The O’Brien Surname

Since today is  St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I might blog about the O’Brien family surname.  John and Anna O’Brien were about as Irish as you can be.  His parents were Michael and Mary (Casey) O’Brien and her parents were John and Bridget (O’Brien) Kennedy.  So John and Anna’s children had a paternal grandfather as well as a maternal grandmother who was an O’Brien.  Of course, there is plenty of information to write about the Kennedy and Casey families, but I will focus this blog on the O’Brien’s (who are arguably as famous in Ireland as the Kennedys are in the U.S.).Brian Boru Dublin Castle

Brian Boru – Dublin Castle

The O’Brien dynasty is a royal and noble house founded in the 10th century by Brian Boru (941-1014 AD).  O’Brien literally translates to “of Brien.”  After becoming King of Munster through conquest, he established himself as the High King of Ireland.   His descendants continued to rule Munster until the 12th century when their territory was greatly diminished by separating the Kingdom into the Kingdom of Thomond (of which the O’Brien’s ruled) and the Kingdom of MacCarthy.  They held onto the Kingdom of Thomond for another 500 years.

The last of the O’Briens to reign in Thomond was Murrough O’Brien who surrendered his sovereignty in 1542 to the new Kingdom of Ireland under Henry VIII of the House of Tudor.  In exchange, Murrough was granted the title of Earl of Thomond and retained a role in governance.  Today, the head of the O’Brien clan carries the title of Prince of Thomond.clontarf_battle

Battle of Clontarf -1014

On April 25th, 2014,  the O’Brien clan will be holding special events honoring the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf and the death of the High King.

O’Brien is the fifth most numerous surname in Ireland and the descendants of Brien Boru are scattered across the globe.  It is estimated that there are over 700,000 O’Briens currently live in the United States.  This proliferation of O’Briens has been quite a challenge for me with the research I have done concerning the John and Anna O’Brien family.  Just recently I have finally made contact with some of their descendants who have been very helpful with information.  I also need to be very cautious with my research as there were at least 5 John O’Briens living in Stillwater, Minnesota, at any given time and in the James J. Hill archives at the Minnesota History Center I have found 3 John O’Briens – the lumber baron I am researching, a Minnesota attorney and a Canadian Senator.  It has been and will continue to be an interesting journey for me which I will enjoy sharing with the readers of this blog.

Please enjoy this youtube video from the O’Brien Clan website which is a beautiful musical tribute to Brain Boru, High King of Ireland:

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