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.