Heaslip deputised for his club and international team-mate during the autumn internationals as O’Driscoll looked to recover from surgery on his ankle.
The 33-year-old, who has skippered Ireland since 2003, returned to action with Leinster earlier this month, but Declan Kidney has opted to hand Heaslip the captaincy for next month’s tournament.
“Obviously he’d be very disappointed, Brian has always told you what an honour it is to captain Ireland and that will never change. He accepts my reasons for doing it,” said Kidney.
“I don’t think people realise sometimes the amount of weight that would be on a captain’s shoulders and Brian’s been hugely generous to the team and I just feel that now is the right time to allow him to concentrate on himself, to get himself right.”
O’Driscoll added: “The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life over the last number of years, and while I was naturally very disappointed not to be leading the team in the Six Nations, when I talked it through with Declan I accepted the reasons behind the decision.”
The Ireland head coach named his 39-man training squad for the Six Nations on Thursday, which includes six uncapped players, and Kidney is eyeing Irish Wolfhounds’ tie against England Saxons as a chance for returning players to get game time.
“Our priority is the Wales game, but there is an opportunity in the Wolfhounds match for some of the players as we head into the Six Nations,” he added.
“There are quite a few players who have been out injured and could be lacking game time, so this will be the ideal chance for them and the newer members in the squad to challenge for places in the senior team. After the Wolfhounds game we will able to name a smaller squad which will train together and prepare for the Wales game.”
Forwards: Michael Bent (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Tom Court (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Lewis Stevenson (Ulster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster)
Backs: Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Paul Marshall (Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Dave McSharry (Connacht), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Ulster)