Sophie Raffalovich (Mrs. O‘Brien)

Black Sea map
Norman Einstein, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
1900 O 'Connell St. Dublin
National Library of Ireland on The Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons
Octogan / Shop St. Westport
Author's Personal Collection
Clock House Mallow
National Library of Ireland on The Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Author / Activist

Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien was an author who became an Irish Nationalist.  She continued to insist on her Jewish identity throughout her life.

Her Raffalovich Family were of Jewish rabbinical ancestry.  Their family name descended from Polish-born Raphael Parnes. (d. 1782) (Patrick Comerford 19th September 2020) [i]

Sophie Raffalovich was born on the 15th January 1860 in Odessa.  She was daughter of Herman Raffalovich Banker, her mother was Marie.  She had two brothers André & Ernest. (Maume Patrick) [ii]

Sophie Raffalovich was born on the 15th January 1860 in the Black Sea port area in Odessa (one of the most important Cities at that era in the Tsarist Empire)  She was the daughter of Herman Raffalovich (1828-1893) & his wife Marie. (1832-1891)  Her father was a banker.  Sophie had two brothers Marc-André (1864-1934) also Arthur (1853-1921) (Patrick Comerford) [iii]


When Sophie Raffalovich was aged four years the family moved to France to avoid official pressure to abandon Judaism. (Herman spent six months of each year in Odessa to supervise his business) Marie was proprietor of a successful salon.  She was very interested in the arts & sciences) [iv]

The family moved during  1864 to France when Sophie was four years of age to escape the pressure to convert to Christianity.  This entailed her father’s travel back & forth to Odessa for business: he spent half of each year there. (Patrick Comerford) [v]


She studied political economy  as she desired to assist the poor.  She  translated lives of Cobden Lord Shaftesbury:

Sophie Raffalovich was aware as she grew up of her advantageous lifestyle  She studied political economy.  She translated works on the lives of Cobden also Lord Shaftesbury who had strongly influenced her social values.[vi]

London Hostess

Sophie’s brother André held literary salons in London: she acted as hostess there.  She met with Lady Gregory. (Patrick Comerford) [vii]

Marie’s Political Views

Sophie’s mother Marie  held republican political views.  She associated with exiled opponents of the Second Empire. (Sophie O’Brien  Silhouettes d’dutrefois 1926) (Maume Patrick) [viii]

Marie was a political republican.  She was very interested in the arts & sciences.  She hosted popular salons in France. [ix]

From the early 1880’s Sophie Raffalovich with her mother supported a girls’ school & orphanage in Amiens:


During the late 1880’s Sophie & Marie Raffalovich both developed an interest in the Irish question.  They corresponded with ‘l’Aiglon.’ (as William O’Brien was known in France)  Sophie first met him in Paris on 8th June 1889. [x]

Details of William O ‘Brien’s highly publicized arrests led both mother & daughter to become interested in Ireland.  They corresponded with ‘l’Aiglon’ (as he was known in France)  Sophie & O ‘Brien first met on 8th June 1889 in Paris. (Patrick Comerford) [xi]


They became engaged following a brief courtship  To her father’s dismay Sophie converted to Catholicism prior to her marriage.  She stated later that she had studied religious certainty previously.  It was evident from her private writings that her conversion was sincere.  She retained a strong consciousness of her Jewish heritage at the same time: partly because of attacks from French & Irish anti-Semites. (Maume Patrick) [xii]


Following a brief courtship Sophie & William O ‘Brien became engaged. (Patrick Comerford):


William O ‘Brien married Sophie Raffalovich a Russian – born daughter of a banker.  Her family lived in Paris.  (Clarke Aiden) [xiii]

Sophie & William O’Brien were married on 11th June 1890.  Guests at their wedding included Charles Stewart Parnell.  It turned out to be one of the last major gatherings of the Irish Parliamentary Party before it split later that year. (Patrick Comerford) [xiv]

O ‘Brien wedding occurred in  London on 11th June 1890.  Among the guests  was C. S. Parnell:

During 1890 William O ‘Brien & Sophie Raffalovich (sister of the Poet Marc André Sebastian Raffalovich also the Economist Arthur Raffalovich)  a daughter of the Russian Jewish banker Hermann Raffalowich (domiciled in Paris) were married.  His wife brought considerable wealth into the marriage thus enabled O ‘Brien to act with political independence.  She provided financial assistance to him to establish his own newspapers.  In addition Sophie O ‘Brien provided him with considerable moral & emotional support for his political pursuits.[xv]


The O ‘Brien’s settled in Ireland.  Sophie acted as enabler by funding his political activities. She copied & preserved his correspondence (his handwriting was notoriously illegible.) Sophie their accounts.  She ensured he ate regular meals, dressed warmly or undertook overseas holidays.  They agreed to live a relatively simple life.  They devoted as much of their annual Income as possible in order to assist the poor. (Maume Patrick) [xvi]

Sophie O ‘Brien moved to Ireland with her husband following their wedding.  She was accepted into several social groups.  She was particularly close to Anne Deane (niece of John Blake Dillon) also Henrietta Mitchel Martin (John Mitchell’s sister)  O ‘Brien depended heavily on Sophie for funding.  She acted as his secretary (also as his nurse when his health was poor)  She was the financial accountant.  They lived a simple life in order to assist the poor. (Patrick Comerford) [xvii]


The O ‘Brien’s departed Dublin then retired to Mallow Cottage in the West of Ireland on the shores of Clew Bay near Westport:

Mallow Cottage information is available at this site:

Due to her husband’s ill health the O ‘Brien’s moved to the West.  They were greeted with bonfires.  He received an address from Westport Town Council officials.  For the first year they rented Old Head lodge.  Later they purchased a lodge on the coast road two miles from the Town.  William O ‘Brien named it ‘Mallow Cottage’ in honour of his Cork birthplace.  The residents of Mallow presented him with beautiful wrought iron gates for the entrance (see  (image of cottage on page 33) (image of O’Brien’s  by Jack McAleer page 36) (Clarke Aiden) [xviii]

Local Projects

William & Sophie O’Brien attempted to support the Congested Districts Board (founded by Balfour in 1891) in local projects i.e. the purchase of Clare Island in Clew Bay also the creation of a fishing industry within the locality.  However one major cause of hardship for the local rural population was that the large tracts of grassland owned by landlords or leased on an ‘eleven-month system’  were insufficient.  The O’Brien’s collaborated on literary work.  They played at farming, (they encouraged local farmers to use copper sulphate spray against potato blight), they bred St. Bernard dogs.  They provided financial support to improvements in local fisheries.  The O ‘Brien’s played an active role in Connacht famine relief work during 1897 / 8. (These activities were described in her Under Croagh Patrick 1904 publicationSophie O’Brien  worked with nuns in Westport to establish craft industries.  She opened Paris markets for lace produced by the local technical school. (Maume Patrick) [xix]

While they lived in Westport the O ‘Brien’s were active during 1897 / 1898 in local famine relief work.  She assisted local nuns to produce a number of local craft Industries.  She used her contacts in order that that locally – made lace reached Paris markets. (Patrick Comerford) [xx]

Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage

Sophie  O’Brien penned an account of the 1904 Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage.  Clarke Aiden believed she may have erred with date: as thirty years later she stated that ‘we had friends visit, Mrs. Deane & Fannie Gallagher came to spend happy days in the end of July 1904.’  She reported on the climb: ‘we drove to Murrisk. The assent began there.  It was easy for a quarter part of the way.  It was only as we came near the summit that the difficulties began.  In the difficult part the fisherman Burke & his son helped me.  At the top we were present at Mass in the open air.  It was a moving scene.  Hail fell during the Sermon.  I did not notice it.  In those blessed hours I had forgotten my cares.’ (Clarke Aiden) [xxi]

United Irish League

Sophie  O’Brien was the principal financial backer of the United Irish League that was founded by William to campaign for land redistribution: it became the vehicle for the reunion of the Irish Parliamentary Party during 1900. (Maume Patrick) [xxii]

On 23rd January 1898 William O’Brien founded the West Mayo United Irish League at a public meeting at the Octagon in Westport.  Within weeks of the League’s foundation its actions caused the Government to deploy extra police to West Mayo to quell disturbances.  O’Brien claimed the League was aiding the CDB in attempting to break up the grass ranches in the West Mayo Region.  Throughout 1898 / into 1899 the United Irish League (the ‘West Mayo’ part of its title was dropped shortly after its foundation) increased due to hostility & Catholic Clergy support. [xxiii]


On 25th July the Irish Convention met at Trinity College Dublin.  William O ‘Brien seldom attended the House of Commons.  When female suffrage was introduced: he considered it too trivial a matter to vote.  He supported Sophie who echoed his belief that the now departed chairman of the party had been overcome by Hibernicism or Hibernianism. [xxiv]


O’Brien & Sophie retired to their new house at Bellevue that overlooked the Blackwater not far from his childhood home at Ballydaheen. [xxv]

When they both moved to Bellevue House in Mallow during  1912 Sophie O’Brien recommenced her charity work.  She continued to fund William’s political activities despite the heavy financial burden that occurred with his newspaper. [xxvi]

The O ‘Brien’s moved to Cork during 1912 (Maume Patrick):

1904 was a difficult year for William O ‘Brien.  He resigned from Parliament.  They returned to live in Cork.  Sophie recalled that ‘we had to give up our home at the foot of Croagh Patrick.  It was a wrench.  Part of my heart remained in the West.’ (Clarke Aiden[xxvii]


Her friends included Sister Mary Eustace (Eaton) of the Harold’s Cross Hospice for the Dying (she was also a close friend of William’s)  During 1923 Sophie published a short life of Sr. M. Eustace.  Sisters Fernande & Lucie Guilmart had become close friends during a visit to Ireland in the early 1930’s.  Sophie O’Brien  wished to adopt a child but O’Brien opposed it: on the grounds that the child’s antecedents might be undesirable. (this had been recalled in an article in the Irish Weekly Independent)  She proceeded to provide funds for a number of poor girls that would continue to live with their own families.  In later life these wards provided her with significant emotional support. (Maume Patrick) [xxviii]


(NLI, MSS 4213-4217) (includes O’Brien Sophie Recollections of a long life, (NLI, MS 5924) Sophie O’Brien, Under Croagh Patrick 1904, Unseen Friends 1912, In Mallow 1920, Sister Mary Eustace 1923, Silhouettes d’autrefois  1926, Golden Memories: the love letters and the prison letters of William O’Brien (ed) Sophie O’Brien 1928 / 9, Sophie O’Brien, Around Broom Lane  1931 also My Irish Friends  1937:

She penned articles extensively on both religious & political topics for the newspapers.  She contributed to a women’s column on women’s education also their involvement in Local Government for The Cork Free Press.   During 1907 she published a novel Rosette: a romance of Paris and Dublin. (Patrick Comerford) [xxix]

Sophie O’Brien published a novel Rosette: a romance of Paris & Dublin during 1907. [xxx]

Their life in Westport’s Mallow Cottage was described in Under Croagh Patrick 1904 (Patrick Comerford) [xxxi]

Under Croagh Patrick O’Brien Mrs. William John Long. 68  25th June 1904 (page 40):

Kith & Kin: Madame O’Brien O ‘Brien Madame William Silhouettes d’autrefois 1926: Librairie Felix Alcan France (in French):

O’Brien Sophie Rafflovich Golden Memories: Love Letters and Prison Letters of W. O’Brien  included a personal appreciation by his widow 1929 Vol 1 &  Vol 11 Letters to W. O’Brien from Sophie O’Brien 1930 Vol 11 M. H. Gill:

Husband’s Demise

William O ‘Brien’s demise occurred suddenly (yet peacefully) in his suite at London’s Belgravia Hotel on 25th February 1928.  A private funeral was held within Westminster Cathedral’s Chapel of the Holy Souls.  He was bought back to Ireland on the mail – train from Euston Station.  On 28th February the ‘the poor man’s Parnell ’  William O ‘Brien was received into Mallow Church for a private service.  Former colleagues & close friends joined Sophie O’Brien with the only outside mourners a deputation from the former  tenants of Nathaniel Buckley.  He was buried in the adjoining churchyard. (4th February 2018) [xxxii]

William O’Brien’s demise occurred on 25th February 1928:


Following William O ‘Brien’s demise during 1928: Sophie O’Brien worked through his remaining papers & documents.  She assisted his biographer Michael MacDonagh then published some of his work. (Patrick Comerford 19th September 2020) [xxxiii]

She appointed herself the guardian of his memory; a role that served a therapeutic function for her.  She classified or transcribed William O ‘Brien’s documents.  She penned memoranda for the guidance of his biographer Michael MacDonagh. (several appeared in My Irish Friend 1937)  Sophie O’Brien edited his early letters to her as golden memories.  (2 vols 1928 / 9) [xxxiv]


Sophie O’Brien donated her husband’s papers to both University College Cork also the National Library of Ireland.  (Patrick Comerford) [xxxv]

Sophie O’Brien divided her husband’s papers between UCC & the National University of Ireland. (Maume Patrick) [xxxvi]


Sophie O’Brien was awarded a Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.) by the National University of Ireland in 1938. (Patrick Comerford):

During February 1938 the National University of Ireland awarded Sophie O’Brien a Litt.D. (Maume Patrick):


During June 1933 Sophie  O’Brien left Mallow.  She returned to France to live at Eplessier near Amiens, with sisters Fernande & Lucie Guilmart. (The proceeds of the sale of Bellevue went to an Irish goddaughter)  Those former pupils of the Amiens school  looked after her for the rest of her life.  She referred to them as ‘the best daughters a childless old woman could have.’ (Maume Patrick) [xxxvii]

Sophie O’Brien  returned to France during 1938.  She resided  near Amiens with Fernande & Lucie Guilmart (the sisters had been pupils in the orphanage & school she had supported since the 1880’s) they returned the favour of care.   Sophie called them ‘the best daughters a childless old woman could have.’  World War II began the following year when Germany invaded France.  The two sisters ensured an escape with them to a region near the Pyrenees. Sophie refused to change her name or disavow her Jewish identity when she lived in semi-hiding under the Vichy regime & in Nazi-occupied France.  She continued to live with the Guilmart sisters at Neuilly-St-Front near Soissons. (Lucie’s demise occurred in 1957, Fernande outlived her) (Patrick Comerford) [xxxviii]


Sophie O’Brien was bedridden from 1948.  During her final years she suffered failed eyesight. She remembered her past years then produced occasional articles to provide a little income while she upheld her husband’s memory.  She corresponded with information for numerous requests: thus several recipients became friends i.e. Sean Rahilly-Mahony Chairman of the  Mallow William O’Brien Centenary Committee. (Maume Patrick) [xxxix]


Sophie O’Brien’s demise occurred a few days prior to her hundredth birthday on 8th January 1960 at Neuilly-St-Front near Soissons. (Maume Patrick):

Sophie O’Brien’s demise occurred at  Neuilly-St-Front on 8th January 1960 prior to her hundredth birthday:

Additional Information

O’Brien Sophie Rafflovich’s publications may be viewed at this link:

Letter to Sophie O’Brien from Marguerite Bennett  15th February 1935:

Publications that reference Mrs. Sophie O ‘Brien include the following:

Clarke Aiden 2006-2007 Recollections of Sophie O ‘Brien -Croagh Patrick 1904  (Clew Bay Historical Journal) no 25

The Irish Monthly  March 1932 Vol 60 No. 705  (Irish Jesuit Province):

Bolster Evelyn History of Mallow  1971 (Cork Historical Guides Committee):

O ‘Rahilly-Mahony Sean That dear long ago: the story of Canon Sheehan and William O’Brien  (Mallow Field Club Journal) no. 1 1983 (pages 26-38)

Letter from Daniel J. Hegarty, Fair Street, Mallow to Florence O’ Donoghue regarding his acquaintance with Liam Lynch in the Irish Volunteer Movement that included the Wesleyan raid. (14th March 1952: papers):

The letters of Mrs. William O’Brien in Mallow Field Club Journal No. 2 1984 (pages 124-32) (out of print):

Mrs. William O’Brien Around my room (Mallow Field Club Journal)  no. 4 1986 (pages 70-90) (introduction by Copps Jim) (out of print):

Warwick-Haller Sally  William O’Brien and the Irish Land  War 1990:

Joergensen’s Paula Reinhard’ March 1932 Mrs. & Sophie O’Brien in The Irish Monthly  vol. 60  no. 705 (pages 172-181)  It may be downloaded at this link:

Recollections of a long life  carbon type-script of chapters 1-19 of an autobiography of Mrs. William O’Brien 1860 c-1900:

A 1890 black  / white of Mrs. William O’Brien by nineteenth century English photographer. (in Private Collection) Illustration for portraits & autographs edited by W T Stead. (Rosenberg Collection) (736369) may be viewed at this link:

British Library Sophie O’Brien née Raffalovich,  Rosette 1907 houses a novel; Under Croagh Patrick, reminiscences: and Amidst Mayo Bogs:

One may view this article 2nd May 1963 in its original context (page 30) at this link:

Index to Westport Historical Society articles may be viewed at this link:

Dr. John O’Callaghan referenced Sophia Raffalovich in his article Townland Tales titled Sophia-from Crimea to Clooneen in The Mayo News 31st January 2023 (page32), he included an image her publication Under Croagh Patrick also Mallow Cottage.



[i] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[ii] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[iii]Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[iv] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[v] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[ix] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[x] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xi] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xii] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xiii] Clew Bay Historical Journal 2006 2007 No 25

[xiv] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xv] Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xvi] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xvii] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xviii] Clew Bay Historical Journal  2006 – 2007 No 25

[xix] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xx] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxi] Clew Bay Historical Journal  2006 2007 No 25

[xxii] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xxiii] A Forgotten Son of Mallow ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv]  Ibid

[xxvi] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxvii] Clew Bay Historical Journal 2006 / 07 No 25

[xxviii] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xxix] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxx] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xxxi] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxxii] A Forgotten Son of Mallow ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxxiii] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxxiv] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xxxv] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxxvi] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

[xxxvii] Ibid

[xxxviii] Sophie Raffalovich O’Brien ( [Assessed 12th March 2022]

[xxxix] O’Brien Sophie Raffalovich ( [Assessed 10th March 2022]

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