O'Brien, Catherine Amelia (1881–1963), stained-glass artist, was born 19 June 1881 at Durra, Ennis, Co. Clare, one of five children of Pierce O'Brien, JP, a gentleman landowner, of Durra house, Ennis, Co. Clare, and Sophia Angel St John O'Brien, youngest daughter of Hugh Palliser Hickman (1805–83), landowner, of Fenloe house, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare. Educated at the Mercy convent, Ennis, she won a scholarship to attend the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (1901–6), where she studied under William Orpen (qv) and Alfred Child; the latter tutored her in the art of stained glass. During a career spanning some sixty years, O'Brien became especially noted for her work in religious buildings, in Ireland and abroad. One of her first commissions was the St Ita window, designed by Sarah Purser (qv), for St Brendan's cathedral, Loughrea, Co. Galway (1904). In 1906 she joined the stained-glass studios of An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass), owned by Purser, at 24 Pembroke St., Dublin, and designed the ‘Angel of the Annunciation’ window for the Enniskillen convent chapel. She made celtic-style designs, including a window based on a page from the Book of Durrow, for the private chapel of the Wilson family at Coolcarrigan, Naas, Co. Kildare (1912), and in 1914 visited the cathedrals of Paris, Rouen, and Chartres, in the company of Purser and Wilhelmina Geddes (qv). In 1916 for the Honan hostel chapel at UCC she designed three windows, representing St John, St Flannan, and St Munchin; the latter, dedicated to the patron saint of Limerick, depicts the story of the wise women of Mungret in the upper panel. Her design for the centenary memorial window in St Andrew's church, Lucan, Co. Dublin (1923), comprised four panels illustrating the parable of the Good Shepherd.
When An Túr Gloine was made a cooperative society in 1925, O'Brien became a shareholder with other artists, including Ethel Rhind (qv), Evie Hone (qv), and Michael Healy (qv). She executed a lunette, ‘The spirit of night’ (1926), depicting night, twilight, and dawn, for ‘Roselands’, a private home in Singapore, owned by Keng Chee, but later demolished. Her ‘Sower of the parables’ window, for St James's church, Castledermot, Co. Kildare, was shown at a display of stained glass at An Túr Gloine in 1926. She completed a St Catherine of Siena window for the Sacred Heart convent chapel, Newton, Massachusetts, USA, in 1927. In 1931 she was commissioned by architect Denis Santry to execute a St Patrick window for the De La Salle school, East Coast Rd, Singapore, which remains the only stained-glass work by an Irish artist in that country. Her St Patrick window in St Edan's cathedral, Ferns, Co. Wexford (1931), is characteristic of her primitive, folk style in depicting Christian saints. O'Brien's lunettes, ‘Mass in penal days’ (1936), located in the Franciscan friary, Athlone, Co. Westmeath, are attractive windows in opus-sectile, a technique in which she was highly proficient, involving the setting of sections of coloured glass in a concrete frame. In 1936 she completed three war memorial windows, depicting scenes from John Bunyan's The pilgrim's progress, for St Bartholomew's church, Ballineen, Co. Cork. Her ‘Transfiguration of Christ’ window at St Naithi's church, Dundrum, Co. Dublin, was dedicated by author Monk Gibbon (qv) to his father, Canon William Monk Gibbon (1864–1935). She designed two windows, ‘Pelican and lamb’ and ‘Host and chalice: wheat and grapes’, for a ten-window Túr Gloine commission for Brophy college, Phoenix, Arizona, USA (1937); executed in vivid, primary colours, they epitomise her naturalistic, naive portrayal of religious subjects. She worked for ten years on twenty-two opus-sectile panels for the reredos of Drumcliffe protestant church, Ennis, Co. Clare (1937–47).
On Purser's retirement in 1940, O'Brien became manager of An Túr Gloine, which she purchased with its contents for £235 in 1944. From 1954 onwards, she rented a section of the premises to stained-glass artist Patrick Pollen. A window designed by O'Brien in memory of her friend Bishop Harry Vere White (1853–1941) was placed in St Bartholomew's church, Clyde Rd, Dublin (1942). She completed a window depicting St Francis of Assisi for a new church in South Kinacop, Nairobi, Kenya (1953), and showed stained glass at the 1953 Irish Exhibition of Living Art. One of her most attractive windows, ‘The sower’, was placed in Killoughter protestant church, Redhills, Co. Cavan, in 1953; in this composition, the clear glass of the background alternates in colour dependent on the weather. She designed sixteen roundels including stations of the cross for St Helen’s church, Vero Beach, Florida, USA (1958). In 1958 she showed two windows at an exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland, and completed a window, ‘Our Lord and St Peter on the water', for Christ church, Gorey, Co. Wexford. The Túr Gloine studios were damaged by fire in 1958; she rebuilt them the following year and resumed business.
A prominent member of the Soroptomist Club, a group of professional and business women, O'Brien also belonged to the Guild of Irish Art Workers. Her last completed work was a three-light window for St Multose's church, Kinsale, Co. Cork (1962). A commission from President Éamon de Valera (qv) for two windows for the private chapel of Áras an Uachtaráin was unfinished at her death. She died 18 July 1963 at Sir Patrick Dun's hospital, Dublin, and was buried in Whitechurch graveyard, Co. Dublin. A window designed in her memory by Pollen is in the St Laurence O'Toole chapel, Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, where she made floral arrangements for some forty years. Notebooks including some 150 of her drawings for An Túr Gloine are in the NGI.