O'Brien clan celebrates Irish heritage in May 2018 with a trip to Ireland while also aiding Irish students at Trinity

Those with the surname O’Brien take note: a trip to Ireland to celebrate your storied Irish heritage is scheduled for May of 2018, and participants will have the added pleasure of knowing that their journey will also help students in need achieve their dream of higher education at Trinity College in Dublin.

The O’Brien Clan Foundation was founded with a couple goals in mind, and struggling Irish students are at the forefront.  As Bart O’Brien, a Napa Valley-based entrepreneur and founder of the O’Brien Estate vineyard told the Irish Voice, “The only way we can change people’s lives is through education.”

Read more: The O'Brien Clan

From May 19-26, the O’Brien Clan Foundation’s “Brian Boru Trail Tour” participants will immerse themselves in their history, which won’t be difficult as the O’Brien surname is one of Ireland’s most recognizable.  The tour will follow in the footsteps of Brian Boru, the great Irish high king who ruled from 1002 to 1014 and was the founder of the O’Brien Dynasty -- a noble house that ruled the kingdoms of Munster and Thomond for centuries.

“Tour guests will walk along the Cliffs of Moher, which Boru himself passed on his journey, visit the Rock of Cashel where Boru was crowned High King of Ireland in 978 and observe his final resting place in Armagh,” an O’Brien Clan Foundation press release states.

“Pilgrimage participants will also have the chance to visit other sites of Irish cultural significance, including Kylemore Abbey, the Aran Islands, O’Brien’s Tower and a venue dedicated to the country’s patron saint, St. Patrick. There is ample time set aside for independent sightseeing, shopping and relaxation during the trip.”

Read more: Irish people have far more Viking DNA than was suspected

Next year’s trip will be the O’Brien Clan Foundation’s second formal excursion to Ireland. The 2016 pilgrimage raised $4,000 which was donated to Trinity College’s Trinity Access Program for underprivileged students.  A further $1,110 was given to the O’Brien Summer School which promotes Irish history and heritage.

Bart O’Brien is the chairman of the O’Brien Clan Foundation, which was founded by Sir Conor Myles O’Brien in 1998.  He has brought members of his wine club to Ireland before – some with the last name O’Brien, and some not – and relishes the chance to combine Irish camaraderie with charity.

Bart O’Brien during the 2016 tour of Ireland.

Bart O’Brien during the 2016 tour of Ireland.

“The bus tour across Ireland is to explore our roots and understand our history,” he says.  “We concentrate a lot on the Famine which is obviously such an important event in Irish history, and one that is not well understood by many Irish Americans.”

O’Brien is in the process of tracing his own genealogy.  His great grandfather emigrated from Ireland in 1900, but he’s not sure from where.  Walking in the footsteps of Brian Boru, all these centuries later, is a profoundly moving experience for himself and the other pilgrimage participants.  

“I and all the other O’Briens in the world are, in theory, related to this one man and his descendants.  To actually go to places to see how they lived is very moving. It makes you feel close to you genetic history,” O’Brien says.

Being able to give back to Irish students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend Trinity College is especially pleasing to O’Brien and his fellow foundation members.  The foundation’s only stipulation is that recipients should come from the west of Ireland, where Brian Boru was from and where economic opportunity is lacking in comparison to Dublin and other points east.

“There are no simple answers to complex problems when it comes to poverty, but education is always the way forward,” O’Brien says.  “So it’s important to help educate people and help them realize their goals and even increase them. So instead of studying to be, say, a mechanic, maybe they’ll want to go on to be a mechanical engineer.”

The recipient of the foundation’s 2016 scholarship is especially impressive. Claire O’Kane, 17 at the time and a native of Ballina, Co. Mayo, is an avid reader and an award winning Irish dancer who is studying clinical speech and language at Trinity thanks in large part to the foundation.

“My father works in the construction industry and since the downturn, wages have been very poor. My mother works part time in a factory. I have an older sister in college and my parents are finding it a real struggle to support the both of us in university.   As I live in a rural part of Mayo, travel is also expensive so therefore any financial assistance is very beneficial to me,” O’Kane wrote in her thank you letter to the foundation.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone involved in the O’Brien Clan Foundation – the scholarship has made all the difference to my first year in college and I am very grateful.”

The foundation is looking forward to helping other Irish students also reach their goals.  “This type of help is so moving to us. Claire is such a sweet Irish girl and we were happy to support her,” O’Brien says.

The eight-day trip will delight all those who take part, O’Brien promises.  Those with last names other than O’Brien will be more than welcome, and don’t be surprised if a few bottles of his vintage namesake wine from Napa is uncorked on the tour bus.  

“We do have a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, a few drinks as well,” O’Brien says, adding that one of next year’s lead tour participants will be Miles O’Brien, the former CNN anchor and current PBS contributor.

Irish Americans, he adds, should make it their business to travel to Ireland at least once in their lifetimes.

“I like calling our foundation trip a pilgrimage to appreciate our roots, and I definitely want to promote the idea that every Irish American should go to Ireland. It’s the most special place.”

(The cost of the O’Brien Clan Foundation tour of Ireland, from May 19-26, is $1,995 per person, double occupancy. It includes accommodation, admission fees to tourist sights, ground transportation and many meals, including a medieval banquet and a farewell Irish night in Dublin. Not included is airfare. For a detailed tour itinerary and more information, visit www.obrienclan.com)

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O’Brien Clan Foundation 2016 tour participants, including Bart and Barb O’Brien (front row, far right), present a check on the steps of Trinity College to the Trinity Access Program.