The clan gathers: O'Briens head for a Limerick meet

The O'Briens are coming. Clan members from all over the world will converge on Limerick and the south Shannon region this week for a millennium festival to mark the crowning of Brian Boru as High King of Ireland in 1002.

It will be the first major gathering of the clan for 10 years and is the brainchild of the current head of the O'Briens, Conor, 59, who is also Prince of Thomond, 18th Baron Inchiquin, 10th Baronet of Lamaneh and 32nd in direct descent from Brian Boru.

One of 20 recognised clan heads, from his base in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Lord Inchiquin is the “leader” of those with the sixth most common surname in Ireland.

The O'Briens are Ireland's third largest clan with an estimated 750,000 worldwide.

Lord Inchiquin hopes the gathering will boost a non-profit making foundation he set up to work for the good of O'Briens across the world and particularly to fund educational scholarships.

He sold two of his titles to help start the foundation - the feudal barony of Corcomroe, covering parts of Clare including Liscannor Bay, the Cliffs of Moher and Ennistymon and the barony of the islands covering part of the River Fergus estuary in Clare.

The Barony of Bunratty, where the famous castle will be one of the major venues for this week's celebrations, is leased to an American in return for a substantial donation to the foundation. The Castle was built in the 15th century by the Earl of Thomand, a direct descendant of Boru.
Lord Inchiquin hopes that eventually there will be a museum, library and genealogical research centre in Clare.

There is no charge for joining any of the 62 chapters of the clan association set up worldwide.
“My view has always been that, whether you like it or not, if you are an O'Brien, you are a member of the clan. You shouldn't have to pay money to be given a number to prove it.”

But a donation is expected from those joining the foundation to help fund the charity.
When he began planning the O'Brien millennium, Lord Inchiquin hoped that up to 5,000 would be attracted to the mid-west.

“September 11 has really put paid to that. It is a great shame after all the effort. We sent out 100,000 brochures and I did 40 television and radio interviews in the States.

“We are now expecting up to 500. The Americans just aren't travelling and we had hoped to get the biggest response from America. We have a lot coming from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Britain, Canada and of course, America.

“Unfortunately the foundation was going to make a certain amount on each person over a certain figure. But that won't be so I will be making an appeal during the gathering for people to support it.”
He will also be making an appeal for the missing sword of Brian Boru. In the 1960s it was stolen from the Vernon family in Clontarf and hasn't been seen since.

“It was a magnificent sword. I have an Australian-made replica for the festivities which weighs five kilos and is 1.6 metres long. It is a hefty weapon. The original was always attributed to Brian Boru but it may have been made after his death. I am hoping that someone knows where it is.”

He hopes the festival will instill a sense of pride in the accomplishments of Boru and his descendent, many of who have high achiever in business, entertainment and sport.

As chairman of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs, Lord Inchiquin says there is tremendous interest in roots and the 20 Irish clans involved.

“They can play a major role in tourism. We can also ensure that the country recognise the importance of the link between the old gaelic culture and our modern day Republican culture.”
The festival (from 18th to 22nd August) will involve historical lectures, conferences, exhibitions, tours and celebratory parties.

There will be visits to significant Brian Boru sites, landmarks and castles including the Rock of Cashel, Dromoland Castle, Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher (O'Briens Towers), Ennis and The Burren.
Educated at Eton College, Lord Inchiquin worked in banking in the Far East before returning to Ireland in 1982, where he became chief of the clan after his uncle Phaedrig died.

Although the original Inchiquin estate of 1880 ran to 28,000 acres, the land that he inherited 100 years later had dwindled over the decades to 600 acres.

He and his wife Helen, have two daughters, Slaney and Lucia. He expects his father's first cousin, Murrough, will eventually carry on his title.

Famous O'Briens
The O'Briens claim to trace their ancestry back through the generations to Noah and to be one of the oldest recorded families in Europe.

• Brian Boru: became High King of Ireland in 1002. Succeeded to the kingship of the Dal Cais (Delcassians) tribe, a powerful Munster dynasty in 976. He went on to enforce his authority over much of the country with a combination of military skill and political astuteness and was regarded as the “Charlemagne of Ireland”. Aged 74 he led the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 but was slain by a Danish prince. Boru is reputed to have cut the legs off the Dane with his sword before he died.

• Black Murrough the Burner O'Brien: the first Earl of Inchiquin, who changed sides four times and his religion twice during the English Civil War. Infamous for his burning of Cashel and blamed for the massacres of the defenders. Went into exile and became governor of Catalonia before returning home to his restored Munster estates. His tomb in St Marys Cathedral is empty as his body was removed and thrown in the Shannon on the night of his funeral.

• General-Major Johann Freiherr von O'Brien: gave outstanding service to Austria, especially at the 1809 battle against Napoleon at Vienna. The street, “O'Brien Gasse”, is named after him and Vienna also honoured him with the “O'Brien Denkmal” monument.

• Charles O'Brien: the 5th Viscount Clare followed James II to France after the Williamate War and gave his name to a regiment in the French service.

• Colonel O'Brien: a mercenary in Portugal gave a phrase to his adopted county's 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. “Um amigo de Peniche” means a friend who has outstayed his welcome.

• William Smith O'Brien: born into a Protestant gentry family in 1803, he was elected MP for Ennis as a Tory in 1828. Supported Catholic Emancipation and became convinced that justice for Ireland could not be attained under the Union. After the 1848 rebellion, he was captured by a railway guard! He was convicted of high treason and transported to Tasmania. Six years later he was pardoned and returned to Ireland.

• William O'Brien: a leading nationalist and journalist who married a rich Frenchwoman. He founded the All-for-Ireland League in 1898 which won eight parliamentary seats in Co Cork in 1910. Later dismissed as “Screaming William” by the Nationalist Party, he was at one stage a leading lieutenant of Charles Parnell.

• Pat O'Brien: Hollywood's Irishman-in-residence who is best remembered for his role as a policeman, a priest, and the Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne opposite Ronald Regan in Knute Rockne - All American. Also seen in other films such as The Fighting 69th, The Fighting Father Dunne, The Fireball and Angels With Dirty Faces.

• Margaret O'Brien: considered one of the most successful child actresses after Shirly Temple. She appeared in more than 20 films in her early years, from Babes on Broadway with Mickey Rooney to Meet Me In St Louis with Judy Garland.

• Parry O'Brien: revolutionised the sport of shot putt with his whirling technique. Won the gold medal for the US in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. He was the first man to throw the shot more than 60 feet.

• Vincent O'Brien: the retired horse trainer who was known as the “Master of Baldoyle”. He trained horses from England, Ireland, France and the US that won many of the world's most prestigious races.

• Edna O'Brien: the novelist whose debut with “Country Girls” put her straight onto the literary map. At one time six of her books were banned in Ireland.

• Denis O'Brien: entrepreneur and founder of Esat which was awarded the country's second mobile phone licence. Now one of Ireland's richest men, he went to live in tax exile in Portugal after the company was bought by British Telecom.

Courtesy of the Irish Post
August 2002