Origin, Meaning and Family History of the O'brien Name
O’Brien Surname Name Meaning, Origin, History, & Etymology
This last name is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic surname O’Briain, meaning “descendant of Brian”, an old personal (first) name deriving from the word bre meaning hill, with the transferred sense “exalted one” or “eminence”. They are a Dalcassian sept (known as the Ui Toitdealbhaigh) who take their name from Brian Boru (born 941 AD) who was the High King of Ireland who died at the Battle of Clontarf, driving the Norsemen out of Ireland. This family bore titles such as Viscount Clare, Earls of Thomond, and Earl of Inchiquin. The name is sometimes confused with O’Bryne or Byrne.
In his book A Genealogical History of Irish Families, John Rooney, states the following in regard to this family: “The O’Brien family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of Heber third son of that monarch. The founders of the family were Brian Boroimhe, or Horn, King of Ireland, AD 1002-1014, and Moriertach O’Brien, last King of Ireland, of the race of Brian Boru 1089 AD. Through their descent from Cormac Cas, son of Olliol Ollum, King of Munster, AD 177, and his consort, Sabia. daughter of Con Kead Caha, or Con of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland AD is the blood of both Eeber and Heremon is united in this family. The ancient name was Brian, and signifies ‘The Author’. The titles of the chiefs of the sept were Prince of Thomond, and King of Cashel and Minister, and their possessions were located in the present Comities of Cork, Limerick and Clare, then known as “O’Brien’s Country.” This territory had been in the possession of the O’Brien sept from the time of Heber, and most of the Kings of Minister were of the O’Brien branch. From this stem sprung all the nobility and gentry of Minister. The chieftains and princes of the O’Briens were inaugurated at a spot called Magh-Adhair, now called Moyry Park, and situated in the townland of Toonagh, parish of Clooney, barony of Upper Bunratty, County of Clare, about three and a half miles west of Tulla”.
Some spelling variants or names with similar etymologies include O’Bryen, Oryen, Brien, O’Brin, O’Brieen, O’Briene, O’Bryen, and O’Brian.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name O’Brien ranks 234th in popularity in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name ranks particularly high in the following five states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Minnesota, and Vermont.
The surname O’Brien frequency/commonness ranks as follows in the British Isles: England (185th), Scotland (271st), Wales (161st), Ireland (7th) and Northern Ireland (237th). In England, it ranks highest in county Lancashire. In Scotland, the surname ranks highest in Lanarkshire. In Wales, it ranks highest in Glamorganshire. In Ireland, it ranks highest in counties Limerick and Clare. In Northern Ireland, it ranks highest in county Tyrone.
The name is also present throughout the remainder English speaking world: Canada (248th), New Zealand (158th), Australia (64th), and South Africa (926th).
O’Brien Family Tree & O’Brien Genealogy
O’Brien of Ballynalacken
This is a branch of the great House of O’Brien of Thomond. Donal O’Brien of Carruduff, in the barony of Inchiquin, son of Teige an-Chromhaid, Prince of Thomond, married Sabia, daughter of O’Lochlin, Prince of Burren. They had four sons together. His son Connor O’Brien had a great-grandson named Donal. Donal married Honora O’Conor and had a son with her named Brien. This Brien O’Brien of Leitrim repossessed himself of the estate of Carruduff under the Act of James II in 1689. He married Mary, daughter of Lochlin MacConsidin, of Lac, and had the following children with her: Dermond (Captain of Infantry in Lord Clare’s Regiment), Torlogh (of Rerence), Tiege , Morogh (Captain, married Maria Louisa de Thomak). His son Tologh, or Terence, was an Esquire of Leitrim, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry O’Brien of Bealagh Corick, and had issue with her. His eldest son was Turlogh and Terence O’Brien, Esq. of Cross. He married Eleanor Butler, and had issue with her. His second son was named James, Esquire of Limerick. In 1791, he married Margaret, daughter of Peter Long, and had the following issue with her: John, Peter (married Emily Shiel), Terence, and James (married Margaret Segrave, had issue named John Henry, Margaret, Anne, Mary, Clara, and Emily). He died in 1806 and was succeeded by his eldest son John. This John O’Brien was an Esquire of Elm Vale and Ballynalacken was born in 1794. He was a Member of Parliament for Limerick. In 1827, he married Ellen, daughter of Jeremiah Murphy of Hyde Park, and had issue with her: James, Jerome (28th Regiment, married Miss Clark), Reverend John, William (Indian Royal Horse Artillery), Peter (Miss Clark), Terence, Margaret (married James Martin of Fitzwilliam Square), Ellen (married Robert Daniell of New Forest), Catto, and Nun. His son James O’Brien was an Esquire of Ballynalacken Castle, county Clare, Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant, and High Sheriff who was born in 1832 and later married Mrs. Calcot. The O’Brien Coat of Arms (erroneously called the O’Brien Family Crest) is blazoned in heraldry as follows: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale per pale or and argent. Crest: An arm embowed proper brandishing a sword argent, pommelled and hilted or. Motto: Vigeur de dessus. They were seated at Ballynalacken Castle, Ennisymon, county Clare, Ireland.
Other branches of the O’Brien family tree include O’Brien of Blatherwycke (related to Stafford) and O’Brien of Cahirmoyle (related to Inchiquin).
Sir Timothy Carew O’Brien, 3rd Baronet, of Borris in Ossory, Queen’s County, Ireland, was a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace born in 1861. He succeeded his uncle in 1895. He was a Major in the Army Lieutenant, Derbyshire Yeomanry Cavalry, and Captain in the 5th Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers, who served in World War I. In 1885, he married Gundere Annette Teresa, daughter of Sir Humphrey de Trafford, and had ten children with her as follows: Timothy John Aloysius (Lieutenant R.F.A, killed in World War I), Robert Rollo Gillespie (served in World War II, married Esther Ethel Coghall, had issue named Patricia Mary Gabrielle, Sheelagh Tessa Ursula, and Shaunagh Gundreda), Sicele Julia Mary Annette, Gundered Mary Gwendoline (married Richard Forbes Russell of Lewaigue), Mariquita Winefrdle Aloysia (married Captain James Thirkell Price, had a son), Ursula Mary Annette, Eileen Mary Frances (married Brigadier Edward Thomas Arthur George Boylan), Hilda Moira Clare, Doreen Moira, and Kathleen Teresa. The lineage traces back to Sir Timothy O’Brien, 1st Baronet, who was born in 1787 and was a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant, Member of Parliament, and Mayor of Dublin. He was the son of Timothy O’Brien of Tipperary. In 1821, he married Catherine, daughter of Edward Murphy of Flemingstown, and had several issue with her, include Sir Patrick, 2nd Baronet. The O’Brien arms are blazoned as follows: Argent, three lions passant guardant per pale gules, and azure armed or, all within a bordure vert. Crest: From a castle argent in flames a naked arm embowed, the hand grasping a sword all proper. They were seated at Grangewilliam, Maynooth, Kildare, as well as Lohort Castle Mallow, county Cork.
Other O’Brien Pedigree & Family Trees
The earliest known ancestor of this family was Cas King of the Dal gCai mac Conall Echluath. The following is a pedigree, beginning with his son:
Blat King of the Dal gCais mac Cas
Caerthenn Finn King of the Dal gCais mac Blait
Eochu Ballderg “Eochaid, King of the Dal gCais” mac Cairthenn
Conaill Caem King of the Dal gCais mac Eochu Ballderg
Aed King of the Dal gCais mac Conall Caim
Aithirne King of the Dal gCais mac Aed
Cathal King of the Dal gCais mac Aithirne
Tairdelbaig King of the Dal gCais mac Cathal
Mathgamain King of the Dal gCais mac Tairdelbaig
Anulaun King of the Dal gCais mac Mathgamain
Corcc Mac Anluain aka Mac Anulaun (born in Clare, Munster in 821 AD)
Lachtnae “King of the Dal gCais” mac Corc (born in Ireland in 850 AD)
King Lorcan Lachtna formerly Munster aka MacLachtna (born in Killaloe, Ireland in 881 AD)
Cennétig (Cineadh Na Munster, Kennedy, King of the DalgCais & Thormond (born 896 AD)
High King Brian Boru (Born in Thomond, Munster, Ireland before 940 AD)
Teige Terence mac Briain, King of Munster (born in Clare, Ireland around 973 AD)
Toirrdelbach Tirdelvagh I (Turlogh) “Tirdelvagh High King of Ireland, King of Munster” O’Brien (1009 AD)
Diarmait “Dermont, Dermot, Mactoirrdelbaig, King of Munster” O’Brien (1060 AD)
Toirrelbach Turlough Macdiarmata “King of Thomond” (1100 AD)
Donnel Mor Mac Turlough O’Brien (Connacht, Ireland, 1137 AD)
Domnall Mor Mac Turlough “Donough, King of Thomond, Cairbreach” (Connaught 1162 AD)
Connor Na-Suiddina “King of Thomond” (born in North Munster)
Teige Caeluisce, King of Thomond
Turlough, King of Thomond
Mortogh, King of Thomond
Mahon Moinmoy ap Mortogh O’brien (born in Limerick, Ireland around 1300 AD)
Brian an Eanaigh ap Mahon, King of Thomond (born around 1352 AD)
Turlough Bog ap Brien O’brien, King of Thomond (born before 1435)
Tiege Ap Chomard (born around 1441)
Turlough Donn O’Brien, King of Thormond
Conchobar (Conor) O’Brien, Prince of Thomond (about 1480 AD)
Donnchadh Ramhar (Donough) “1st/2nd Earl of Thomond, The Fat, The Great Earl” O’Brien (about 1507 AD)
Conor O’Brien aka 2nd Earl of Thomond (about 1535 AD)
Donough “3rd Earl of Thomond, The Great Earl” O’Brien (1560 AD)
Barnabas O’Brien (1590)
Henry “6th Earl of Thomond” O’Brien (1620)
Henry “Lord O’Brien” (1642)
Henry married Katherine Stuart Williamson and had two daughters with her: Mary and Katherine.
Early American and New World Settlers
A review of early seventeenth and eighteenth century immigration records do not show many O’Briens, which indicates they did not come in significant numbers during the colonial period. Records for arrivals in Philadelphia in the middle of the nineteenth century show the following O’Briens: Anne, Catherine, Andrew, Charles, David, Daniel, Denis, Cornelius, William, Peter, Thomas, Frank, Hugh, Henry, George, Edward, Michael, Marty, and Martin.
In Canada, several bearers of this surname came aboard the Dorcas Savage from Belfast, Ireland in 1833, arriving in Saint John, New Brunswick: Henry (age 7), Peter (age 25), Ann (age 20), Daniel (age 50), and Mary O’Brien (age 5). In Australia, one of the first settlers bearing this name was Sarah Ann O’Brien, who came aboard the Royal Admiral in 1838. In New Zealand, John and Ellen O’Brien, age 22 and 25, respectively, assumedly husband and wife, came to Port Nicholson aboard the Oriental in 1840.
Early Americans Bearing the O’Brien Family Crest
Charles Bolton’s American Armory (1927) contains one entry for this surname:
1) Quarterly 1 and 4: Per pale gules and or three lions pass guard in pale counterchanged; 2 and 3: Argent three piles gules centered in base Crest: from a cloud a dexter arm naked holding a broken sword.
Crozier’s General Armory (1904) and Matthew’s American Armoury and Bluebook (1907) do not contain entries for this last name.
I have identified two O’Brien family mottoes:
1) Lamh laidir an uachtar (The strong hand from above)
2) Vigueur de dessus (Strength from above)
We have 12 coats of arms for the O’Brien surname depicted here. These 12 blazons are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it. People with this last name that bore an O’Brien Coat of Arms (or mistakenly called the O’Brien Family Crest)
1) O’Brien of Shortgrove, county Essex, Supporters, conditionally, 1750
There are hundreds of notable people with the O’Brien surname. This page will mention a handful. Famous people with this last name include: 1) Conan Christopher O’Brien (1963) who is an American comedian and television host born in Brookline, Massachusetts who was a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and has hosted two different late night television shows, 2) William Dermod O’Brien (1865-1945) who was an Irish painter known for his portraits and landscapes, born in Mount Trenchard House, Limerick, Ireland, 3) Dylan O’Brien (1991) who is an American actor born in New York City, NY who appeared in films such as The First Time, Deepwater Horizon, and The Internship, as well as the TV show Teen Wolf, 4) George O’Brien (1899-1985) who was an American actor who was popular during the silent film era, born in San Francisco, California, best known for his lead role in the film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, 5) Sir George Thomas Michael O’Brien (1844-1906) who was the British colonial Governor of Fiji from 1897 to 1901, 6) George Miller O’Brien (1917-1986) who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois between 1983-1986, 7) Hugh O’Brien (1827-1895) who was the 31st Mayor of Boston, MA from 1885 until 1889, 8) Captain Jeremiah O’Brien (1744-1818) who was a captain in the Massachusetts State Navy during the American Revolution born in Kittery, Maine, who commanded the Unity when she captured the British HMS Margaretta during the Battle of Machias, 9) John Patrick O’Brien (1873-1951) who was the 98th Mayor of New York City in 1933, and 10) Shannon Patricia Elizabeth O’Brien (1959) who is a Democratic politician who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, as well as State Treasurer.