Obituary - Conor, The O’Brien

Conor, The O’Brien, who has died in his eightieth year was 32nd direct male descendent of Brian Boroimhe (Boru).

Conor was, above all other titles, hereditary chief of the O’Brien clan, but generally referred to by his courtesy title, Lord Inchiquin. The O’Briens remained unambiguously one of the royal families of the island of Ireland from the reign of Brian Boroimhe in the late 10th and early 11th century until Conor’s ancestor, Murrough, was forced to surrender his Gaelic royal status and overlordship of his ancestral territory to Henry VIII in the 16th century, when he became Baron of Inchiquin and Earl of Thomond. Granted in 1543, this was one of  the earliest Irish baronetcies. However, it was Murrough’s brother, Conor, who was the last of the family who held his Gaelic regal status until he died in 1539.

This family had remained one of the most formidable princely families on the island of Ireland from the time of Brian Boroimhe through the troubled five centuries until the 16th century and were it not for the fate of Anglo-Irish history, the 20th century Conor may have borne a royal mantle on his shoulders. That he was a noble man by birth and deed was undeniable, but history ordained that Conor’s qualities of character would remain largely as a reminder, in contemporary Ireland, of the personification of a Gaelic princely chief from our medieval past. His nature was, unlike some of his martial ancestors, absolutely gentle. This was the man that I became friends with over three decades ago, when I was involved in organising annual equine events for one of the local hunts on his ancestral Dromoland Estate.

Separately, Conor, another friend and I formed a field sports triathlon team, which will live in my memory until I follow him to wherever he is now gone, due to the pure unadulterated old-fashioned fun that we had. He had a brilliant sense of humour, wit and fun.
It was just after Conor and I initially began to know each other well in 1991 that he became a founder member of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, an informal association of the descendants of recognised Gaelic chieftains. This alliance of the descendants of Gaelic noble families created a living link between ancient and contemporary Ireland. In 2017 he accepted the chairmanship of the Standing Council for a second term on the retirement of Maj. Gen. David, The O’Morchoe.

Conor was central to the organisation of the O’Brien Clan Association culminating, in 1992, in the first gathering of the O’Briens as a clan since the end of the Gaelic era. This was followed in 2003 with a festival to celebrate the millennial accession of Brian Boroimhe as high king of Ireland and again in 2014 with a millennial commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf, at which the great king died. Clans of Ireland had considered its own commemorative event in 2014, but when Conor approached me to tell me that the O’Brien Clan was organising its event, we decided to work together, he and I, representing the O’Brien Clan and Clans of Ireland. This culminated in events at Killaloe, the seat of Brian Boroimhe, Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and at Armagh where the great king’s body was interred, following the Battle.

In 2018, Conor was co-signatory to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Standing Council and Clans of Ireland. He subsequently represented the Standing Council on the Board of Clans of Ireland until his death.

Conor was born in Surrey, in England on 17 July 1943. Having been educated at Eton College, he served in the British Army in the Middle East, Far East and Europe from 1962 to 1975. His association with the Far East continued when he worked in banking and trading in Hong Kong and Singapore until 1982 when he came to Ireland to succeed his uncle, Phaedrig, as The O’Brien and Baron of Inchiquin. He developed the ancestral Dromoland Estate into one of the premier sporting estates in the country. The main activity was a driven shoot, but it was possibly best known among the wider public as a venue for the local point-to-point races, hunter trials and one-day event. However, his over-riding passion was motor racing.

The influence of the presence of such a historically iconic figure on the Board of Clans of Ireland can not be underestimated and it is a testament to this that our Patron, President Michael D Higgins, was represented at the funeral service by his Aide-de-Camp. Conor, The O’Brien who died on June 3, 2023, is survived by his wife, Helen, and daughters, Lucia and Slaney.

Gearóid Ó Ceallaigh