William O’Brien


 William OBrien 1917


William O’Brien was born in Davis St, Mallow on October 2nd 1852 in the house now occupied by O’Meara Solicitors. Educated locally in the Diocesean College (C of I) and Queens College Cork, he began his career as a journalist with the Cork Daily Herald in 1868.

In 1877–78 while working for the Freeman’s Journal he gained prominence for his series ‘Christmas on the Galtees’ which gave an account of the appalling living conditions experienced by the tenants and their families in the mountain area of the Kingston Estate. It was also around this time that he met the new leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party C.S. Parnell for the first time. In 1881 Parnell founded United Ireland and offered O’Brien the position of editor which he accepted and held until 1890. Shortly after taking up his new position he described the newspaper as ‘an insurrection in print’ and for extreme editor-ship he was imprisoned in Kilmainham where he wrote the ‘No Rent Manifesto’.

He was released from prison in April 1882 and later in the year he became actively involved in organising the National League which was inaugurated by Parnell and replaced the Land League. He became a Member of Parliament in 1883 when he won the by-election for the Mallow seat vacated by William Moore-Johnson, on his appointment as Solicitor-General. He was deeply involved along with Tim Harrington and John Dillon in organising the Plan of Campaign. When Parnell lost the leadership of the party O’Brien mediated between Parnellites and anti–Parnellites. He was himself an anti-Parnellite.

After Parnell’s death he spent much of his time in Mayo where he fought to improve living conditions by founding the United Irish League. Initially the United Irish League was confined to Mayo but after a short while, it became a very powerful national organisation with its own newspaper, The Irish People, founded and edited by O’Brien. The rapid success of the league forced the different factions of the Irish Parliamentary Party to unite. In 1902, he supported the Land Conference which was responsible for the 1903 Land Act (Wyndham Act). He was returned unopposed for Cork City in 1904 but refused to take the party pledge. He founded his own party in 1910 - the All-For-Ireland League which opposed partition and had for its motto ‘Conference, Conciliation, Consent. He did not contest the 1918 election and withdrew from public life.

As a writer, he won critical acclaim, in particular for his novel When We Were Boys, which is set in the Fenian period and was written in 1889–90 while he was in Galway Gaol for his part in the Plan of Campaign. Within a year it went through three editions and sold over 12,000 copies. Other novels by him are: Neath Silver Masks (1871), Kilsheehan (1872), A Queen of Men (1898) etc. His non-fiction includes Recollections (1908), Edmund Burke as an Irishman (1924), The Parnell of Real Life (1924) etc.

His wife, Sophia Raffalovich, whom he married in 1890 was also was a writer. Her works include Rosete, A Tale of Dublin and Paris (1907) and around Broom Lane and a French translation of When We Were Boys.

He died on 25th February 1928 and is buried in St Mary’s graveyard behind St Mary’s Catholic Church in Mallow. His wife, Sophia, who died in the early 1960s within days of her hundredth birthday, is buried in Neuilly St Front.