William Smith O’Brien in Ardagh, Co Limerick

William O’Brien was born on 17 October 1803, second son to Sir Edward O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle, Member of Parliament for Ennis, County Clare and Charlotte Smith, daughter of  the wealthy William Smith, an attorney,of Newcastle West, County Limerick.

The O’Briens had accumulated large debts and the marriage to a wealthy Smith was a fortuitous one. Cahermoyle House, in Ardagh, Co Limerick was a property acquired by William Smith. William O’Brien (as he then was) inherited Cahermoyle House and lands of about 5,000 acres from his grandfather William Smith, and in honour of his grandfather, he adopted his name and from now on became known as William Smith O’Brien.

William Smith O’Brien followed in his father’s footsteps and entered politics, becoming conservative member of Parliament for Ennis from 1828 to 1831, but gave  it up on his marriage to Lucy Gabbett  from Limerick  in 1832.  The newlyweds decided to make Cahermoyle House their home. Their marriage was a happy one and they had 7 children. William returned to politics and became Member of Parliament for Limerick County from 1835 to 1848.

At the House of Commons, Smith O’Brien vociferously highlighted  the suffering of the  people of Ireland, calling for better government and an end to Catholic discrimination. (The Famine was raging in Ireland between 1845 & 1852).

He worked for Famine Relief Schemes and was Chairman of the Newcastle West Board of Guardians.He joined the Young Ireland Movement, and was arrested for ‘seditious conspiracy’ in 1848. Whilst on bail, he led the failed Rebellion at Ballingarry Co Tipperary later in 1848 and was arrested at Thurles  Railway Station when making  his way back to Cahermoyle. William Smith O’Brien with Terence McManus, Patrick O’Donohoe and Thomas Francis Meagher were charged with  high treason and  on 9 October 1948 they were sentenced to death. A petition for clemency was raised, and contained 80,000 signatures.

The sentences were commuted to transportation for life and on 9 July 1849 the Young Irelanders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land on board ‘The Swift’. In 1854, O’Brien was pardoned and returned to Europe, but it was not until 1856 that he was permitted to return to Ireland and Cahermoyle, and to his much loved wife. Lucy died in 1861 and William was said to have been distraught.

On 18 June 1864, William Smith O’Brien died whilst travelling  in Bangor, North Wales. News of his death was reported across the world. His body was brought by ship from Wales to Dublin, arriving at the quayside in the very early hours of the morning.

The Sydney Morning Herald on 15 August reported on the funeral:

”The remains of the deceased arrived on the morning of the 23rd, at the North Wall, in the City of Dublin. About 2,000 persons were present to receive the remains. A hearse was in attendance, and as soon as the coffin was conveyed on shore it was borne towards the hearse in order to be conveyed to the Great Southern and Western Railway, enroute to Cahermoyle, Limerick, but the people shouted, unanimously that it should be carried to the railway, and all efforts to take it to the hearse were unavailing. A procession was formed, and the coffin was borne on the shoulders of six men to the railway, by way of the Royal Canal and the principal streets. The green flag was waved over the remains before the train started for Cahermoyle.”

The body was transported by road from Limerick railway station, to repose at Cahermoyle before the funeral to the church at Rathronan, where the family worshipped. The vast funeral procession comprised a large number of gentry, some 20 catholic priests and hundreds of tenants, many mounted. It is said that the hearse had reached the church while the rear was still leaving Cahermoyle, some 2 miles away.    

- The author of article is unfortunatly not given, however aided by research by local Historian Mr John Hough, Author of ‘William Smith O’Brien – the Unlikely Revolutionary’ 

Shared on IrelandXO by:

St Kieran’s Heritage Association

Additional Information
Date of Birth 1st Oct 1803
Date of Death 1st Jun 1864
Associated Building (s) Cahermoyle House  
Father (First Name/s and Surname) Sir Edward O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle, Member of Parliament for Ennis, County Clare
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Charlotte Smith, daughter of the wealthy William Smith, an attorney,of Newcastle West, County Limerick.

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