O'Brien, Anna Maria (née Ball) (1785–1871), philanthropist, was born at 5 Werburgh Street in Dublin, the second eldest of five children (four girls and a boy) of John Ball (qv), a wealthy Dublin silk manufacturer, merchant, and catholic convert, and his second wife Mabel Clare (née Bennett) Ball, of Eyrecourt, Co. Galway. Anna Maria and her younger sister Isabella were sent to the Micklegate Bar convent in York in July 1800 where they received a wide-ranging education, with the main focus on languages, particularly French. In 1803 they returned to Dublin. On 12 November 1805, Anna Maria married John O'Brien, the younger son of Denis Thomas O'Brien (qv), a prosperous Dublin merchant. She had a marriage dowry of £5,000 and Denis Thomas O'Brien transferred to John a range of properties and rentals in Dublin. The couple lived at 5 Mountjoy Square, Dublin, and although they did not have any children of their own they later adopted three children of Anna Maria's half-brother John Ball, the only child of her father's first marriage.
Anna Maria O'Brien had already begun a life of charitable works when in 1807, while visiting her sister Cecilia, a novice at the Cork Ursuline convent, she met Mary Aikenhead (qv). Their friendship had an important influence on the expansion of charitable societies and female religious congregations in Dublin, and this was further encouraged by O'Brien's close friendship with Rev. Daniel Murray (qv), the future catholic archbishop of Dublin. Anna Maria introduced Aikenhead to Murray, which resulted in the founding of the first Sisters of Charity congregation in North Willliam Street, Dublin, in 1815.
She devoted her energies to setting up a number of establishments to assist Dublin's female poor, notably an orphanage for destitute girls in Harold's Cross (later given over to the Poor Clares) and a house of refuge in Ashe Street in 1809. The latter was moved to larger premises in Stanhope Street in 1814 and Anna Maria, through her friendship with Mary Aikenhead, transferred the management of the refuge to the Sisters of Charity in 1815.
The Sisters of Charity worked closely with O'Brien over the next couple of decades on a range of projects. They visited the Jervis Street hospital together and she accompanied the nuns on their first visit to Kilmainham gaol where they met two young women convicted of murder. O'Brien was appointed lay manager of a number of Sunday and parochial schools on Abbey Street and later on King's Inns Street, where the nuns conducted the teaching. She was also instrumental in bringing Mary Aikenhead's plan to establish a catholic hospital in Dublin into reality. Accompanied by her husband, she travelled to Paris in 1833 with three sisters from the Dublin congregation to train in nursing and hospital management. Her knowledge of French facilitated this mission and the following year (1834) saw the opening of St Vincent's Hospital for the poor on St Stephen's Green, Dublin. O'Brien was a frequent visitor to the hospital and alongside her work in the schools, she supported a number of orphanages in Dublin and was a regular companion to the Sisters of Charity on their visitations of the poor and sick of Dublin. She was able to draw on considerable family funds to support these various establishments, and was also a generous patron of the Loreto Sisters, founded in Ireland by her youngest sister, Mary Teresa (Frances) Ball (qv), in 1821.
Anna Maria O'Brien survived her husband and outlived her companion, Mary Aikenhead, by over twelve years and was present at the death-bed of Archbishop Murray in 1852. Alongside Aikenhead and Murray, she was a key figure in the establishment of a catholic charitable and educational infrastructure in Dublin in the first half of the nineteenth century. After suffering from senility for two years, she died on 28 March 1871, aged 86, in her home in Mountjoy Square. Her portrait by Nicholas J. Crowley (qv) was exhibited in 1845 and is held by the Sisters of Charity, Mount St Anne's, Milltown, Dublin. Some of her correspondence may be found in the archives of the Sisters of Charity, Dublin.
Anna Maria's eldest sister, Cecilia Ball (1784–1854), became superior at the Ursuline convent in Cork, and her brother, Nicholas Ball (qv), was a successful lawyer and an MP.