Select O'Brien Miscellany

Here are some O'Brien stories and accounts over the years:

O'Brien Early History

The O達rians emerged as chiefs of the Dalcassian tribe in SW Ireland which claimed a descent from the legendary Cormac Cas back in the 3rd century.   This claim may have been fanciful.   The Dalcassians in fact first began to appear in history in county Clare around the 8th century.  Their chief was crowned king of Thomond (or north Munster) two centuries later.  His son Mathgamain mac Cennetig was to expand their territory further, according to the Annals of Ulster, and he captured the Rock of Cashel (in present day Tipperary), thereby becoming the king of Cashel and Munster. 

His younger brother Brian Boru
, born around 940, first made himself king of Munster, then subjugated Leinster, and, eventually became the King of All Ireland, in the process ending the prior domination of the Ui Neills.  He died in 1014 in the celebrated battle of Clondorf when the Norsemen were finally defeated.  He was the founder of the O達rien clan that was to follow

The History of the O'Brien Clan

The first O達rien history, The Historical Memoir of the O達riens, was written by John O奪onoghue and published in 1860.  It told the story of the O達riens from Cormac Cas through Brian Boru and up until the end of the 18th century. 

The author used as his source material the various reference works of Irish history that were available to him at the time, such as The Annals of the Four Masters, The Annals of Innisfallen, The Annals of Ulster, plus the works by John O奪onovan and other scholars of Irish history.  From these sources came the development of the O達rien clan pedigrees. 

The book, which has only been available in limited numbers, has recently been reprinted with a foreword by Morgan Llewelyn (who has written the story of Brian Boru) and portraits of the notable O達riens in history. 

There is an update on this O達rien history which has taken the story to 1946.

The O'Briens at Comeragh Castle

The first reference to the O達riens of Comeragh castle, at the foot of the Comeragh mountains in Waterford, was in 1549 when Anthony O達rien obtained a pardon from the English government.   However, they were never safe from the English.  The castle was besieged unsuccessfully in 1619.  During Cromwell痴 time Derby O達rien, the head of the O達rien family at that time, was taken in 1656 and he died in captivity. 

Then, after fierce resistance from the five sons of Derby O'Brien, Comeragh castle was captured by Cromwell.  He hanged four of these sons.  The fifth son, John of Kilnafrahane, managed to escape to the coast and he made a home for himself near Helvick Head.  From him came the O'Briens of Ballyetragh who were there through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Clare's Dragoons

Clare's Dragoons, initially named O'Brien's Regiment after its originator Daniel O達rien the 3rd Viscount Clare, had been raised as a mounted dragoon regiment from Limerick to support the dethroned James II against the army of William or Orange in Ireland. 

After the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, the regiment reformed in France, first in 1689 and later in 1696. It fought under the name of Clare痴 Dragoons in the service of France in various campaigns between 1696 and 1774.  

Their marching song has survived.   The stanza which follows shows the O達rien connection: 

鄭nother Clare is here to lead,  
The worthy son of such a breed  
The French expect some famous deed,  
When Clare leads on his bold dragoons.  
Our colonel comes from Brian's race,  
His wounds are in his breast and face,  
The bearna baoghil is still his place,  
The foremost of his bold dragoon.

Viva la, the new brigade!  
Viva la, the old one too!  
Viva la, the rose shall fade  
And the shamrock shine forever new!"

Early O'Briens in America

Morris O達rien had arrived in Machias, Maine from Cork in Ireland in 1765.  He was aged about fifty then and engaged himself in the lumber business, operating a sawmill with his sons.  He died in Machias in 1799 and his tombstone read: 

滴ere lie deposited the remains of Morris O'Brien, who died June 4, 1799, aged 84 years. 

舛ome think on me, as you pass by, 
As you are now, I once was too; 
As I am now so you must be, 
Prepare for death to follow me." 

He was an American patriot and the father of five sons, including Captain Jeremiah O達rien, who all distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War. 

Some other early O達rien arrivals in America can be seen in the table below.


Philip O'Bryan
Dublin to Maryland  
James and John Brien
Cork to Boston
Timothy Bryan
Cork to Boston
Mary and Elizabeth O'Brien
Ann & Margaret  
Ireland to Boston

Philip O達ryan is believed to have come from Armagh.  He appeared on the census for Frederick county, Maryland in 1776 and served in the Maryland militia during the Revolutionary War.

The O'Briens and Thimble Cottage

John O'Brien had come to Newfoundland from Ireland around 1818 and started his farm in fourteen acres of land that he had cleared in Freshwater valley near St. John's.   He established a commercial dairy farm there and sold his milk to housewives and shopkeepers in the west end of St. John's.  

He had built two farmhouses on his land before he started work on a third one, on Nagle Hill in St. John's, in 1850.  It was to be situated on a narrow, steep, winding gravel road on Nagle Hill, nestled in a forested grove and overlooking much of the city of St. John痴. 

Built for his son Timothy, it took two winters to gather sufficient materials from the nearby forest to build the house.  He made the chimney from locally-gathered stone and sheltered the structure with locally-made spruce shingles.  The two-and-a-half-storeyed salt-box house has a sloping roof which makes the structure a single storey at the rear where the kitchen is located.  

The house is typical of a 19th century Newfoundland Irish farmhouse.  It is the sole survivor of approximately twenty similar homes that were once common in the Freshwater valley area. 

Thimble Cottage survived the 1892 fires and has been continuously lived in by the O達rien family since the time it was built.  In 1992 the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador rewarded the efforts of the O達riens to preserve their land and home when Thimble Cottage was declared a Registered Heritage Structure.  Aly O達rien who died there in 2008 was said to have been the last Gaelic speaker of Newfoundland.

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