Author, Nationalist and Social Reformer, active in the protection of female emigrants to North America, is profiled by Bridget Hannon


Born on 23rd November, 1845, at Cahirmoyle, Co. Limerick, Charlotte Grace O’Brien was the youngest daughter of the Young Irelander, William Smith O’Brien, who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for his part in the unsuccessful 1848 Rebellion. Charlotte’s mother was Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, Co. Limerick.

On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal settlement in Tasmania, she rejoined him in Brussels, and stayed there until he came back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moved with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and was his constant companion ‘till his death in north-west Wales at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, Charlotte lived at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children, Nelly, Dermod and Lucy, until his remarriage in 1880. By 1879, Charlotte, who had been hard of hearing since childhood, had become entirely deaf. She went to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spent her time writing.

Charlotte shared her father’s nationalist opinions, and these views were well reflected in her writings. Her best known work is her 1878 novel, ‘Light and Shade’, a tale of the Fenian rising of 1867; as well as a protest against the conditions in Mountjoy Prison. Charlotte used material she had gathered from Fenian leaders. In politics, Charlotte was a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

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