O'BRIEN, Lucius (1800-1872).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1830
1847 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 5 Dec. 1800, 1st s. of Sir Edward O’Brien*, 3rd bt., and Charlotte, da. and coh. of William Smith of Cahermoyle, co. Limerick; bro. of William Smith O’Brien*. educ. Welling, Kent ?1809; Harrow 1813; by Rev. Percy Scott, Harborough Magna, Warws. ?1818; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1819; Trinity, Dublin 1835. m. (1) 21 Feb. 1837, Mary (d. 26 May 1852), da. of William Fitzgerald of Adelphi, co. Clare, 1s. 5da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 25 Oct. 1854, Louisa, da. of Maj. James Finucane of Ennistimon, co. Clare, 2s. 5da. suc. fa. as 5th bt. 13 Mar. 1837; 9th cos. 3rd mq. of Thomond [I] as 13th Bar. Inchiquin [I] 3 July 1855. d. 22 Mar. 1872.

Offices Held

Rep. peer [I] 1863-d.

Sheriff, co. Clare 1835-6, ld. lt. and custos rot. 1843-d.


O’Brien, the eldest of the nine surviving children of the Member for Clare, 1802-26, grew up in the largely unrestricted and, as his sister Harriet remembered it, happy family life at Dromoland, though he was considered the serious one of the family and another sister, Grace, once wrote that ‘poor Lucius seems to be left out because he cannot or does not enter into that same union of mind’.1 Like his next younger brother William, he was educated in England and was visited periodically during the parliamentary season by his father, who in 1813 found him ‘most amiable and lovable’.2 Sir Edward took him into the Commons, 18 May 1819, and the following day reported to his wife that Lucius, who ‘was much pleased with the debate’, was ‘a most excellent young man and the more I see of him the more am I perfectly satisfied with both his understanding and his heart’.3 A year later he found the studious Lucius doing well at Cambridge, where he kept himself ‘rather retired from too numerous an acquaintance’, and thought him set to be ‘a credit and a comfort’ to his parents.4 Travelling with him on a fact-finding trip to Scotland in the summer of 1821, his father commented that he was ‘a most excellent companion, sensible, intelligent and anxious to do anything in his power to meet my wishes’, and that ‘his character for life is already decided and I think he will improve most rapidly’.5

Lucius ably seconded Sir Edward’s lobbying for governmental relief, both in Clare and London, during the dearth the following year and William Wilberforce*, writing to Lord Calthorpe, 23 Oct. 1822, observed that he ‘seems quite filled with youthful zeal for the improvement of Ireland’ and, if brought into Parliament by his father, ‘I really think he will be a public blessing’. However, his intended entry into the Commons was put off, and although, as Lucius informed Calthorpe, 2 May 1823, he did ‘not yet despair of being able to prevail on him to give me his seat before the next session, as he has not assigned any reason for refusing me now’, he was made to wait for the dissolution.6 He was elected a burgess of his father’s tame corporation in Ennis, 24 June 1824, and later filled the office of provost.7 Invited into the chamber to hear George Canning and Henry Brougham’s speeches on the suppression of the Catholic Association, presumably on 15 Feb. 1825, Lucius was by that year designated to succeed Sir Edward, who during the passage of the bill to disfranchise the 40s. freeholders that spring, continually urged that he take care to preserve the family interest in their native county.8 Amid speculation about possible challengers, Lucius, who returned to Clare with Sir Edward at the end of May 1826, was elected unopposed with the other Member, William Vesey Fitzgerald, at the general election that summer, when he declared that he would follow in his father’s pro-Catholic politics.9

O’Brien went over to Westminster in January 1827, and the following month his father related that he ‘writes highly delighted with his situation and I hope will apply himself to his parliamentary business. It will be a great source of occupation to him, as well as being the means of introducing him to the best society in England’.10 He presented pro-Catholic petitions from his county, 21 Feb., and voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar.11 He divided for the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill, 16 Mar. He was listed in the minority of five against the charge of treating on the Berwick election committee, which reported on the 19th.12 He voted for Brownlow’s motion for information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and Newport’s for a select committee on the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. He was in the majority which carried the disfranchisement of Penryn against the wishes of the new prime minister, Canning, 28 May, but divided with ministers for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and, after bringing up further Clare parochial petitions in their favour, 20, 28 Mar., 2 May, for Catholic claims, 12 May 1828. Having pressed his father to the step, he was delighted when his brother William Smith O’Brien was brought in for Ennis in April, though, as an almost entirely silent Member, he was quickly overshadowed by him in the House.13 He divided in the minorities for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, and the Irish assessment of lessors bill, 12 June, but with the Wellington administration against reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He moved the Clare writ, 12 June, and, having presumably followed his father’s lead in backing the newly appointed president of the board of trade, Vesey Fitzgerald, in the ensuing contest, was said to have been entrusted with the petition against Daniel O’Connell’s return the following month.14 He signed the Irish Protestants’ declaration in favour of Catholic relief in the autumn of 1828 and attended the Irish Protestants’ pro-Catholic gathering in Dublin in January 1829.15

Early that year he was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on this, and he duly voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. The Irish secretary Lord Francis Leveson Gower acknowledged his family’s assistance to ministers that session, but turned down his patronage request on behalf of a relative, 17 June.16 He had missed the division on O’Connell being allowed to take his seat, 18 May, and as this was in breach of the promise he had apparently made to recognize the validity of his colleague as a Member, he was pilloried by O’Connell at his re-election in Clare, 30 July 1829.17 It was probably in relation to him that the O’Gorman Mahon*, who had ambitions of his own in the county, commented at that time that ‘of dunces and grave-looking and dumb mutes, Clare has [had] more than enough for a century to come. Ireland requires regeneration - by none such can it be effected’.18 An inactive ministerialist, O’Brien divided against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. His only other known votes were for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He insisted that he was opposed to the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties, although he was criticized in May for failing to attend a meeting of Irish Members on this, and, unless it was his brother, he presented the hostile Clare petition, 2 July.19 He defended his family’s parliamentary seat, with government backing, at the general election of 1830, when he refused to accept pledges for tax reductions and parliamentary reform; but unlike his more progressive brother, whose return for Ennis he silently witnessed, he was defeated in the county contest by two local liberal candidates.20 The attempt cost him, or his father, over £800, and another £1,000 was spent pursuing a petition.21 However, on the O’Gorman Mahon being unseated, Lucius, who might have started, made way for Sir Edward to stand again for Clare at the by-election in March 1831. He spoke in favour of his absent father on the hustings, where he committed him to supporting the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and shared in the subsequent ignominy of the family’s electoral rout.22

O’Brien did not offer at the general elections of 1831 and 1832 and was defeated in 1835, but he was Protectionist Member for Clare in the 1847 Parliament. A quiet, bookish man, with a penchant for versifying and antiquarianism, he succeeded to the baronetcy in 1837 and thereafter refurbished Dromoland and improved the surrounding estates.23 His extensive genealogical researches eventually substantiated his right to his distant cousin’s Irish barony of Inchiquin, a claim which was confirmed, 11 Apr. 1862, by the House of Lords, to which he was elected the following year as a Conservative representative peer.24 He died in March 1872, when his peerage was inherited by his eldest son, Edward Donough (1839-1900).25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Rev. T.T. Carter, Harriet Maunsell: A Mem. 1-6; G.R. O’Brien, These My Friends and Forebears, 101-2.
  • 2. R. Sloan, William Smith O’Brien, 12.
  • 3. NLI, Inchiquin mss T23/2971.
  • 4. Ibid. T23/2973, O’Brien to wife, 21, 25 May 1820.
  • 5. Ibid. T24/2980, O’Brien to wife, 26 July, 3 Aug. 1821.
  • 6. Ibid. T24/2976, O’Brien to wife, 18 Mar., 11 Apr., 8 May 1822; K. Sheedy, Clare Elections, 132-3; Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C86, C642.
  • 7. PP (1825), xxii. 214.
  • 8. Inchiquin mss T24/3626, O’Brien to wife [Feb.], 15 July; 3625, same to same, 4, 7, 14 Mar.; 2979, same to same, 11, 30 Mar. 1825.
  • 9. Ibid. T25/3627, O’Brien to wife, 18, 29 May; Dublin Evening Post, 15, 27, 29 June 1826.
  • 10. Inchiquin mss T25/2982, O’Brien to wife, 9 Jan., 15, 19 Feb. 1827.
  • 11. The Times, 22 Feb. 1827.
  • 12. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 277, Gladstone to Huskisson, 24 Mar. 1827.
  • 13. R. Davis, Revolutionary Imperialist, 24.
  • 14. Inchiquin mss T26/2983, O’Brien to wife, 13 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10 July 1828.
  • 15. Dublin Evening Mail, 8 Oct. 1828; Davis, 33.
  • 16. NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks.
  • 17. NLI, Stacpoole Kenny mss 18889 (13), W. to J. Macnamara, 24 May 1829; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1581, 1593, 1595, 1599; Sloan, 19-20.
  • 18. D. Gwynn, O’Gorman Mahon, 100.
  • 19. Clare Jnl. 17 May; Dublin Evening Post, 25 May 1830.
  • 20. Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Hart, 7 July; Clare Jnl. 15, 22 July, 5, 12, 16, 19 Aug. 1830; Davis, 46-47.
  • 21. Inchiquin mss T14/4924.
  • 22. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/1/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 10 Mar.; Clare Jnl. 21, 24 Mar. 1831.
  • 23. D. O’Brien, Hist. of O’Briens, 236-8; G.R. O’Brien, 127-30.
  • 24. G.R. O’Brien, 149-50, 160, 165; LJ, xciv. 159-60.
  • 25. Clare Jnl. 25 Mar.; The Times, 26 Mar. 1872.