CollectionThe Kate O'Brien Collection
Collection DescriptionA pioneer in Irish fiction, Kate O’Brien was born in Limerick on 3 December 1897 to horse- dealer Thomas O’Brien and his wife, Catherine Thornhill O’Brien. Spanning nearly fifty years, Kate O’Brien’s literary career commenced in 1926 with the play ‘Distinguished Villa’. O’Brien’s first work was the result of a bet with a friend that she could write a play within a number of weeks. It was performed at the Aldwych Theatre in London on 2 May 1926 and was met with wide acclaim.

Several other plays followed in 1927, including ‘The Silver Roan’, ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Set in Platinum’. It was her first novel, ‘Without My Cloak’ (published in 1931), however, that established O’Brien as a significant Irish writer. A chronicle of the Considine family, this work was awarded the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1934, O’Brien produced her second novel, ‘The Ante-Room’. This was followed two years later by its unsuccessful adaptation for the stage in London’s Queen Theatre, and in addition, the first of two works to be banned by the Censorship of Publications Board in Ireland, a novel entitled ‘Mary Lavelle’. Also addressing the subject of Spain is the highly personal travelogue ‘Farewell Spain’ published in 1937, largely in response to the events surrounding the Spanish Civil War. This work was subsequently banned in Franco’s Spain and the author was forbidden access to the country until 1957 with the intervention of the Irish Ambassador to Spain. O’Brien’s play ‘The Schoolroom Window’ was performed that same year at the Manuscript Theatre Club in London.

In 1938, O’Brien’s fourth novel, ‘Pray for the Wanderer’ was published, and followed two years later by ‘The Land of Spices’, her second work to be banned in Ireland. O’Brien spent the early years of the Second World War in Oxford and London, working for the British Ministry of Information. The writer moved to Devon in 1942 boarding in the house of novelist, E.M. Delafield, and over the next year published ‘The Last of Summer’, which was performed as a play at the Phoenix Theatre in London and the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin between 1944 and 1945. The publication ‘English Diaries and Journals’ was produced in 1943. O’Brien’s seventh novel, ‘That Lady’, was published in 1946. A great success, this work was published in North America as ‘For One Sweet Grape’. The novel was adapted for the stage in November 1949, directed by Guthrie McClintic and starring Katherine Cornell as Ana de Mendoza. The play opened in the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway, and in 1955, the novel was made into a motion picture.

Kate O’Brien returned to live in Ireland in 1950, buying a handsome property in Roundstone, county Galway. O’Brien continued to be productive in her new surroundings publishing her biographical work ‘Teresa of Avila’ in 1951, followed by her eighth novel, ‘The Flower of May’ in 1953. The writer travelled to Rome in Italy in the early months of 1954 in preparation for what was to become her ninth and final published novel, ‘As Music and Splendour’. A decade after her move to Roundstone, O’Brien returned to England, settling in Boughton, Kent. Whilst the 1960s did not yield any further fictional work, O’Brien produced another travelogue entitled ‘My Ireland’ in 1962. A collection of reminiscences of her early family life entitled ‘Presentation Parlour’, followed in 1963. In addition, the writer produced articles for different publications including her ‘Long Distance’ series in The Irish Times. O’Brien was involved with numerous literary organisations during her lifetime including P.E.N. and the Comunità Europea degli Scrittori (where she represented Ireland). Kate O’Brien died in Kent on 13 August 1974, aged 76, leaving behind a body of unfinished work including her memoirs and what would have been her tenth novel, ‘Constancy’. Divided into six main sections, the collection has been arranged thematically and addresses O’Brien’s personal life, literary life, media coverage, printed material, photographic material and death. [University of Limerick Special Collections and Archives]
Collection Web Address
ReferenceP12 (Section A)

A. Kate O'Brien: Personal Life

I. Birth and Marriage

II. Family and Friends
(a) Mortuary Cards (1926-1972)
(b) Correspondence (1938-1973)
(i) Anna Wickham (1938) 
(ii) Elizabeth and Austin Hall (1939-1973)
(iii) Enid Starkie (1942)
(iv) Mary O’Neill [1949-1974]
(v) José M. De Areilza (1952-1960)
(vi) O’Brien’s sisters (1961)
(vii) Frieda Lurie (1963-1964)
(viii) Other Friends and admirers [1948-1974]​​​​​​

III. Appointments and Travel Commitments (1949-1973)

IV. Other Business (1960-1974)



AccessBy prior appointment, some material restricted

10 Boxes. 

University of Limerick Special Collections and Archives provide a catalogue to researchers:
Download PDF catalogue here.

Conditions of Access: The majority of documents held in the collection are available for public access with the exception of four items (P12/34, P12/35, P12/479 and P12/480), which have been closed for set periods because of information that may be considered sensitive by other parties.

The papers were deposited in the University of Limerick Library in 2002.

Repository NameUniversity of Limerick Special Collections and Archives
AddressGlucksman Library University of Limerick Limerick City
EircodeV94 T9PX
Telephone(061) 213-158
Repository Web Address