As you drive to the Cliffs of Moher, when you come to St. Brigid’s Well you will also see what some call “Corney’s Column” or ”O’Briens Monument” an impressive column, was created back in the mid 1850’s as a commemoration to the local landlord Cornelius O’Brien.
It stands beside the roadway, looking down over Liscannor village and the bay including the ruins of Cornelius’ home, Birchfield House.
This monument is maintained by us in Considine’s Bar as on the family farmland and was supposedly built by Scottish tradesmen.
There were some stories that the memorial was erected by O’Brien himself, during his own lifetime and paid for with money wrung from his unfortunate tenants, but it seems since that this is completely without foundation. There is a date on the inscription of 1853, which can only be explained as a stonecutter’s equivalent of a typist’s error. The internal evidence proves it wrong as O’Brien was an M.P. for 20 years at the time of his death in 1857 and not in 1853 as the inscription states.
The suggestion of a testimonial first appears in the editorial column of the Clare Journal on October 5, 1854. An article in the same issue by “an English Visitor” heaps praise on Cornelius O’Brien for his developments at the Cliffs of Moher – the tower, pathways, stables, round table etc. and even the provision of a piper to entertain the visitors.
Unfortunately, the piper fell over the cliffs while drunk. The writer remarks that such public spirit should be marked by some sign of the people’s appreciation.
The response to the suggestion, formation of a committee and collection of subscriptions, is reported in subsequent issues and a full list of subscribers is published. This is headed by Bishop Fallon of Kilfenora and Bishop Vaughan of Nenagh. The list totals £400 and includes £36 ‘wrung’ from the tenants in Birchfield and Caruduff.
According to a letter from Orbilus in the Clare Journal of 2 March, 1857, the form of the memorial had not been decided. Three suggestions were being considered:-
a. an extension to the Carnegie Library in Ennis;
b. an inscribed silver dinner service. (not favoured by O’Brien); or
c. a memorial at the Cliffs of Moher
Following this there was a unanimous decision to erect a monument at St. Brigid’s Well as a mark of appreciation for the successful efforts of Cornelius O’Brien of Birchfield to improve the condition of the middle and lower classes in his neighbourhood, including encouraging their education. Mention was also made of the accommodation he afforded to all classes visiting the Cliffs of Moher and surrounding scenery. A sketch of the proposed monument appeared in the press in November 1855 showing O’Brien on top of a column similar in style to Daniel O’Connell’s in Ennis or Nelson’s in Dublin’s Sackville Street and London’s Trafalgar Square. What was built was what appears to be a chalice or cup mounted in stone.
Despite the inscribed date (14 October 1853) it was not completed until after his death. A letter from a visitor to Lahinch on 22 August, 1861 refers to the completed monument.
All in all, it seems Cornelius O’Brien was quite a man. His vision, backed by a secure parliamentary seat and ten thousand acres of land in Birchfield, Inagh and Toonagh, would make him a giant in the Ireland of today.
It is nice to see Cornelius O’Brien memory living on here locally in St. Brigid’s Well and continue to be a feature in our skyline!