Sicele O'Brien

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Sicele O'Brien
Sicele O'Brien.png
Born1 April 1887
London, England
Died18 June 1931(age 44)
Known forPioneering Irish pilot

Sicele O'Brien (1 April 1887 – 18 June 1931) was one of Ireland's pioneering pilots. She was one of three women who raced and set records in Europe and Africa in the 1920s. She was the second woman in Britain or Ireland to get a commercial pilots licence. She was the first woman in Britain or Ireland to run an air taxi service.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in London as Sicele Julia Mary Annette O'Brien to Sir Timothy Carew O'Brien, 3rd Baronet and Gundrede Annette Teresa de Trafford of Lancashire. She had two brothers and seven sisters. Her father was an England cricket captain and Deputy Lieutenant as well as Justice of the Peace for County Cork.[2]

O'Brien grew up in Dublin, London and Cork. One of the family homes was Lohort Castle, Mallow, was burned in 1921.[3] O'Brien was living there in the census in 1911.[4] O'Brien was initially well known as a hunter and tennis player.

World War One[edit]

O'Brien served as a First Aid Nursing Yeomanry driver in the Western theatre of war between May 1917 and April 1919 and received a British War Medal and Victory Medal.[5] Her father also served[2] and her older brother Timothy was killed in action in 1916.


O'Brien was a member of the London Light Airplane Club. She got her commercial pilots licence in 1927 and was the second woman in Ireland and the UK to do that. She won the first women's air race – the Aerial Oaks in 1926.[6][7][1] With Lady Heath she set the 1928 British Altitude record. In June 1928, she wrote an article on "Flying as a Career for Women" in The Women Engineer, the journal of the Women’s Engineering Society.[8]

On 20 October 1928 she lost a leg in an accident near Mill Hill golf course Middlesex. Her leg was crushed in the crash and had to be amputated[9] although her passenger Hon. Mildred Katherine Leith survived with fewer injuries.[10] O'Brien remained passionate about aviation, writing a number of articles and organising air rallies such as the May 1929 rally in Gleneagles. She continued to fly herself using an artificial leg.[11][12][13] She worked on behalf of the Air League of the British Empire and was one of the two founders of the Aviation Ambulance Association of England.[14] She lived at Earls Court Road in 1931.[15]

She was killed in 1931 when her plane crashed on take off at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. The plane's co-owner, the explorer Enid Gordon-Gallien, was in the plane and also died in the crash.[6][16] O'Brien left an estate worth just over £538.


  1. ^ a b "Havre Daily News Promoter, November 13, 1927, Page 3". Newspaper archive. 13 November 1927. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Person Page". The peerage. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Irish Castles – Lohort Castle". Britain Ireland castles. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  4. ^ "National Archives: Census of Ireland 1911". Census national archives. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  5. ^ "UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920". Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b The Aeroplane. Temple Press. 1931.
  7. ^ "Sunday, November 13, 1927, Havre, Montana". Havre Daily News Promoter.
  8. ^ "The Woman Engineer". Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  9. ^ Kate Herbert-Hunting (22 September 1986). Universal Aunts. Constable. ISBN 9780094671706.
  10. ^ "Nottingham Journal". 22 October 1928. Retrieved 31 July 2019 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  11. ^ Julie Wosk (2003). Women and the Machine: Representations from the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age. JHU Press. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-0-8018-7313-3.
  12. ^ Constance Babington Smith (1 January 1988). Amy Johnson. Patrick Stephens. ISBN 978-1-85260-097-6.
  13. ^ Flight International. IPC Transport Press Limited. April 1931.
  14. ^ Flying Magazine. September 1931. pp. 54–.
  15. ^ "England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995". Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  16. ^ "Friday, June 19, 1931, Syracuse, New York". Syracuse Herald.

Further reading[edit]