Sir Tim O'Brien
Sir Timothy Carew O'Brien (Third Baronet of Borris-in-Ossory)
Tim O'Brien inherited, from his uncle, in 1892,the baronetcy bestowed upon his grandfather-also Timothy - Lord Mayor of Dublin, publican and Liberal MP for Cashel, by Queen Victoria in 1848. The Third Baronet was one of the best amateur batsmen In England. WG ranked him second only to the great professional opener Arthur Shrewsbury, as a bat whom he would want in his side. Red haired, tall and strong, O'Brien, who fathered 10 children, but scorned a box, loved taking on the fastest bowlers in the land with lofted straight or on drives. He also developed a "chop shot," which the great Ranji much admired, and, in company with EM Grace horrified the purists by pioneering the pull shot. His gift for improvisation at the crease once almost brought him to blows with the Grace brothers. Tied down in a Middlesex v Gloucestershire match at Lord's, he suddenly played a reverse sweep - then an unknown part of a batsman's armoury. He almost decapitated EM Grace at point.
Between 1881 and 1898, he scored 7377 runs for Middlesex at 29.33 with 10 centuries. His highest score, "an extraordinary innings," according to Wisden was 202 v Sussex at Hove in 1895, when he and RS Lucas put on 380 in 4 hours. However the match of his life was at Lord's v Yorkshire in 1889, when he hit 92 and 100* to give his side a sensational victory. In the second innings, he only batted 80 minutes and forced the great Yorkshire captain Lord Hawke to post two long ons and two long offs. The match, said Wisden, "would always be remembered for the marvellous batting of TC O'Brien" who, "seemed to be able to do what he liked with the bowling." Other memorable knocks included a 92 which destroyed the 1884 Australian attack at Oxford, where he had gone purely to obtain a Blue, allowing the University to gain a surprise win over the tourists and , in 1890, two more grand displays against the Australians: 87 for the Lyric Club on a terrible wicket and 105, as captain, for MCC.
Strangely he mostly failed at the highest level. He never made a hundred in the Gentlemen v Players match, though he hit a typical savage 90 in 1889, and achieved virtually nothing at Test level. He played twice v Australia, once in each of 1884 and 1888, but his beat score was 20, the great bowlers, FR "The Demon " Spofforth and CTB "The Terror" Turner being too much for him. He toured Australia with GR Vernon's side in 1887-88, but his highest first class score was only 45 v New South Wales, though he hit two quick fire fifties in odds matches. He was not selected for the Test Match when Vernon's men combined with Shaw and Shrewsbury's team which was also on tour. In 1895-96, O'Brien went to South Africa with Lord Hawke's side. He almost did not arrive because, sailing to Cape Town on a different ship to the others, he was involved in a shipping collision. This was a dangerous tour, with the Jameson Raid taking place and the Boer War simmering. If CB Fry's memoirs are to be believed, and that is by no means certain, O'Brien took part in ostrich races. He did not, however, have a very successful time with the bat, though scoring a century v XV of Pietermaritzburg, in the heart of "enemy" territory and 88 v a Midlands XXII, he failed in all three Tests averaging only 8.25. He captained the team in the First Test because Hawke was ill, and, thanks to the bowling of George Lohman of Surrey, was victorious by 288 runs.
In 1898, he settled in Lohort Castle in North Cork. Stories of his time here abound Unfortunately many of these emanate from an unreliable source and should be treated with caution (see end). He also found time to play for Cork County and, against an attack weakened by a selection dispute, made a typically robust 121, for I Zingari v Ireland at the Vice Regal Ground in 1899, destroying the normally parsimonious bowling of Bill Harrington.
The selection dispute was the reason that he played for Ireland. In 1902 it was healed thanks to the intervention of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Cadogan, and a four match first class tour of England was arranged, O'Brien, having had no involvement in the dispute and because of his experience, was the obvious man to lead the side. Ireland won two and drew one of their matches. Wisden praised his captaincy, but, at this distance it seems to have bordered on the eccentric at times. He reserved his oen best form for the penultimate match. Ireland chasing 489 to win v Oxford, were in trouble when the baronet arrived at 7. He hit a brilliant 169 in 4 hours. "The issue remained in doubt as long as O'Brien stayed," said Wisden. This remained the record Irish score until surpassed by Ivan Anderson's 198 v Canada in 1973. It remained the highest first class score until Jeremy Bray's 190 v UAE in 2005. Bray was, of course, to be overtaken by Eoin Morgan's 209 v the same opponents in 2007.
In 1903 O'Brien made 51 v London County at the Mardyke, though his satisfaction must have been marred by being bowled by Grace. He played one greater innings for Ireland. Leading the side against Yorkshire, captained by his old touring companion Lord Hawke, he came in at 9 in the second innings as Ireland were going down to an innings defeat. He made 60, described by eye witness Pat Hone as,"the most brilliant cricket of the match." The O'Brien temper flared in this match as well. As His Lordship was out of his ground patting down the wicket, the Baronet from mid on, feigned to return the ball to the bowler, but shied at the stumps instead.
"If that had hit," said Hawke, "I'd have taken my men off the field."
O'Brien called him, "A liar, a thief and a swindler" and said that he had lived by swindling for 20 years. There was certainly some truth in this and Roche was awarded just £5 damages. However O'Brien was heavily fined and had to pay large costs for attempting to nobble witnesses.
He turned out occasionally for Cork County, sometimes with his brother John who played for Ireland v Scotland in 1910, and was, indeed, joint captain in 1911-12 with PWG Stuart. However his farewell to cricket was in a first class match for Lionel Robinson's XI v Oxford in 1914. Robinson was a cricket obsessed Australian millionaire. Tim displayed all his old power in driving and pulling his way to brilliant scores of 90 and 111. During the War, he served as a major, commanding a company of Remounts, part of the RASC providing horses and mules for the Army. He was mentioned in Despatches and had many rows with fellow officer and Cork County and Ireland batsman PWG Stuart. He also knew tragedy, his son TJA O'Brien, who had played for IZ and Free Foresters, was killed in Flanders in 1916, while in 1921 his beloved Lohort was burned down by the IRA. O'Brien had been a Home Ruler, a supporter of John Redmond, but had played a leading role in trying to recruit men during the War.
He lived briefly in Dublin and London before settling in the Isle of Man. At the time of his death he was England's oldest living Test Cricketer.
His obituary appeared in Wisden 1948. He is also profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats." His biography will be found in Scores and Biographies Vol 15. Unfortunately, as referred to above, the details of his time in Co Cork are hard to trace accurately. The Castlemagner Historical Society gives copious detail but makes many errors about O'Brien's career. For example it credits him with founding Lord's and dying 20 years before his time. It also makes an error over his ancestry and predates the slander trial by over 10 years, as well as wrongly making Lord Fermoy the plaintiff. Thus no other detail found only in the Society's Newsletter has been used.