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The Irish Rose

O'Brien Name History

O'Brien Coat of Arms


The O'Brien dynasty are a royal and noble house founded in the 10th century by Brian Boru of the Dál gCais or Dalcassians. After becoming King of Munster, Brian established himself as High King of Ireland through conquest. Brian's descendants thus carried the name O'Brien, continuing to rule the Kingdom of Munster until the 12th century where their territory had shrunk to the Kingdom of Thomond, which they would hold for just under five centuries.

In total, four O'Briens ruled in Munster, and two held the High Kingship of Ireland (with opposition). After the partition of Munster into Thomond and the MacCarthy Kingdom of Desmond by Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair in the 12th century, the dynasty would go on to provide around thirty monarchs of Thomond until 1542. During part of this period in the late 13th century they had a rivalry with the Norman de Clare house, disputing the throne of Thomond. The last O'Brien to reign in Thomond was Murrough O'Brien who surrendered his sovereignty to the new Kingdom of Ireland under Henry VIII of the House of Tudor, becoming instead Earl of Thomond and maintaining a role in governance. Today the head carries the title of Prince of Thomond, and depending on succession sometimes also Baron Inchiquin.

Throughout the time that the O'Briens ruled in medieval Ireland, the system of tanistry was used to decide succession, rather than primogeniture used by much of feudal Europe. The system in effect was a dynastic monarchy but family-elected and aristocratic, in the sense that the royal family chose the most suitable male candidate from close paternal relations —roydammna (those of kingly material) rather than the crown automatically passing to the eldest son. This sometimes led to bitter quarrels and in-family warring. Since 1542, the head of the O'Brien house adopted primogeniture to decide succession of noble titles instead. See more history from Wikipedia.

The surname O'Brien comes from the old Irish, Uí Briain or Ua Briainm and modern Irish, Ó Briain.

Learn more about the O'Brien family name

For more information about the O'Briens, see the Framed Irish Family Name History, (#1760).

The Irish Rose offers many O'Brien coat of arms products, from clothing to glassware to framed coat of arms heirlooms. Please visit the Irish Coat of Arms page.

A pub crawl just for O'Briens

There is no shortage of pubs in Ireland that bear the O'Brien name. Here are just a few we found for you to add to your Ireland itinerary.

These are just a few of the O'Briens pubs we found in Ireland. If you can't visit in person, our personalized pub gifts are the next best thing!


Notable people named O'Brien

  • Aidan O'Brien (b. 1969), Irish race horse trainer
  • Alan O'Brien, Irish association football player
  • Alex O'Brien (b. 1970), professional American tennis player
  • Andy O'Brien (footballer), Irish association football player
  • Billy O'Brien (1860-–1911), American baseball player
  • Bronterre O'Brien, (1805-–1864), British Chartist
  • Cathy O'Brien (b. 1957), purported American child-slave/sex-abuse victim
  • Cathy O'Brien (b. 1967), American long-distance runner
  • Charles O'Brien, 5th Viscount Clare
  • Charles O'Brien, 6th Viscount Clare
  • Charles O'Brien, 7th Viscount Clare
  • Christian O'Brien (b. 1914-2001), British geologist, author & historian
  • Clinton O'Brien (b. 1974), Australian rugby league footballer
  • Conan O'Brien (b. 1963), US comedian and talk show host
  • Connor O'Brien, 2nd Viscount Clare
  • Daniel O'Brien, 1st Viscount Clare Irish member of the confederation of Kilkenny
  • Daniel O'Brien, 3rd Viscount Clare
  • Daniel O'Brien, 4th Viscount Clare
  • Danny O'Brien (b. 1969), British writer and digital rights activist
  • Dara Ó Briain, Irish comedian and presenter
  • Darcy O'Brien (1939-–1998), American true crime author
  • Daryl O'Brien (b. 1941), Australian footballer (Australian rules football)
  • Dave O'Brien (sportscaster), American sportscaster
  • Dave O'Brien (actor) (1912-–1969), American film actor
  • Dermod O'Brien (1865-–1906), Irish painter
  • Ed O'Brien, (b. 1968), English musician
  • Edna O'Brien (b. 1930), Irish novelist
  • Edward O'Brien (Irish republican) (1974–-1996), Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer
  • Edwin Frederick O'Brien, Archbishop of Baltimore
  • Erin Joanne O'Brien (b. 1935), American actress
  • Erin O'Brien (writer), American writer
  • Eugene O'Brien (actor), actor of the silent film era
  • Eugene O'Brien (racing driver), British auto racing driver
  • Fergal O'Brien, Irish professional snooker player
  • Fitz James O'Brien, Irish born American novelist
  • Flann O'Brien, pen name of Irish novelist and satirist Brian O'Nolan
  • George O'Brien (actor) (1899–-1985), American silent movie actor
  • George O'Brien (cricketer) (b. 1984), Bermudian cricketer
  • George O'Brien (footballer) (b. 1935), former Southampton F.C. footballer
  • George O'Brien (painter) (1821-–1888), New Zealand painter
  • George O'Brien (captain) (1788-–1818), Irish, former lieutenant of the British Royal Navy, died in combat, fighting for the Independence of Chile
  • George Thomas Michael O'Brien (fl. 1890s-1900s), former governor of Fiji
  • George H. O'Brien, Jr. (1926-–2005), Korean War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
  • George M. O'Brien (1917–-1986), member of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Hugh O'Brien (1827-–1895) mayor of Boston
  • James O'Brien 
  • Jeremiah O'Brien (1744-–1818), US Navy officer of the American Revolutionary War
  • Jim O'Brien 
  • Joey O'Brien
  • John O'Brien (marine artist) (1831–1891), Canadian painter
  • John O'Brien (rower), New Zealand rower
  • John O'Brien (soccer), American soccer player
  • John Thomond O'Brien
  • John P. O'Brien, Mayor of New York City
  • Kate O'Brien, (1897-–1974), Irish Writer, novelist and playwright
  • Katie O'Brien, British tennis player
  • Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien, current Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. Keith O'Brien, Journeyman Lineman
  • Kerry O'Brien 
  • Kevin O'Brien (Irish football)
  • Kevin O'Brien (Texas pastor), Independent Baptist pastor in Texas
  • Kirsten O'Brien (born 1972), British TV presenter
  • Kyan Laslett O'Brien Music Composer
  • Larry O'Brien (1917–-1990), American politician
  • Larry O'Brien (Canadian politician), Canadian entrepreneur and politician; Mayor of Ottawa, late 2006 to present
  • Mark O'Brien (Ontario politician), Green Party candidate in the 2004 Canadian federal election
  • Michael O'Brien (swimmer) (born 1965), American freestyle swimmer
  • Mick O'Brien (musician), Traditional Irish musician
  • Mike O'Brien (hurler)
  • Miles O'Brien (journalist), journalist and CNN anchor
  • Richard O'Brien (born 1942), Rocky Horror Picture Show writer and actor
  • Richard Baptist O'’Brien (1809-–1885), Irish priest, author and nationalist

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