Friday, 19 December 2008

Conor Cruise O'Brien 1917-2008

Conor Cruise O'Brien has died at the age of 91. He was undoubtedly the most courageous figure in late 20th century Ireland. Born into a family steeped in nationalist tradition, he married into another. Yet in a career that transcended the history of the Republic, he went from being DeValera's nationalist propagandist in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to becoming the IRA's fiercest critic as a Labour Party Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in the seventies coalition government, and subsequently a unionist member of the Northern Ireland forum. His time in Africa saw him leading a doomed UN mission to Katanga, on which he published a memorable account, and as an early Chancellor at the national university of Ghana in the early sixties.

Behind the politics there was a formidable scholar, author and journalist: few Irish books since have matched the quality of States of Ireland; few memoirs are as brilliant as his; nobody else was as knowledgeable on Edmund Burke; and his journalism as Observer editor, and a columnist for the Atlantic Monthly, Irish Times and Irish Independent was prodigious. Perhaps he was wrong in his estimation of the potential for peace and compromise in Northern Ireland, and his hatred of Sinn Fein led him to underestimate the extent to which their acceptance of a six counties solution was a defeat for their primary objective. Yet his penetrating critiques of the despicable Charles Haughey - whose chicanery he recognised more than most in the memorable phrase GUBU (grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented) - and of militant Republicanism were a rational antidote to the self-delusional nationalism of seventies and early eighties Ireland.

We have lost one the greatest Irishmen of recent history. May he rest in peace.
UPDATE: Eamon Gilmore, Leader of the Irish Labour Party, has paid generous tribute to Conor Cruise O'Brien. O'Brien had rejoined Labour in his later years.


Ramzi Nohra said...

I simply cant understand the adulation being poured on the man.

You're on the money with his critique of Haughey - but how can you not mention his censorship vis a vis section 31?

He was vocal proponent of Zioinism.
What did he achieve when Minister for Telegraphs and Posts? How successful in fact was the government he was part of?

I know you obliquely refer to his ridiculous predictions of civil war in 1994 but that surely tarnished his credibility irredeemably.

Anonymous said...

States of Ireland is a very important book - probably more so than many realise, as it provided an intellectual grounding to those who were proud to be Irish and sought Irish unity but who were disgusted by the IRA.