Papers of James Thomas O'Brien (Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin) and Family

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Embedded within the Lloyd Greame family papers, at DDLG/53, are the papers of James Thomas O'Brien, Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin (will at DDLG/52/72). They comprise 12 boxes of sermons in manuscript 1826-1872; visitation papers 1842-1866; lectures and speeches including speeches in the Convention of the Church of Ireland in 1870; press cuttings and obituaries. There are also the papers of other O'Brien family members, particularly the correspondence of his wife (c.100 letters; will at DDLG/52/75) including letters from her son, Henry Arthur O'Brien, in Singapore and a bundle of papers of her older son, George Thomas Michael O'Brien (will at DDLG/52/76; obituary letter at DDLG/46/23); these relate to his service as Colonial Secretary in Hong Kong and as Governor of Fiji. Two items relating to the publications of her daughter, Alice O'Brien are at DDLG/46/19 and DDLG/51/65. There are 44 family portrait photographs at DDLG/53/40.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Thomas O'Brien was born in 1792 in New Ross, County Wexford. He was the son of Michael Burke O'Brien, a corporation officer, and Dorothy Kough. The family was a protestant branch of the great O'Brien family, which had been deprived of its property by the penal laws. James Thomas O'Brien was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, entering as a pensioner in 1810. He graduated BA in 1813 and took the gold medal two years later. He held a fellowship in mathematics from 1820 and was created Doctor of Divinity in 1830. He was a Dublin University preacher from 1828 until 1842. He was successor to the strongly puritanical and evangelical tradition of the Church of Ireland and in 1833 his published sermons on justification by faith alone quickly became a standard text (Dictionary of National Biography).

In 1836 he married Ellen Pennefeather, daughter of Edward Pennefeather, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In the same year he became vicar of Clonderhorka, Raphoe, but moved again to Arboe in Armagh within the year. In 1842 he became Dean of Cork but was rapidly promoted again, to the bishopric of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin. The direction of his work changed from theology to ecclesiastical history and politics and in 1843 he published The expediency of restoring at this time to the Church her synodical powers. He was opposed to the Oxford movement and spent the 1850s attacking tractarianism. Later works in the 1860s were defences of the established Irish Church against disestablishment (copies are in the collection). He died in 1874 and was buried in Kilkenny. His widow outlived him by nearly three decades, dying in 1906 (Dictionary of National Biography).

James Thomas and Ellen O'Brien had eight sons and five daughters. One of their sons, George Michael Thomas O'Brien (b.1844), is represented in the collection through a small bundle of papers relating to his career in the colonial service. He was educated at Westminster School and then Trinity College, Cambridge, before going out to Ceylon in 1867 where he was employed until a brief spell in Cyprus in 1891 and then three years as Colonial Secretary in Hong Kong between 1892 and 1895. He was then Governor of Fiji and High Commissioner for the Western Pacific 1897-1902. He died in 1906. Another son, Henry Arthur O'Brien, went out to Singapore and his letters home are in the collection. One daughter, Alice O'Brien, was the author of La Joconde (1895), Anthony Blake's experiment (1896), and The flaw in the marble (1898). She lived at Sewerby House with her sister, Dora O'Brien, who married into the Lloyd Greame family, explaining the provenance of the papers (Who was who 1897-1915).

Conditions Governing Access



Originally published by Access to Archives - A2A. The data in this finding aid is in the copyright of the place of deposit.

Other Finding Aids

listed to item level

Related Material

DDLG/46/19, 23; DDLG/51/65; DDLG/52/72, 75-76


Dictionary of National Biography

Who was who 1897-1915