Conor Cruise O’Brien – Ireland (1917 – 2008)

Linked with Conor Cruise O’Brien, the irascible angel.

CONOR Cruise O’Brien’s life straddled diplomacy, politics, historical scholarship, literature and journalism. He was a diplomat at the UN, a professor in the US, a government minister in Ireland, the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Observer’ Sunday newspaper in Britain and a writer whose work commanded attention throughout the English-speaking world. He was an inveterate controversialist, the quality of whose judgment and the wisdom of whose actions were often questioned. But none could deny the force of his intellect, the skill of his exposition and the courage with which he held to his convictions … (full text).

Conor Cruise O’Brien (3 November 1917 – 18 December 2008), colloquially known as “The Cruiser”, was an Irish politician, writer and academic … // … Unionism: In 1996, he joined Robert McCartney’s United Kingdom Unionist Party and was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum. He was involved in the talks process that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreeement until the party withdrew on the installation of Sinn Fein. He later resigned from UKUP after publishing an extract from his book Memoir: My Life and Themes in which he called on Unionists to consider the benefits of a united Ireland to thwart Sinn Féin. In 2005 he rejoined the Labour Party … (full long text – last updated 22 December 2008).

His bio also on the Atlantic online;

Works by or about him: 161 works in 283 publications in 17 languages and 19,444 library holdings.


Conor Cruise O’Brien – Ireland (1917 – 2008)

Watch this video: Conversations with History: Conor Cruise O’Brien, 28.48 min, January 31, 2008.

See his memoir (1998), and his biography by D. H. Akenson (1994).

He said: “I hope to die with a pen in the hand, but I am in no rush” … and: “I had a bad fall about five months ago, in which I broke several bones and dislocated my hip. But I have made a good recovery and my spirits are good,” he said. “My greatest resource is Maire, my family and my many friends. I have never been depressed, and I’m not now. Perhaps during my life, there have been times, a day or two, when I have felt some melancholy, but it always went, and I was glad to let it go” … (full text of The warrior scholar will be 90, October 28, 2007).

… O’Brien’s life has spanned the entire existence of the Irish State: his first memory is of the sound of Michael Collins’s pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty forces bombarding republican anti-Treaty elements in the Four Courts Building in Dublin in 1922, which signalled the start of the civil war. He was born into the inner sanctum of intellectual Home Rulers – the supporters of Parnell and Redmond who wanted devolution within the Empire rather than separation. Indeed, his mother’s family, the Sheehys, appear in veiled form in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man … (full text).

… Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Dr Cruise O’Brien had been “a leading figure in Irish life in many spheres since the 1960s”. He “. . . was blessed with a strong intellect and he was a man of strong convictions”, he said, adding that while Dr Cruise O’Brien’s “political views were not always in accordance with those of my own party over the years, I never doubted his sincerity or his commitment to a better and more peaceful Ireland” … (full text).

… It is easy now to forget the intensity of fear generated by the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries: the safest thing to do was to keep your mouth shut, or give voice only to generalised pieties. Those who persistently ignored such rules had a tendency to be murdered. Under such circumstances, O’Brien became an implacable public foe of the IRA and its sustaining well of passionate unreason. Irish republicanism recognised him as a dangerous enemy, because he understood its “ancestral voices” intimately: both his mother and father had been committed “Irish Irelanders”, and he had close acquaintance with the seductive power of its myths … (full text).

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… Witty, irreverent and a master of English prose, he was quite sans pareil: acting as his “minder” was easily the most rewarding part of my otherwise somewhat dogsbody duties as deputy editor. Having had his boardroom connection severed by Lonrho and been stripped of his title, Conor rarely came into the office. But the occasional nature of his visits made them only greater treats. He was the most commendable of colleagues, holding us all rapt in local hostelries as his voice rose by something like an octave as the glasses piled up in front of him … (full text).

He says also: … “A view grew up in modern times that nationalism essentially began with the French Revolution, or rather after the French Revolution, which is absurd, because to begin with, nationalism was a major force within the French Revolution right from when it began to happen. But also nationalism and religion have gone hand in hand from remote antiquity. You find them basically in the Bible, the chosen people and the promised land. That’s religion and nationalism like that. And in classical antiquity, the polis and the patria, the native city and the native land, are the great motivating forces and set the themes of the great thinkers and orators of antiquity. So we’re dealing with something very old and we may take protean in form, but it appears to be permanent in human nature. And again, human nature doesn’t include all human beings. There are human beings who are indifferent to politics, religion, virtually anything.  But most of the people who make themselves felt in history are moved in one way or another by these forces, I believe” … (full long interview text, 4 Apr 2000).

… As a diplomat, he helped chart Ireland’s course as an independent, anticolonialist voice at the United Nations and played a critical role in the United Nations intervention in Congo in 1961. As vice chancellor of the University of Ghana in the early 1960s, he fell out with the dictator Kwame Nkrumah over the question of academic freedom, and while teaching at New York University later that decade, he took part in an antiwar demonstration that led to his arrest. Most notably, as a lifelong commentator on Irish politics and as a government minister in the early 1970s, he argued passionately against a united Ireland without the full consent of the Protestant north and bitterly criticized the tacit support for the Irish Republican Army then prevalent in the Republic of Ireland. “I intend to administer a shock to the Irish psyche,” he said in defiance. With the Troubles raging in the North, his position made him a hate figure for many Irish, as did his later opposition to the peace effort aimed at bringing Sinn Fein into the government of Northern Ireland … (full text).

And he said: … Human nature doesn’t include all human beings. There are human beings who are indifferent to politics, religion, virtually anything … and: Man watches his history on the screen with apathy and an occasional passing flicker of horror or indignation … and: Nothing does more to activate Christian divisions than talk about Christian unity … and: The main thing that endears the United Nations to member governments, and so enables it to survive, is its proven capacity to fail, and to be seen to fail … and: You can safely appeal to the United Nations in the comfortable certainty that it will let you down. (on Quotes).

… Hostile to Irish nationalism throughout his life, he became more openly pro-Unionist as he got older. He was once sued for libel by relatives of those murdered by the British army on Bloody Sunday for claiming that those killed were actually “operating for the IRA”. Most infamous for his 1970’s stint as Minister for Post and Telegraphs in the government of the 26 counties, he introduced legislation to censor broadcasts of Republican views. His laws meant that members of Sinn Fein could not be seen or heard on Irish airwaves in any context, discussing any subject. Finding resistance among RTE journalists, he oversaw the sacking of the entire board of the state broadcaster … // … He gloated that he used the tax exemption for artists to avoid paying any tax on his journalism or other writings, and no one in the government questioned this. Many people regarded him as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, who could be said to have set the tone for many of the anti-democratic and post colonial attitudes of modern Ireland. Right wing commentators and politicians will miss him and say he was a great man whose like won’t be seen again, but a moments reflection will show that his views live on in a great many aspects of Irish life today. (full text).

The Irish politician and writer who died Friday has been widely lionized. Although O’Brien was quite the liberal both in his career with the Irish Labour Party and in his work for the United Nations — under whose auspices, but without any real authorization, he waged a war against anticommunist secessionists in Katanga — a number of American conservatives venerate him for his books on Edmund Burke (The Great Melody) and Thomas Jefferson (The Long Affair) … (full text).


Related categories on wikipedia: Irish Labour Party politicians, Irish writers, Irish literature, Members of the Northern Ireland Forum.


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