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

Marriage, Love and Posterity

The bland statement of Who’s Who, that O’Brien married in 1816, Margaret, widow of James O’Brien of Limerick, begs quite a number of questions. The middle-aged widow, who had borne four children to James O’Brien in the 1790s could hardly be the mother of Cornelius O’Brien’s family born between 1830 and 1842, especially as her death is reported in 1839. It was a strange marriage on which to found a dynasty and financial or political reasons may have influenced Cornelius in his choice. Margaret’s first husband was obviously a wealthy man and her uncle, William Roche of Limerick, was one of the leaders of the Irish Party.

There are various references to Mrs. Mary O’Brien of Birchfield, late in O’Brien’s life and after his death, but no record of a second marriage can be traced. In view of the fragmentary registers which survive from that time, no conclusions can be drawn from this. A story in the locality tells of a foundling girl, Mary Kelly, reared in Toonagh who, coming to Birchfield as a housemaid, became the mistress of the master and later, the lady of the manor.

Dame Fortune smiled on Cornelius O’Brien, granting him a long life, prosperity and political success, but she seems to have turned away from his family. His eldest son, Lieutenant John C. died of sunstroke at Seconderbad in the East Indies aged twenty-six years, some months before his father’s death; and none of the other children seemed to have lived to more than thirty-two years. I have found no trace of any descendants.

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