Ireland has four provinces -Ulster in the North, Connaught in the West, Leinster in the East and South East, and Munster in the South and West. When in the middle ages Munster was a province in its own right, the O'Briens were kings of it. Clare based, their dominant place in North Munster particularly makes the surname one of the most common in the province. Limerick being closest to their base, came particularly under their sway. In 1850, O'Brien was the second most common surname in Limerick; over seven hundred families. While a few of the leading families held on to their position in Clare by becoming quite Anglicised and as Protestant as was necessary in the 16th century, most O'Briens belonged to the dispossessed Catholic majority which are so difficult to find documentation on before the 19th century.
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Last revision: 2/28/97
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