Conor Cruise O'Brien, RIP


Irish author and politician Conor Cruise O'Brien has died at the age of 91. As usual, The Telegraph has a very good, comprehensive obituary. A few excerpts:

His views were as variable as his career. At one time responsible for Irish government propaganda which peddled an irredentist Republican policy on Northern Ireland, he later became a campaigning unionist and the bête noire of Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Critics charged that he was more interested in exercising his intellectual sinews than in resolving difficulties. But his recognition that the divisions in Ireland were rooted in two irreconcilable traditions led to increasing isolation within his own country, and required considerable moral—and occasionally physical—courage.


When Naim Attallah, the Palestinian businessman and writer, suggested that many of O'Brien's countrymen had come to regard him as a British stooge, O'Brien was unconcerned. "For 'a lot of people' read the IRA and their stooges, some of whom you have clearly been talking to. Give them my regards."

He was sure, too, that it was Catholicism, rather than Marxism, which lay behind the Irish Nationalists. "During the hunger strikes when men died," he observed, "you wouldn't have seen too many volumes of Das Kapital around, but you saw the missal, the rosary beads, the holy water, all the paraphernalia of Roman Catholicism. The Catholic clergy in Belfast encouraged the emergence of the Provisional IRA because they thought it meant saying goodbye to those bad old communists."

Growing up around so much vapid, lazy, fake Feinian, Irish-American Republicanism in Boston, it was quite a relief to discover that there existed both members of the Irish intellectual class (like O'Brien and journalist Kevin Myers) and former extremists (ex-Provos Eamon Collins and Sean O'Callaghan) that found the mutant violence of the Provisional IRA to be both morally indefensible and politically suicidal. It should be said too, as Myers recent memoir of "the Troubles" makes abundantly clear, that the psychopathic Protestant terror groups like the UDA and UVA—run by racist thugs like Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair—were equally as foul and worthy of full-throated condemnation. But there were no murals to those guys in South Boston.

Here is a sample of O'Brien's writing on the Provos, from a 1986 essay on Bobby Sands in the New York Review of Books (not online):

The holy war [in Northern Ireland] is an incipient reality. But it is not—at least not yet—a war between Catholics-at-large and Protestants-at-large. Most Catholics and most Protestants don't want to fight one another, and have no craving for martyrdom, or for the seventeenth century. But holy wars are brought on, not by the mass of people on either side, but by quite small numbers of fanaticized pacemakers. In the Irish case, the pacemakers, for more than fifteen years now, have been a minority on the Catholic side: the Pearsean Catholic/Nationalist fusionist fundamentalists of the Provisional IRA. The Pearseans have long-and well before the emergence of the Provisional strain in 1970-been a source of considerable embarrassment and confusion to the leaders, and many other members, of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Over at The Atlantic, where O'Brien was a contributing editor, a few pieces from the vault.

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  1. I have had enough of my countrymen who haven’t been back to their country in 20 years comeing up to me and talking about the glory of the resistance and the revolution back home. Fuck the Revolution!

  2. At first I thought you were talking about Conan O’Brien. Too bad.

  3. “…as the government’s minister of communications from 1973 to 1977, he championed a censorship law banning IRA members or supporters from Irish airwaves.”

    A real libertarian hero, that.

  4. Conor Cruise was a traitor. Thank God everybody wasn’t like him during the war of independence otherwise the south would still be in Britains hands. The same goes for Americans, surely you wouldnt have wanted him beside your patriots when you were fighting for your independence from Britain?

  5. He was a big fan of large scale censorship – something entirely ommitted from your article.
    He had further plans on newspaer censorship which were stopped.
    More fascist than libertarian – whatever the calibre of his enemies.

    He had no real moral problem with Provo Violence – he supported violent ethnic nationalist idiologies elsewhere in the world (eg Zionism – not saying specifically that is a good or bad thing). His support for unionists also undermined the idea that he was against “nationalism” per se – he just objected to that of his own tribe.

    He described the civilians killed by British troops on bloody sunday as “sinn fein activists workign for the ira” – nicely condoning the murder of innocent people.
    Would you have forgotten to highlight that if a similar slur was made against the victims of eniskillen / some Jihadi attack?

    He also was a member of a piss poor Irish cabinet which completely failed to take any action against the forerunners of Johnny Adair when they killed 30 +people in Dublin in 1974.

    His actions lead to the meltdown in the Irish Labour/ Fine Gael parties in the late 70s. So when Attallah said “lots of people” – the evidence would tend to support him rather than Connor!

    I will say he got it right about Haughey however.

  6. I think the New York Review article you’re referring to is online, but behind a subscriber wall. Ireland: The Mirage of Peace –

  7. He certainly wasn’t a libertarian, but he was a cool guy. And anyone who supports Sinn Fein/IRA is scum.

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