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


The Landlord

Local recollections of Cornelius O’Brien hold no hint of kindness or generosity and give the impression that his good deeds were interred with him in his magnificent mausoleum in St. Bridgid’s Cemetery. But records of the time are more favourable.

Lewis Topographical Dictionary, 1837 refers to Birchfield – “The residence of Cornelius O’Brien who has much improved his estate and the condition of his tenantry by the erection of neat slated cottages and farm buildings and by other judicious arrangements; - a holy well dedicated to St. Brigid and much resorted to by the peasantry, which, at Mr. O’Brien’s expense, has been surrounded by tasteful plantations and rustic seats.”

Nowhere do we find mention of the rack-renting and evictions so common in other parts of Clare, O’Brien is described by another writer as a model for the other landlords of Clare and there is much praise for his activities in combating want and suffering through his membership of Ennistymon. Board of Guardians and Liscannor Famine Relief Committee. In the course of a very spirited debate (Dec. 21st. 1846) arising out of accusations by George Westropp, agent of Dean Stackpoole, that O’Brien was favouring his own tenants in allocating relief work, Mr. O’Brien said:-

“If Mr. Westropp had the slightest compassion in such a year as this, he would not have taken rent from his poor tenantry. He would have told them to take back their money and buy bread with it.”

O’Brien added that it was perfectly impossible that a man with a family of ten could maintain life in them on five shillings per week when wheat was at three shillings per stone and flour at two shillings and eight pence. If this was a system of relief, the Government should give wages high enough to enable the labourer to give his family enough bread - otherwise there was no use in this enormous outlay.
O’Brien’s work for the poor is praised by Rev. J. Sheehan, P.P., Ennistymon and the Clare Journal paid this tribute to him in his obituary: -

“As a landlord, no man was held in greater love and esteem by his tenantry. They clung to him in many a well-fought field of contention and carried him triumphant through every contest.”

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