Dr Paul O’Brien completed his PhD in Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, under Dr Maura Cronin. His external examiners were Professor David Dickson (Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Deirdre McMahon (MIC).
His thesis examined the fortunes of a provincial, middle-class, merchant family, the Glynns of Kilrush, County Clare who came to local prominence in the early years of the nineteenth- century. It explores their networking strategies and acumen, and traces the rapid expansion of their business activity from small scale corn millers to proprietors of a multifaceted enterprise.
Moreover, the study addresses middle-class identity, examining the ways in which it was constructed and represented to the wider community. It also looks at the mechanisms that were used by the middle classes to establish and maintain their economic, social and cultural hegemony, and at how this was reproduced inter-generationally.
The study was primarily based on information contained in the Glynns’ substantial family papers, both commercial and personal, which were made available to the author. However, it also draws on other contemporary sources, both qualitative and quantitative, such as trade directories, parliamentary papers and legal documents as well as contemporary books and manuscript sources, which collectively help to place the family in the context of middle-class entrepreneurism in the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century.
This thesis also examined the business practices of the emergent middle classes and how they achieved such high levels of success in their respective spheres. To this end, a profile of individual family members is offered, taking into account education, marriage and entrepreneurial endeavours.
It also examined gender roles and identities and how these impacted on the lives of middle- class individuals, with particular reference to the experience of middle-class women. The study ultimately endeavours to locate provincial entrepreneurs amongst their urban counterparts in Ireland in the nineteenth-century.