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Peter "the Packer" O'Brien
(1842-1914)


Peter O'Brien, popularly known as "Peter the Packer", was born at Carnelly House, Clarecastle, on 29th June 1842 and became in the course of a colourful and distinguished career, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

Educated at Clongowes Wood College and Trinity College, Dublin, he was called to the bar in 1865 and quickly established himself as a formidable cross-examiner and shrewd questioner of witnesses. He was also known as a ladies man and it was reported that cases involving pretty women and horses held a special appeal for him.

While his reputation as a barrister flourished, he continued to indulge in his passionate pastime of hunting and often returned to the family home at Ballinalacken House to ride out and hunt with the locals.

In 1879, Peter contested the vacant Parliamentary seat in Clare on behalf of the Liberals. His opponents were Captain Hector Vandeleur and the O'Gorman Mahon. The O'Gorman Mahon topped the poll by a large majority. As a native Clareman and a member of the landowning family, Peter was familiar with the different facets of the landlord and tenant question. However, he was opposed to Home Rule and but for his loyalty to the crown, he may have won the election.

In 1879 also, the Land League was formed. As unrest increased, landlords and their agents were attacked and shot but prosecutions were rare as witnesses, jurors and judges were intimidated and threatened. Clare was considered an ideal venue for anyone charged with agrarian offences as acquittals were commonplace.

It was during this time that Peter earned the nickname of "Peter the Packer". He was the first to succeed in getting convictions because of his ability to select juries free from what he called "prejudiced persons". Henceforth, he was known as "Peter the Packer".

Peter was appointed Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1888, and in 1900 was raised to the peerage as The Right Honourable Lord O'Brien, Baron of Kilfenora. He died in 1914, aged 72.

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