Sullivan, Sir Edward (1822–85), politician and lord chancellor of Ireland, was born 10 July 1822 at Mallow, Co. Cork, eldest son of Edward Sullivan (1795–1867), a wealthy merchant, and his wife Anne (née Lynch), widow of John Surflen. Edward was educated at Midleton College, Co. Cork, and entered TCD in 1841. A brilliant student, he obtained the classics scholarship (1843), was elected auditor of the College Historical Society in 1845, and graduated that year with a BA and the gold medal for oratory. After attendance at King's Inns (1844) and Lincoln's Inn (1846) he was called to the bar in Dublin (1848) and quickly achieved prominence. In 1858 he was made QC, two years later he was appointed third serjeant, in 1861 he was law adviser to the crown, and on 10 February 1865 he was made solicitor general for Ireland in Lord Palmerston's administration. In this capacity he was instrumental in plans to stamp out the Fenians, which led to the arrest of the leaders Thomas Clarke Luby (qv) and John O'Leary (qv) and the suppression of the Irish People in September 1865.
In July 1865 Sullivan was elected liberal MP for Mallow (1865–70). During 1866–8, while his party was in opposition, he concentrated mainly on his legal practice. Erudite and eloquent, with a formidable grasp of detail, he was among the foremost barristers of the day and won particular acclaim as counsel for the plaintiff in the celebrated case of Thelwell v. Yelverton which turned on Maj. Yelverton's denial that he had ever married Teresa Longworth. Sullivan's masterly cross-examination exposed Yelverton as a liar, and restored the lady's honour. In December 1868 he was appointed attorney general for Ireland in Gladstone's first administration, where his loyalty, prudence, and intelligence soon made him invaluable. He was a strong advocate of the 1869 bill for disestablishment of the church of Ireland, and greatly assisted its progress through the commons. One of the key architects of the 1870 land bill, he is credited with proposing the extension of Ulster tenant right to the whole of Ireland. By reason of his resolute stance against the Fenians he was one of the members of cabinet most disliked by advanced nationalists, who termed him ‘a viper’ (Irishman, 30 Oct. 1869). He resigned from parliament (1870) on his appointment as master of the rolls in Ireland. As a member of the privy council, he continued to give political and legal advice to Gladstone and in 1881 was instrumental in the decision to arrest Parnell. On Gladstone's recommendation he was created a baronet (29 December 1881), and two years later (11 December 1883) was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland, in which capacity he moved strongly against the Invincibles, the group responsible for the 1882 Phoenix Park assassinations. He held office until his sudden death at home in 32 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, on 13 April 1885. A classical scholar and a skilled linguist in German, French, Italian, and Spanish, Sullivan had amassed by his death one of the most valuable libraries in Ireland; part of it fetched £11,000 at auction in 1890.
He married (1850) Bessie Josephine (d. 1898), daughter of Robert Baily of Cork; they had four sons and a daughter. According to the practice of the time, the boys were brought up protestant while their sister, Annie, was raised a Roman catholic, like her mother. Their youngest son, John Sullivan (qv), later became a Roman catholic.
The eldest son, Sir Edward Sullivan (1852–1928), lawyer and writer, was born 27 September 1852, educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and went on to TCD, where he was as brilliant a student as his father, graduating BA with first-class honours (1876). He entered the King's Inns (1879) and practised as a barrister, with no great prominence. His attempts at a political career proved unsatisfactory: he stood as a liberal unionist against the nationalist Edmund Dwyer Gray (qv) for the St Stephen's Green division of Dublin in the 1886 election, and was soundly defeated. T. M. Healy (qv) conducted an acid campaign against him and taunted him with being unable to take the cut and thrust: ‘These scented and powdered gentlemen do not at all like the touch of a rotten egg upon their alabaster faces’ (Freeman's Journal, 30 June 1886). Sir Edward moved to England, entering the Middle Temple in 1888 and standing for the Chester le Street division of Durham in 1892, where he was again unsuccessful. He devoted the rest of his life to literature and the arts and crafts movement. In 1894 he was a founding member and guarantor of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland, travelling to Belfast the following year with its founder, Lord Mayo (qv), to seek support for the society's first exhibition in Dublin. He contributed two articles to the first number of the society's journal, one on early Irish printers and their work, and the other on what became his primary interest: ‘Irish bookbinding, and how it may be improved’. His enduring contribution in this respect was his documenting, photographing and taking detailed rubbings of the bindings of the manuscript journals of the Irish parliament which were later destroyed in 1922 in the PROI fire. In the words of Maurice Craig, ‘but for him we would have very little idea of what they [the bindings] were like and of what we have lost’ (quoted by Nicola Gordon Bowe, 207); in 1904 Sullivan's planned single volume folio edition of the bindings was frustrated for lack of support. From the 1890s onwards he contributed scholarly articles on bookbinding and Elizabethan drama to periodicals such as the Nineteenth Century and Quarterly Review, and he published a rather erratic collection of books, including a translation of Dante's Divine comedy (1892–3) and Tales from Sir Walter Scott (1894). His descriptive manual of the Book of Kells (1914), which was reprinted in 1920, was the first attempt to reproduce the colouring of the illuminations and was well reviewed; he was commended by the Irish Ecclesiastical Record for his introduction, notable for its purple prose. His only work in print is the Memoirs of Buck Whaley (qv), which he edited (1906). He died at a nursing home in London on 19 April 1928. Unmarried, he was succeeded as baronet by his brother, William Sullivan (1860–1937), a barrister and RM of Co. Meath.