Florence Vere O’Brien

Florence Vere O’Brien was born Florence Arnold, the elder daughter of William Arnold, son of Dr Thomas Arnold of Rugby. Both her father and mother had died young leaving four orphaned children. Florence, her sister, and two brothers, were sent home from India and were adopted by their aunt, Jane Arnold and her husband, William E. Forster.

In 1880 Mr Forster was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland. Florence lived with them for two years at the Chief Secretary’s Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin. It was during this time that Florence met Robert Vere O’Brien, a young barrister from Limerick, son of The Hon. Robert O’Brien of Dromoland.

Having corresponded for some years, Robert and Florence were married in London in 1883. They started their married life in Oldchurch in Limerick with Robert’s mother and sister, and three of their children were born there, Aubrey, Hugh and Jane.

Florence, with her educational and political background, her long experience of community service, and her considerable artistic ability, became involved with the revival of the Limerick lace craft, and helped to set up the “Limerick Lace Training School” in 1889. In 1893 she took over the running of the training school, and it was renamed “The Limerick Lace School”.

In 1890 the Vere O’Brien’s moved to Newhall, near Ennis, where Robert worked as Clerk of the Peace at the Courthouse. The family’s move did not deter Florence and she travelled regularly to Limerick to continue her involvement in running the Lace School.

By this time Florence had also become deeply involved with the setting up of the Clare Embroidery class at Newhall, where local girls were taught embroidery. In 1896 Florence’s fourth child, Flora, was born.

In 1899 they moved to Ballyalla, a property previously belonging to the Stacpoole family, where the embroidery class continued. The property included extensive woods, a gate lodge, a large walled garden, a crannóg in the lake, the remains of a castle nearby, an ice-house, a lime kiln and a cave with an underground passage. Their younger daughter, Flora, remained in Ballyalla until 1958.

Robert Vere O’Brien died in 1913 after his health deteriorated. Florence continued with the Clare Embroidery class up until her death in 1936.