Charlotte Grace O'Brien.

Charlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



'"AN 01 EGO







All Rights Reserved





Cahirmoyle . . . . . 139

The Old Garden . . . . . . 139

The House 140

The Nursery . . 140

The Cherry . . . . . . - 141

The Old Rookery . . . .. . . 141

The Well . . , . . .. -. 142

The Hay Field , . ., < . 142

The Study . . . . . . .. 143

The Drawing-room < .. . , . 143

The School-room . . . ... . 144

The Birds . . . . 144

The Parlour . , , ... . 145

The Tenants' Ball . .,.,.. . 145

The Horse Chestnut . . . . 146

Old Seal . . . ... . 146

Rover . . * 147

The Hedgehogs 147

The Swing ....... 148

The Way to Church 148


POEMS continued PAGE

Glenville 149

The Farm 149

Coshering 150

Christmas . . . . . . 150

The Father . . . ' . . . . 151

The Mother . 151

Absence. . 152

Dreams 152

The Walnut Tree . .' . . . 153

The Stars . . . . . . 153

Farewell . . . .'..". . 154

Dromoland . . * . -"''- . 154

To Mary O'Brien 1864 - . . * . 155

Mary Hyeres, 1866 . . . ' . .' 155

Mary 1867 . . , . . V . 156

To the Bust of Mary O'Brien 1868 .'-" * 156

To Mary 1868 . . . . . -* 157

Charles Murrough O'Brien . * . . 157

To the Same . . . . > . -. 158

Spring I . . . . . - . i - l : 158

Spring II . . . " 4 159

Outliving Love . . . . . 159

Deafness The Past and The Present . . 160

To Summer . . . . . . 161

Winter ..... . . . . 161

Song 162

A Sonnet on the Sonnet . . . .163

The Christmas Rose 163



POEMS continued PAGE

" In the Burden and the Heat of the Day " . 164

Convalesence 164

A Shannon Picture 165

A Shannon Sabbath Evening . . .165

Keen on the Shannon 166

A Commonplace Ballad .... 167
The Bromidon and Carragh .... 168
Innisfail The Island of Destiny . . . 169
The Workers for Ireland . . . .169
I Dwell among My Own People . . .170

Gladstone 1869 171

Gladstone 1877 171

Gladstone 1879-1880 172

Gladstone 1886 172

The Assisted Emigrants . . . .173

England 174

Ireland Farewell 174


An Essay on Birds . . . . .177
The Feminine Animal . . . . .183

The Pains of Solitude 188

Daffodils and the Spring .... 192
The River Shannon ..... 195
Pastoral Memories . . . . .197
A Jog, Jog Journey from Dublin to Limerick 200

Shanid Castle 211

From a Roman Catholic . . . .216
The Making of Our Home . . . .219


Portraits of Charlotte Grace O'Brien

In Early Life . . . . frontispiece

In 1882 . . . . . facing page 48

In Later Life .... ,, 96

The East Garden, Foynes . . . - ,, 126

The Shannon ...... ,, 166

Ardanoir, 1878 . . . . . ,, 219

Ardanoir, 1898 ,, 224



THIS memorial volume has been undertaken by me in con-
sultation with my cousin, Miss Nelly O'Brien, elder of
the two nieces who stood almost in the relation of daughters
to Charlotte O'Brien. To her were left all books and papers,
along with the beloved and beautiful home at Ardanoir ;
and her consent has been given to the publication of whatever
is included in these pages.

The book has inevitably been put together in haste. My
project was simply to furnish the necessary setting for a
selection from Charlotte O'Brien's correspondence, from
her writings, nearly all of which have a biographical or
autobiographical significance, and from the printed accounts
of her public work. With more time at command, I might
have condensed and arranged better what I had to say. It
is not willingly that I have sent out in such imperfect form
what has been in the fullest sense a labour of love.

S. G.
Nov. ist, 1909.


IN this volume there is brought together what has seemed
most valuable and most interesting in the writings of
a very noble woman. Nothing has been included which
does not, in the editor's judgment, reach a high standard
of literary merit ; but the interest of the whole collection
is mainly biographical. Charlotte Grace O'Brien was
among those who wrote not from the pure artistic
impulse, not moved by any sense of the glory of words,
but very largely out of the overflowing of a human
energy which was denied its natural vent. The cruel
physical disability which made of her a prisoner in herself
determined that she should be the prime mover in a
most needed public reform ; determined that her name
should be known and blessed by thousands of her country-
men and country women who never saw her ; deter-
mined that her talent and her courage should bring her
friendship and praise from the foremost men of her
race at home and over seas. But these privileges which
she won, as it were, in spite of fate, yet in a sense also
by reason of fate, never atoned to her for the natural
human duties and happiness as wife and mother whose
lack left her life starved, but not spoilt. The story
which lies behind these writings, whose moods many
of them express, is sad enough, but not depressing.
Her sorrows were natural and inevitable in the course
of things ; it was the special grace of her nature to convert
them into beauty ; and if there is heard again and again


Introductory Memoir

the cry of the strong woman who has empty arms, it
is so uttered as to waken only that generous pity which
enlarges the heart and makes for understanding so
uttered also as to give solace to other hearts, which
may find here their own griefs made eloquent. I, her
near kinsman, who cannot remember a time when she
was not a part of our close-knit family group, attempt
now to set out the circumstances of her history, public
and private, so far as I can with discretion, in such a
way that these poems and essays may be read with full
comprehension by those persons and I trust they may
be many who may care to learn what manner of woman
this was. For assuredly the story of her life is profitable
and honourable to be told.

Let me say here at once that in what perhaps lay
deepest, I cannot interpret her religious life. I speak
of the woman as I knew her large, tolerant, humorous,
eccentric, ready to laugh or to be laughed at ; courageous
physically and morally beyond all ordinary measure,
and, above all, genial, fruitful in sympathy and resource.
I can never picture this childless and unwedded woman
without a whole attendant environment of young life.
Wherever she went she made her own world a world
fertile and open to the winds and sun.



Her outlook upon life was notably affected by the
singular circumstances of her father's family. She saw
in her day what Michael Davitt (one of her chief heroes)
has very justly called the fall of feudalism in Ireland ;
and she by all the ties of birth and breeding belonged to
the class which was displaced by the revolution that she
so warmly supported. Yet the democracy which had her


Introductory Memoir

sympathies was a democracy always eager to link itself
in imaginative loyalty to a past of native kingship ; and
with that past Charlotte O'Brien had a direct lineal
connection, to which recent events had given a new
colour of vitality.

Her father's people had been dominant in Clare,
socially and politically, for many generations, as resident
landlords, inheriting a baronetcy conferred in the reign
of William III., and representing their county con-
tinuously in Parliament. Sir Lucius O'Brien, the
third baronet, was one of the leading statesmen who
negotiated the establishment of " Grattan's Parliament " ;
and for many years he took a leading part in its work.
He died in 1797, and was replaced by Sir Edward, Miss
O'Brien's grandfather, who voted against the Act of
Union, which led slowly, but surely, to the destruction
of all that he and his stood for. These people were
loyalists and Protestants ; but their loyalty was to the
King of Ireland ; their life, in so far as it was carried
outside their own county, centred in the Irish
metropolis. The Union shifted that centre, and many
things with it.

1$ Sir Edward's successor, the fifth baronet, Sir Lucius,
did not care to go to Westminster ; but the represen-
tation of the county town, Ennis, devolved upon the
second son, William Smith O'Brien, an estated gentle-
man of some fourjthousand a year in the County Limerick.
Sir Edward, finding the estates heavily dipped and
not proposing to profit by the opportunity to replenish
his coffers which the Union negotiations offered
married the daughter of a large creditor, old Mr. Smith,
a moneylending ex-attorney, who waived his mortgages
on the Dromoland property, and settled upon the second
son the handsome Limerick estate, with its house,
Cahirmoyle, which was his own habitation, and where,


Introductory Memoir

in Charlotte O'Brien's childhood, his ghost still walked in
snuff-coloured suit and kneebreeches.*

William Smith O'Brien entered Parliament in 1826
as a loyal supporter of the Union a moderate man, as
all his predecessors had been before him. But the
Parliament which he entered was not the Parliament
of Ireland ; it was an assembly deaf and blind to the
stir of those forces which were represented by O'Connell ;
and in 1844 O'Brien found himself standing by O'Connell
in the demand for Repeal. And, very naturally,
O'Connell, champion of the Catholic democracy
champion, that is, of the native race which had been
driven under foot in the seventeenth century and kept
there through the eighteenth stressed the fact that
his new ally was not merely a wealthy Protestant land-
lord, but represented one of the ancient kingly families
of Ireland.

The position which the O'Briens of Dromoland held
was, from an English point of view, analogous to that
of some younger branch of the FitzGeralds or Butlers.
They represented, indeed, a Celtic and not an Anglo-
Norman line ; but they had intermarried again and again
with the Anglo-Normans, and with Cromwellian or
Puritan settlers ; they were simply a normal part of the
wealthier gentry of Ireland, with claims to the reversion
of a peerage. But to an Irish understanding the case
was very different. The FitzGeralds, Butlers, and the
rest owed their nobility to grants of the English Crown ;
the O'Briens had been lords in Clare and outside of Clare
from before the dawn of written history ; they had given

* The story is that Sir Edward in his difficulties consulted Mr. Smith.
"The best thing you can do," said Mr. Smith, "is to marry one of my
daughters, and I may tell you, Charlotte is my favourite." Sir Edward took
he hint, and in this way the name Charlotte came into the family.


Introductory Memoir

to Ireland the greatest king indeed the only true king
of all Ireland ; and the successors of Brian of the Tribute,
although with territory curtailed again and again till
they were driven back into their original fastness west
of the Shannon, had there maintained independent
and princely state, and had contracted treaties with
European powers, down to the reign of Henry VIII.
When they gave up the struggle it was on such terms
that two branches of the line were ennobled Murrough
the Tanist, successor by Irish law to Conor, the last
king of Thomond, receiving the Earldom of Thomond
for life and the barony of Inchiquin for transmission ;
Donough, Conor's heir by English law, getting the
barony of Ibrickan and the reversion of the Earldom.

These grants involved the adoption of the reformed
religion by the grantees ; but one branch of the family
which remained Catholic the O'Briens of Carrigaholt
was ennobled after the Restoration with the Viscounty
of Clare ; and though Sir Daniel O'Brien and his son
did not wear their honours long in Ireland for the
Williamite war drove them out their title was carried
like a flag wherever the Irish Brigade charged or rallied,
down to its crowning glory at Fontenoy.

But the Jacobite Earldom of Clare died out before
1800, and the line of Donough had gone before it;
while the descendants of Murrough the Tanist, who
were raised in 1800 to the Marquisate of Thomond,
became absentee landlords, ranking rather by their
English than their Irish title.

Thus, from the point of view of Thomond and of
Ireland, the true representative of the ancient Irish
Kings was the resident head of the family; though it
was not till 1856 that the elder line became extinct,
and Sir Lucius O'Brien of Dromoland, tenth in descent
from the last independent King of Thomond, succeeded


Introductory Memoir

to the title of Lord Inchiquin. In the view of Ireland,
therefore, William Smith O'Brien, Member of Parlia-
ment for Limerick, who in 1844 took his stand beside
O'Connell in Conciliation Hall, was brother of Brian
Boroihme's legal representative, and was lifted by the
acclamation of his clan to a kind of sovereignty.

Such considerations appealed to the imagination of
Ireland, and to Smith O'Brien's own imagination, for
he had in marked measure the pride of race ; but it was
a pride which taught him that his duty was to brave all
risks at the head of his people and in their defence. This
traditional claim to authority gave him a special weight
with the then rising Young Ireland Party, who insisted
strongly upon a revival of interest in Ireland's remoter
past ; and the fact that he was a Protestant marked him
out still more evidently as their leader at a moment
when O'Connell (aged and worn) was being driven more
and more into a sectarian attitude.

Even in 1846, when he parted company with
O'Connell, O'Brien was still a constitutionalist ; but
the crisis of the Irish famine, the apathetic stupidity of
the British Parliament, their deafness to Irish repre-
sentations while the ghastliest of national tragedies was
in progress, drove him to sheer despair. 1848, the year
of revolutions, spread its wave of contagious excitement
to the righteously indignant champions of Irish freedom.
" I do not profess disloyalty to the Queen of England,"
said Smith O'Brien, in his last speech at Westminster,
" but it shall be the study of my life to overthrow the
dominion of this Parliament over Ireland. I would
gladly accept the most ignominious death rather than
witness the sufferings and indignities inflicted by this
Legislature upon my countrymen during the last thirty
years." To such a frame of mind had this honourable
and peaceable country gentleman been driven ; and

Introductory Memoir

he gave earnest of his words a few months later when he
took the field in hopeless revolt. He was captured,
was tried for high treason, and sentenced, in October,
1848, to be hanged, drawn and quartered. A writ
of error was moved, and final judgment not obtained from
the House of Lords till May, 1849, when the sentence was
confirmed, but commuted by the Crown to transportation
for life. On July 29, 1849, the ship that carried him and
three comrades set sail for Tasmania. All the preceding
winter he had been lodged in Kilmainham.

The story of his convict life need not be here recalled.
In 1854 he was granted a pardon on condition that he
did not set foot in the United Kingdom. In May, 1856,
that condition was removed, and he returned home.

Amid such circumstances did Charlotte O'Brien's
life begin. She was born on November 23, 1845, a
year whose luxuriant promise was cut short by the first
great failure of the potato crop. She was a child too
young to remember how the leaders of the Young
Ireland Party came to Cahirmoyle in days before the
rising brave in their green uniforms. She was only
three years old when the sentence of death was passed ;
but she must have remembered days when the family
were in lodgings near Kilmainham Gaol days when her
youngest brother, Charles Murrough O'Brien, was
baptised actually within the prison walls.

Yet, as is shown by the series of Sonnets which sets to
verse the memories of her childhood, these heavy clouds
were scarce noticed by the children. Smith O'Brien,
before he took the field in 1848, had executed a deed
transferring his property to trustees, to be held for his
wife ; and when he left Ireland he gave her the bidding
which is recorded by his daughter :

** Go back to our estate,
Back to our poor, back to our broken land."

Introductory Memoir

I do not know how far ray grandmother shared her
husband's political convictions, which were reprobated
by all his kin, and by all the society to which he and she
belonged, in which they had lived their lives ; for she
was daughter of a County Limerick gentleman, Joseph
Gabbett of High Park. But she was a loyal and devoted
wife to him. What she was to her children is written in
the sonnet called " The Mother."

The children were many five sons and two daughters,
twelve years dividing the eldest from the youngest.
My mother was five years older than her sister, and belonged
to the senior of two groups into which the family fell,
as families tend to do. Charlotte O'Brien's closest tie
was with her younger brother, Charles ; and indeed her
nature was boyish rather than a girl's.

Outside that immediate family circle was the wider
circle of cousins, and in those days Dromoland Castle,
Sir Lucius O'Brien's house, was a kind of second home
for all the clan. In the pinch after the famine, mortgage
annuities could not be paid, and the O'Briens made a
common purse and lived in Dromoland, whole families
together, for months at a time. I have added a sonnet
which I find in manuscript along with the Cahirmoyle
group, commemorative of this home also.

School made another rallyingpoint or centre, for that
generation still belonged to the days when Irish gentry
lived their life in Ireland. The whole O'Brien clan
went to St. Columba's College, near Dublin, and Lucius
O'Brien was Septimus when his turn came to go there.
Smith O'Brien's eldest son, Edward William, was eldest
of that generation of cousins ; he was O'Brien maximus
on the school rolls, and passed into Trinity College
(where the whole clan followed him). In another sense
the school was a family centre, for my father came there
a junior Fellow of T. C. D., in 1856, and made close


Introductory Memoir

friends with the clan. In 1862 he married Lucy O'Brien,
Charlotte's elder sister.

But, of course, Cahirmoyle was the true centre of all
that experience which covered the first sixteen years
of Charlotte O'Brien's life closing with her mother's
death in 1861. It was the life of a big old-fashioned
Irish countryhouse, with farm attached to it and garden,
and tenants and dependants of all kinds, making as it
were part of the family. It was typical of the homes
of the old-fashioned Irish gentry, and it was the extreme
type of its kind. There was no lack of culture, children
were taught to use their brains as well as their bodies
for play ; but there was less stiffness and ceremony than
was common in houses of the better sort. Perhaps
there was too little ; the young people grew up great
despisers of dress and all its niceties. But at all events
those who remember it remember it as a children's
paradise, and no one was more at home in it than the
girl who loved order so little and loved nature so much.
The sonnets tell of many of her joys ; but her own
personality and her own peculiar delights are better
given in this chapter written as part of an unpublished
sketch in prose, entitled " Paddy Kiely." It is a picture
in homelier manner than the sonnets of the " old home ";
and it is her own picture of herself as a child. The
chapter is headed " An Odd Pair : "

* THE next morning at a seasonable hour, having talked
things over with Biddy, Paddy started to go up to the
" Great House " to see his friend and employer, Mr.
O'Brien, and consult him about the lost money. His
way lay over a large open field which commanded a fair
and restful view of rich and partly wooded, widespreading
plain land. The great limestone plain of central Ireland
extended to the extremely distant horizon, but was


Introductory Memoir

bordered and indented, north, south and east, by detached
blue hills and the Galtee Mountains, whereas the whole
west and south-west was filled by the near background
of heavy rounded, steep slopes which form the eastern
ridge of the long range extending far into Kerry, called
Slieve Luachra ("the rushy mountains"). Scenes like this
in Ireland are so glorified by wonderful atmospheric
effects, caused by the great mass of transparent moisture
suspended in the air, that residents alone can really fully
realise the ever-varying loveliness of their country ; and
in truth, one man with another, I think rich and poor
mostly do realise it. I have seen a poor " innocent "
an idiot who could not put two sensible words together
apparently as deeply wrapt in the contemplation of a
glorious river sunset as any poet. God only knows if
the wonderful light and colour could reach his poor
broken intellect. Needless to say, the beauty of his home
was not lost on Paddy.

' The said Paddy had a habit of wearing his coat tied
by the sleeves round his neck; his shirt, open, showed
partly a large and very hairy breast, and a strong cudgel
supported his slightly lame walk a long, swinging slouch.
Truth to tell, he did not hurry himself as a rule, and now,
wrapped in the prevailing beauty, he was maundering
slowly along, but rolled round, lifting his old hat with
one hand and sticking his lighted pipe in his pocket with
the other, when he heard childish and hot-breathed
yells imploring him to stop. It was his special friend,
one of the children of the " Great House," and a wild
little tomboy she looked as Paddy greeted her ; he was
used to her, however.

* " Arrah then, and is it you, then, Miss t-Charlot ?
'Tis luck ye are not in the schoolroom after all, this fine
day. Troth and 'twould be like putting one foot in the
grave to stay in the house of a morning like to this.


Introductory Memoir

I didn't wish ye good morning yet, Missy, and may God
that gives us the fine air give ye the health to inj'y it."

* Miss t-Charlot was panting too hard (being fat and
scant of breath) to make any verbal reply, but caught
firm hold of Paddy's hand and stick, thereby incommoding
him not a little. He stooped down to free his hand,
and looked under a very big crumpled, pink sunbonnet
at a fat, rosy, yellow-haired cutty, who, terrible to
relate, was a " holy show," with a tremendous black
eye and bruised forehead. Paddy threw up his hands
and set back a bit in horror. " Now, glory be to God !
Miss t-Charlot, and what have you been doing at all,
at all ? Faix and it's well it's not kilt out ye were ! How
did it ever happen ye ? Glory be to God ! what a
collop of a girl ye are ! "

' Miss t-Charlot did not deign to answer his questions.
She had come for stories, and stories she would have.
So, ignoring her wounds out came her stock-in-trade
question " Paddy, tell me, did you see the fairies to-
day ? "

' " Tisn't the fairies did that to ye, Missy ? Tell
me now, true, how ye got it ? "

* " It's well enough now, Paddy, it was the back of the
hatchet that hit me when the boys were cutting trees
in the old lane I went in behind them." (N.B.
" boys " was a generic name for all available brothers
and cousins.)

* " Well, Miss, it just BANGS BANAGHER to see how
yourself and Master Donough is ever and always hurting
of yourselves. 'Tis a wonder the both of you is alive
this day, and look at Mr. t-Searlais now and he so qui't
and good ! Did it hurt ye terrible, ye poor child ?
But sure ye'll be well before you're twice mari'et ! "

* " That's it, Paddy, and I'll tell you a secret, Paddy.
It did hurt me terrible, but I knew I would be scolded


Introductory Memoir

awful and the boys mad with me, so I just ran home
and never said anything, only stuck my head in the
basin ; but it got so black they all saw it in the morning.
Never mind that did you see the fairies ? "

' Paddy turned round to cough (and spit) and collect his
thoughts for the insatiable. " Well, Miss t-Charlot,
I didn't to say see the fairies this good while back, but
sure if I didn't I saw something you would think would be
as strange to look at ye know, Missy."

' Missy began to bounce about in great glory, thereby
destroying Paddy's balance, as she cried out " O
Paddy, what was it at all ? Hurry up and tell me 1 "

' " Come over and hether, then, Miss, you're on my
sh-tick side, and I'm mortal stiff to-day after the d-tunder

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 1 of 16)