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


Tourists may have little taste for cold historical facts and can thrive on a diet of myths, legends and paddywhackery. As the primary developer of the Cliffs of Moher, Cornelius O’Brien has become something of a Bord Fáilte property and any biographical material published about him is in the form of tourist brochures. These belong to the dúirt bean liom [a woman said to me] school of history and he is presented through stories culled from folk memory and uninformed comment on the many public and private buildings erected by him. But facts there are a plenty, for this was no Diarmuid na mBan or Ozymandias of Egypt but an M.P. of twenty years standing, a prominent Clare landlord of ten thousand acres, a Dublin solicitor, director of the National Bank and a public figure whose activities were widely reported. After such a career, one would expect to find a mass of family papers, but I have met only a few business letters in the Stacpoole Kenny papers.

The anecdotes allegedly current in local folk lore are most unkind and altogether unreliable. None of the incidents they record can be verified and nowhere is there mention of the striking events which marked O’Brien’s full and distinguished life. It is customary to refer disparagingly to him by the familiar form of his Christian name but he does not seem to have been the “call me Corny” type and the only recorded use of this cognomen is by hecklers at an election meeting in Ennis.

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