Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Brien, Lucius Henry
O'BRIEN, Sir LUCIUS HENRY (d. 1795), Irish politician, a member of a younger branch of the O'Briens, earls of Thomond and of Inchiquin, was the eldest son of Sir Edward O'Brien (d. 1765), second baronet of Dromoland, co. Clare, who represented Clare in the Irish House of Commons for thirty years, by his wife Mary, daughter of Hugh Hickman of Fenloe. He entered parliament in 1763 as member for Ennis borough, and in the same year signalised himself by a remarkable speech describing the condition of the country, which is largely quoted by Mr. Lecky (History of England, iv. 326). He formed a friendship with Charles Lucas (1713–1771) [q. v.], the Irish patriot, and soon became a prominent member of the popular party. ‘By means of a rational understanding and very extensive and accurate commercial information he acquired a considerable degree of public reputation, though his language was bad—his address miserable and his figure and action unmeaning and whimsical—yet, as his matter was generally good, his reasoning sound, and his conduct frequently spirited and independent, he was attended to with respect, and in return always conveyed considerable information’ (Barrington, Historic Memoirs, i. 213–14).
In 1765 he succeeded his father as third baronet of Dromoland; in March of the following year he was placed at the head of a committee to prepare and introduce a bill making the judges' offices tenable quamdiu se bene gesserint, and not as heretofore in Ireland during the king's pleasure. The bill was passed, but did not receive the assent of the English privy council until 1782. In 1768 O'Brien contested his father's seat, co. Clare, at the cost of 2,000l. (Charlemont Papers, i. 119); he was elected, and represented the county until 1776, when he was returned for Ennis. Hugh Dillon Massy, however, one of the members for Clare, being unseated, O'Brien was returned in his stead, and chose to sit for the county. He now busied himself with endeavours to remove the restrictions on trade between England and Ireland, and made frequent speeches on the subject in parliament in opposition to the government; but his speeches lacked lucidity, and his audience were said to be seldom the wiser for them. He visited England in 1778–9 in pursuance of the same object. In the same year he reported to the lord lieutenant on the state of co. Clare, and was one of the first to urge the arming of the militia to meet the expected invasion of Ireland. Following the lead of Charlemont, he headed the volunteer movement in Clare, and took an active part in the agitation for Irish legislative independence. In 1780 he led the opposition to the government in the matter of the import duties between Portugal and Ireland, and in 1782 he supported Grattan's motion for an address to the king in favour of legislative independence.
In spite of his advocacy of the popular cause, O'Brien was defeated at Clare in 1783 by an unknown man (ib. i. 119); he was, however, returned for Tuam, which he represented until 1790. In 1787 he was sworn a privy councillor, and appointed clerk of the crown and hanaper in the high court of chancery. He took a prominent part in the debates on Pitt's proposals for removing the restrictions on Irish trade, and also on the regency question of 1788. In 1790 he was returned for Ennis, and he represented it until his death. In 1791 he moved a resolution for the more satisfactory trying of election petitions, and his last recorded speech in parliament was made in March of the same year on the subject of India trade. Arthur Young [q. v.] acknowledges his indebtedness to O'Brien, at whose house he stayed, and who was indefatigable in procuring materials for Young's ‘Tour in Ireland.’ O'Brien died on 15 Jan. 1795 at Dromoland.
He married, on 26 May 1768, Nichola, daughter of Robert French of Monivea Castle, co. Galway. By her he had six daughters and five sons, of whom the eldest, Edward, succeeded him, and became the father of William Smith O'Brien [q. v.], and of Edward O'Brien [q. v.]
[Lecky's Hist. of England, vol. iv. passim; Sir Jonah Barrington's Historic Memoirs, passim; Charlemont Papers in Hist. MSS. Comm. Rep. Appendix; O'Donoghue's Hist. Mem. of the O'Briens, pp. 395–447; Lodge's Peerage, ed. Archdall, ii. 45; Lascelles's Liber Munerum Hibern.; O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees, ed. 1887, i. 170; Gent. Mag. 1795, i. 170; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage; Official Returns of Members of Parl.; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography.]