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Cornelius O'Brien of Birchfield (1782 - 1857) by Henry Comber


The Birchfield Estate

Beaghy demesne, anglicised to Birchfield, is associated mainly with the McDonough and O’Brien families. An examination of documents in the Registry of deeds, Henrietta St., shows that the property passed through many hands, but the interpretation of these complicated agreements calls for a high degree of legal and historical expertise and it is difficult to distinguish between owners, occupiers, mortgagees etc.

The estate is first mentioned in an inquisition of 1625 as the property of Thomas O’Cahill whose family name is preserved in the neighbouring townland of Caherycahill. Thomas died in 1621 leaving as his heir Donough O’Cahill. In 1628 Cormack O’Cahill mortgaged his lands to Daniel O’Brien of Dough. About 1655 Beaghy was granted to William Hamilton under the Act of Settlement and appears to have been sub-let by Hamilton to Craven McDonough in 1676. Craven was one of five sons of Daniel McDonough, who was granted Ballykeal, Kilfenora under the Act of Settlement.

In 1715, Major General Augustus Hamilton of Tullymore, Co. Down, sold Beaghy to Brigadier Francis Gore of Clonroad. Gore mortgaged the estate to Rev. Robt. Curtis and in 1748 Robert Curtis and Francis Gore sold Beaghy, the mansion of Castletown and the lands of Clonroad to John Purdon for £13,000. The same year, John Purdon sold Beaghy to John Stacpoole of Cragbrien.

Presumably the McDonough family were in occupation all this time, for in 1748, John Stackpoole granted a thirty-one year lease of Ballyvrislane, Beaghy, Lislarkin etc. to Nicholas McDonough, son of Craven. Nicholas was brother of Capt. Anthony McDonough of Irish Brigade fame. He is commemorated in Kilmacrehy cemetery by the inscription:-

“Here resteth Nick, whose fame no age can blot,
The chief MacDonagh in old Hebers lot,
Who, while on earth revived the ancient fame
Of his own line and that of all his name.
His fixed religion was his action’s guide
And as he lived beloved, lamented died.

1762:- John Stacpoole leased Birchfield to Henry O’Brien for £178 rent.
1780:- Henry O’Brien re-leased it to Lawerence Comyn.
1796:- Lawrence Comyn to Walter Arthur of Ennis and Walter Arthur to James O’Brien of Limerick.
1800:- Lawrence Comyn conveyed the lands of Birchfield previously enjoyed by Michael Furnell to John McNamara.
1800:- Edward O’Brien of Seamount renewed the lease granted Lawrence Comyn to his son Nicholas Comyn.
1803:- Edward O’Brien, eldest son and heir apparent of Henry O’Brien, late of Birchfield sold Beaghy to Michael and Cornelius O’Brien.
1808:- John McNamara re-leased Birchfield to John Lysaght of Ballyvorda.
1812:- Nicholas Comyn to Cornelius O’Brien.

From this date until his death, Cornelius seems to have been in full possession of the estate. Unfortunately, there are no details available of the building of the mansion of the extensive developments which must have taken place about this time. George, third son succeeded after his father’s death and when he died in 1867, the Birchfield property passed to Cornelius Keogh by his marriage to Mary O’Brien, youngest daughter. William McGrath came into possession of O’Brien’s Toonagh estate by marrying Bridget O’Brien in 1852.

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Interior of ruined Birchfield House. The O'Brien coat of arms is carved into the keystone of the arch
Interior of ruined Birchfield House. The O'Brien coat
of arms is carved into the
keystone of the arch.