Conor, however, felt he could not be spared from Clonalis, and the proposed project failed to attract either the attention of the Society or broader patronage, and petered out.
Sullivan prepared some of his lectures for publication before his death. An historical treatise on the feudal law of England, with a commentary on the Magna Charta [sic] (London, 1770), one of the most significant eighteenth-century works to examine the evolution of feudal law, was aimed at the Irish law student who would probably have lacked experience at the Inns of Court. Sullivan was keen to emphasise the inter-relationships between law, history, and philosophy, in the hope that this would encourage the acceptance of a legal education as a necessary academic venture for a gentleman. He examined the relationship between legal complexity and social development, noting: ‘Within these last two hundred and fifty years the inhabitants of Europe . . . seem to have been seized with an epic madness of making new laws’ (Historical treatise, 7). The work was representative of Sullivan's wish to tie legal education to collegiate discipline within a suitably academic atmosphere. He made the novel introduction of the use of moot courts to the academic study of law. The work was well received and later went through numerous editions in America after 1805 under the title Lectures on the constitution and laws of England.
John Hely-Hutchinson (qv), provost of TCD 1774–94, remarked after Sullivan's death that he was ‘a man of very superior abilities, of singular simplicity of manners, but of invincible indolence. In the common law courts he made no progress. In the ecclesiastical courts he had better success, but in his lifetime he was more regarded as a civilian than a common lawyer . . .’ (John Hely-Hutchinson, ‘Manuscript history of Trinity College Dublin’, TCD Library manuscripts department, p. 74).
Sullivan died 1 March 1766; his library was auctioned at his house on Aungier St., Dublin, on 13 May. His son William Francis (1756–1830) was educated at TCD, entered the navy, and served throughout the American war of independence, later settling in England and publishing a few works of farce and fiction.