O'BRIEN, Sir Edward, 4th Bt. (1773-1837), of Dromoland, co. Clare.
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Family and Education
b. 17 Apr. 1773, 1st s. of Sir Lucius Henry O’Brien, 3rd Bt., MP [I], of Dromoland by Anne, da. of Robert French of Monivea, co. Galway. educ. Royal sch. Armagh; Trinity, Dublin 1791. m. 12 Nov. 1799, Charlotte, da. and coh. of William Smith of Cahermoyle, co. Limerick, 5s. 4da. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 15 Jan. 1795.
MP [I] 1795-1800.
Lt.-col. Clare militia.
The O’Briens of Dromoland were one of three branches of a family which could trace its ancestry back to an ancient king of Ireland and possessed even in this period very considerable estates in Clare. Such qualifications were conducive to a rather prickly sense of pride. O’Brien’s father was often reported as pressing himself upon the Castle’s attention, an attitude which, as it went with the qualities of ‘thinking well of himself’, being ‘a frequent, tiresome and ungraceful speaker’ and having an ‘indigested’ fund of knowledge, did not meet with great success.1 Thus when his son succeeded to the baronetcy and returned himself for Ennis, family pride needed some palliative.
O’Brien opposed the Union and, having lost his seat for Ennis by ballot in 1801, determined to become Member for Clare and sole patron of Ennis. In 1802 he succeeded in both objectives, after an expensive contest for the county and after declaring himself a supporter of government. When Pitt returned to office in 1804, before which his only recorded minority vote was on the Prince of Wales’s debts, 4 Mar. 1803, O’Brien went into opposition, voting against the additional force bill in June 1804 and supporting the censure of Melville, 8 Apr., and the petition for consideration of the Catholic claims, 14 May 1805. During 1806-7, though latterly detained in Ireland by his wife’s illness, he supported Lord Grenville’s government, a fact he unfortunately brought to the prime minister’s attention at precisely the time when he quit office. His letter requesting military promotion for his two brothers therefore received the endorsement ‘answer, sorry not in my power to be of use to him’. Sir John Newport wrote, 28 Mar. 1807, that he feared O’Brien was ‘seriously affronted at the little notice taken of him’.2
In view of his pro-Grenville and pro-Catholic views (though he was prevented by assize duties from demonstrating them in April 1807) and his general desire for patronage, the advent of the Duke of Portland’s ministry embarrassed O’Brien, particularly as there was talk of a contested election for Clare, in which ministerial influence with the other main interest in the constituency, Lord Conyngham’s, would be important. In the event O’Brien chose to accept official assistance in his election, which was not contested, and in return for a promise of patronage for his brothers, to support the new ministers at Westminster.3 As his decision did not prove a guarantee of attendance, it caused a good deal of discussion at the Castle over the next few years. Sir Arthur Wellesley anxiously sought to make good the promise of patronage, while Lord Conyngham and even Lord Thomond, O’Brien’s relation, pressed their personal claims on the strength of it. With the exception of Catholic relief and the Regency bill, however, O’Brien gave, when present, a consistent support to both the Portland and Perceval governments. On 27 Jan. 1810 the Duke of Richmond, reporting that O’Brien was delayed by his wife’s illness and that he would have divided with ministers on the Scheldt question, disclosed that he had ‘tried a little bully but is satisfied and goes to England tonight’. On 7 Mar. Wellesley Pole informed the duke, ‘I could not prevent Sir Edward O’Brien (who has uniformly voted with us) from going to Ireland’.4
O’Brien was reported one of those Members who disapproved Lord Liverpool’s refusal to co-operate with Lord Wellesley in June 1812, and threatened to withhold support from the new government. The dissolution of Parliament in July and Liverpool’s success at the general election seem to have dispelled such thoughts. Having experienced a personal triumph in his election for Clare, O’Brien was soon regarded as a government supporter, a role he maintained, albeit with decreasing vigour, until the end of this period. In other respects too his conduct was consistent. He continued to support the Catholic claims and to press his case for patronage upon the Castle. Thus in 1815 he argued for his nominating the next Clare sheriff on the grounds that
county Members while they act with and support an administration think that they have claims for reciprocal support which if withdrawn from them and given to another must be destructive of confidence and they will find that in the hour of danger their interests have been undermined and that they are trading on hollow and insecure grounds.5
Despite reports of his unpopularity, O’Brien’s electoral interest proved invincible in 1818, a fact which did not prevent him from pressing further claims upon government. In that Parliament he supported them, except on the Irish window tax, 5 May 1819, though in December he was said to be negligent in attendance.6 No speech by him is known before 1822, apart from his presentation of the Clare protestant petition for Catholic relief on 6 June 1811. He died 13 Mar. 1837.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. xlviii. sec. C no 4 (1942), 180; lvi. sec. C no. 3 (1954), 238.
- 2. Add. 35713, f. 122; 35737, f. 62; Fortescue mss, O’Brien to Grenville, 15 Mar. 1807; Grey mss.
- 3. Wellington mss, Burton to Wellesley, 20 May 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 22, 472-3; Add. 40221, f. 19.
- 4. NLI, Richmond mss 62/506, 64/720, 65/749, 72/1499, 73/1618, 1710; Wellington mss, Wellesley to Manners, 17 Mar., to Perceval, 10 June 1808.
- 5. Add. 37297, ff. 171-2; 40242, f. 101; 40281, f. 85.
- 6. NLI mss 7850, p. 221, O’Connell to Fitzgerald, 1 July 1816; 7857, p. 301, Sampson to same, 3 Dec. 1819; Add. 40298, f. 7.