Sophie O’Brien Papers

Repository: Cork City and County Archives

Identity Statement

TitleSophie O'Brien Papers
Archive ReferenceIE CCCA/PR25
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1880-1945
Extent Medium63 items


Creator(s): O'Brien, Sophie (b1860-d1960) neé Raffalovich

  • Administrative History ↴

    Born in Odessa, Russia, the only daughter of Marie and Hermann Raffalovich, a wealthy Jewish banker or grain merchant. She spent most of her earlier years in Paris, where the family moved in c1863. Her elder brother Arthur was a noted economist, her younger brother André, to whom she was close, was a poet and friend of poet John Gray. She married William O'Brien M.P. (1852-1928) in London in June 1890 (PR25/3 and PR25/12). At the time, O’Brien was editor of the Irish Land League newspaper, 'United Ireland'. They came into contact through her and her mother’s support for Irish nationalism during the Land War of the 1880s, and their proposed translation of William O'Brien’s fenian romance novel 'When We Were Boys' (1890). Sophie O'Brien provided much moral and practical support to William O'Brien, acting as his secretary and devoting herself to his welfare, and her wealth was used in financing his political activities, however the Russian Revolution in 1917 seems to have reduced this wealth considerably. The couple lived in Westport, County Mayo for the first 20 years, and following that in Mallow, County Cork (PR25/46). She was noted for her work with the needy during her time in Ireland. Converting to Roman Catholicism prior to her marriage, she was to become committed to her new faith, and some of her close friends were nuns (PR25/5 and PR25/59). She was well-read and produced a number of works including a translation of John Morley’s biography of Richard Cobden, and a series of books reflecting on her life and times in Ireland including 'Golden Memories' (1929) and 'My Irish Friends' (1937). She wrote many articles for various newspapers and periodicals, of which a number are found in the present collection (Section C of the arrangement). Unlike her husband, she was not a supporter female political enfranchisment (PR25/17). She remained in Ireland for a few years following her husband’s death in 1928, before returning to France to live with close friends at Eplessier, near Amiens (PR25/7). She spent the last years of her life in poverty, but was granted a small pension by the Irish Government in recognition of her contribution to the nation.
  • Archival History ↴

    The Sophie O’Brien (Mrs. William O’Brien) Papers, were kept by O’Brien’s friend Eoin O’Mahony, a well-known historian and genealogist (d.1970). The papers were placed in the care of Cork City and County Archives via Cork County Library.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: O'Brien, Sophie (b1860-d1960) neé Raffalovich ↴

    Papers of Sophie O’Brien/Mrs. William O’Brien including some of her writings and manuscripts such as an 1887 article on Lord Shaftesbury (PR25/1). Her writings include a draft manuscript of her unpublished autobiography ‘Recollections of a Long Life’ (PR25/2), a more complete typescript of the autobiography (PR2/3), plus additional notes she intended to add to the work (PR25/4). Also found are some ‘Intimate Notes about William O’Brien and some of his friends’, which give a personal insight into William O’Brien’s character and political life, and their life in Ireland (PR25/5).

    Also correspondence, mainly from Sophie O’Brien to her friend Captain Lucey in 1938, concerning the proposed publication of her autobiography. News clippings of articles by Sophie O’Brien in various newspapers and journals covering personal and non-personal topics and also including a number relating to husband William O’Brien M.P. Photographs of Sophie O’Brien, William O’Brien, friends and relations, a photo. of William O’Brien with press associates in the U.S.A. in 1887 (PR25/36), and photographs of scenes outside Tipperary Courthouse in October 1890 (PR25/39 – /42).

    The papers contain personal insights into some of the political, social, and economic events of the 1880-1920 period, in particular an insight into the new Catholic Irish political elite. The background, character and opinions of Sophie O’Brien and those of her husband are well documented in the papers. The material in particular provides information on the political activities of William O’Brien and his associates during his work as a journalist, as a nationalist M.P., and as a leader of the Irish National Land League, the United Irish League and the All For Ireland League, as well as documenting his later views on Ireland’s role during the First World War, and on Home Rule and partition. Sophie O’Brien’s writings, correspondence, and published articles are an informative source for social history and women’s history.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The papers are divided into 4 main sections.
    Section A contains some of Sophie O’Brien’s writings and manuscripts.
    Section B contains correspondence, mainly from Sophie O’Brien to her friend Captain Lucey in 1938, concerning the proposed publication of her autobiography.
    Section C.I contains news clippings of articles by Sophie O’Brien in various newspapers and journals covering personal and non-personal topics.
    Section C.II contains other news cuttings, including a number relating to husband William O’Brien.
    Section D contains photographs. These include photographs of Sophie O’Brien, William O’Brien, friends and relations.

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Open by appointment to those holding a current readers ticket.
Creation Dates1880-1945
Extent Medium63 items
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids Descriptive list Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Related MaterialBoole Library, University College Cork: William O’Brien MSS National Library of Ireland: William O’Brien Papers and other papers including correspondence with Michael Davitt, John Dillon, T.M. Healy, John Redmond, J.F.X. O’Brien, Timothy Harrington, Lord Dunraven, and various others. National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division: Reference Dep. 372: Correspondence and papers of Canon John Gray, Parish Priest of St Peter’s, Morningside, Edinburgh, and of Mark André (Sebastian) Raffalovich, 1898-1932 including papers relating to Sophie Raffalovich/O’Brien. Manuscripts Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A: The Aylesford mss., 1941-1968, includes material relating to Sophie O’Brien. Publications by Sophie O’Brien and William O'Brien are held by Cork City Library, Cork County Library, college libraries of the National University of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, and the Royal Irish Academy.

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteBrian McGee
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000. National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997.
Date of Descriptions38504