It was Brian Boru (9251014) High King of Munster and then High King and Emperor of the Irish who gave the name OBrien to this ancient family. His son by the treacherous Danish Princess Gormflath, Donough, began the lineage. With the ONeills and the OConors, they have been for centuries the leading Gaelic aristocratic families.
It was about this time that the OBriens moved to Dromoland Castle above). In the world of international politics, Conor Cruise OBrien (b. 1917) has had a versatile career. He served in the Irish Diplomatic Service and the United Nations in the Congo. He was Chancellor of Ghana University, and served as a minister in a coalition government in Ireland.
In 1938, The Hon. Donough OBriens History of the OBriens traces the family back to the senior line descending from King Milesius of Spain (1500 BC) and thence back to Noah! So the OBriens are not just one of the oldest families in Ireland but in the world.
King Brian Boru beat the Danes at Clontarf (1014) but died in the battle, leaving a power vacuum. A grandson of Brians, Donal Mór OBrien (d. 1194) was for years locked in battle for that elusive goal, rule of all Ireland. In the twelfth century, the contenders for the high kingship, apart from the OBriens, were the Mac Lochlainns of Aileach in Ulster and the OConors of Connacht. The story of Donal Mór, King of Munster, is a saga of ruthless battles, blinding of rivals and abandoning of hostages.
Murrough OBrien (d. 1551), finding that he could not defeat Henry VIII, led the Gaelic chiefs in acknowledging Saxon sovereignty. He adopted the Protestant religion, dropping his royal title and was rewarded by being created 1st Earl of Thomond in 1543.
Murrough OBrien (161674), 1st Earl of Inchiquin, fought on the English side in the rebellion of 1642. With the Cromwellians he sacked and burned towns, earning the nickname Murrough of the Burnings. He savagely drove the Catholics from Cork, Youghal and Kinsale. When the monarchy was restored in England, he sided with Charles II. This did not help him, for he was now regarded as a traitor by both the Irish and English. He went to Rome to seek pardon from the Pope for his atrocities and passed his remaining fifteen years doing severe penance.
William OBrien, 2nd Earl of Inchiquin, was surprisingly on King Williams side at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. After the Battle and the Treaty of Limerick (1691), Charles OBrien, Fifth Viscount Clare, was, by contrast, one of the now impoverished Wild Geese who fled Ireland, leaving behind 57,000 acres of land. As a French General, he fought Churchills ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, at Blenheim and two years later at Ramillies in 1706, where he died of his wounds.
The Sixth Viscount fought so well at Dettingen and Fontenoy that he became the famous Maréchal Clare. The exiled Scots and Irish lived in the Jacobite enclave of the old Chateau at St Germain-en-Laye, given to James II by Louis XIV, when he moved to larger premises at Versailles!
One mercenary Colonel OBrien gave a phrase to the Portuguese language. On the way to fight the Spanish, his Irish force hung around the coastal town of Peniche eating and drinking for weeks too long. To this day Um amigo de Peniche means a friend who has outstayed his welcome!
In Vienna, the street OBrien Gasse and monument OBrien Denkmal commemorate Generalmajor Johann Freiherr von OBrien for outstanding service to Austria, especially at the 1809 battle against Napoleon at Vienna.
William Smith OBrien, Conservative Member of Parliament for Limerick, led the ill-fated Young Ireland Revolt of 1848 culminating in the Battle of Widow McCormacks Cabbage Garden. He was arrested by a railway guard, sentenced to death and then exiled to Tasmania.
Beatrice OBrien married Guglielmo Marconi, the pioneer of wireless, in 1905.
In 1937, Donough OBrien, 16th Baron Inchiquin, very nearly became the first President of Ireland but was beaten by Dr Wilfred Hyde.
The OBrien name is conspicuous in American history. In the eighteenth century, Maurice OBrien of County Cork emigrated to the coast of Maine. One of his sons was Captain Jeremiah OBrien, and, when the Navy arrived to load timber for the British army, Captain Jeremiah and his brothers captured several of their ships, an incident which has since been recognized as the first naval engagement of the American Revolution. In 1900, the American navy commemorated the OBrien action by naming one of their battleships the Jeremiah OBrien.
Among writers, Kate OBrien (18971974) of Limerick wrote many successful plays and novels. During her most fruitful years she suffered the fate of many leading writers of the time, the banning of her books by the Irish Censorship Board. She is now acclaimed as the Jane Austin of Limerick. Edna OBrien (b. 1932), a convent girl from county Clare, had a sensational success with her first novel, The County Girls, which she has now followed with a series of novels and plays.
The present head of the OBrien Clan is Conor OBrien, 18th Baron Inchiquin, who lives at Thomond House which overlooks Dromoland Castle, now a magnificent hotel.
It was about this time that the OBriens moved to Dromoland Castle above).
In the world of international politics, Conor Cruise OBrien (b. 1917) has had a versatile career. He served in the Irish Diplomatic Service and the United Nations in the Congo. He was Chancellor of Ghana University, and served as a minister in a coalition government in Ireland.
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