James O’Brien (b. 1946)
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James O’Brien (b. 1946)


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Track 1: Jim O’Brien’s family originally came from the small village of Aglish in County Waterford, where his father John Joseph O’Brien and his uncle James Vincent O’Brien were born at Aglish House. His father and uncle were the only two of the six siblings to directly serve in WWI, though the others had supportive roles as doctors and nurses. In the case of his father, Jim feels that he may have joined up principally to see the world and to enjoy an exciting career. As to his uncle, a medical doctor, he may have felt the need to help people in the war rather than joining up for any political ideals. Jim explains that his father had joined the 3rd Leinster Regiment in 1912, was promoted to Captain in 2nd Leinster Rifles in 1914 and sent off to the Front. His successes earned him rapid promotion to Major in the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1915; at only 23 he was one of the youngest Majors ever appointed. He was wounded at the Battle of Ypres in 1915 and in the Somme in 1916. Jim recalls hearing him speak later about shrapnel in the side of his head. He was sent to Switzerland to recuperate from his wounds, though he was eventually to die from lung cancer in 1969 when his son was a young adult, and Jim feels the gassing in the trenches may have been a contributory factor. However, he feels that his father did not appear to have suffered any traumatic psychological damage, and in 1918, he went on to serve in the Indian Army’s 112th Division and then the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, which were very positive experiences for him until his retirement in 1945. Track 2: Jim’s uncle, James Vincent O’Brien, was born in 1891 and attended St George’s College in Weybridge as did his older brother. He then attended the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and when he qualified in 1915 he probably felt that it was his duty, on ethical grounds, to help the wounded and dying. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was quickly promoted to Captain. He was sent initially to a hospital near Paris but was then posted to the frontline, and in August 1916 he was killed during the Battle of the Somme at the tender age of 25. His untimely death caused such shock and anguish to the O’Brien family that nobody spoke about it for decades. When Jim’s uncle Matthew and aunt Kathleen died in the 1970s, Aglish House was sold. He discusses the ostracisation by general society of those who returned from the war and explains that these former soldiers had no entitlement to Irish pensions and often were afraid to look for British pensions. He says that there was some local animosity towards his father when he retired in 1945 and bought a home in Lismore, Co. Waterford. He supported the British Legion and was active in helping those who had returned from various wars and getting small pensions arranged for them. Jim speaks about the importance of keeping the memory of his father and uncle alive and honouring their immense bravery. He says that the importance of the European Union is in the fact that it can help to prevent war ever happening again by strengthening peaceful links between countries. He feels that, from a British Army perspective, the Easter Rising may have been regarded as a rather local Irish affair. He speaks about the differing attitudes of Irish members of the British military towards the Rising. His father eventually rose to the rank of Colonel and Jim explains that such a high rank was unusual for a member of the Catholic faith. Jim recalls that on his father’s retirement some local Church of Ireland members were quite shocked to find that his father was more senior in rank to them. He describes his visit to the Great War battlefields a few years ago and his emotional visit to his uncle’s grave in Gordon Dump Cemetery at Ovilliers-La Boisselle. The history of Aglish House is discussed and it is explained that after WWI some land had to be sold off, and in the 1970s the property was sold in its entirety. Track 3: Jim’s mother was a member of the Mulcahy family from Ardfinnan, Co. Tipperary, based at Lady’s Abbey just outside the town, and he explains that the Mulcahys were involved in Ardfinnan Woollen Mills for several generations. He further explains that his father joined the Indian Army’s 112th Division and then the Royal Indian Service Corps after the War and he served initially in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf and later in India. His parents married in the 1934 and his mother went to India with her husband, quite a brave adventure in those days. Jim explains that they travelled the length and breadth of India and what now is Pakistan, including up to the border with Afghanistan, and their first son, Jim’s older brother, was born while they were in India. Their father’s reaclimatisation to life in Ireland after his retirement in 1945 is considered and Jim discusses his engagement with the British Legion at this time. He also discusses the importance of trying to understand the differing outlooks of Irish people at the time of WWI.

Additional information



Audio series:

The Irish Country House and the Great War


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

6.94 MB, 7.02 MB, 9.04 MB, 6.41 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



Colonel John Joseph O'Brien, Dr James Vincent O'Brien

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore