Conor Cruise O’Brien: A old curmudgeon who did give a damn…

Over at the Guardian I’ve dashed down some first thoughts on the death of Conor Cruise O’Brien. I hadn’t time to pick up on the many fascinating bits of writing thrown up in his passing. But this line comes to the fore from William Hazlitt, if only because the Cruiser was such an unremitting admirer of Burke: “It has always been with me a test of the sense and candour of any one belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man.” If he was not Ireland’s greatest politician, he was almost certainly one of its greatest reactionary prophets.And in many ways Burke was the key to a man who became editor of Britain’s oldest newspaper without ever forsaking the shores of Ireland. In the Atlantic, to which he was a frequent contributor, he wrote of his fondness for Eamon DeValera:

Dev was not a neutralist in principle. He had valued the League of Nations, provisionally. Ireland was a member of the League. The League’s Covenant, if observed, offered protection to small countries. Dev therefore thought strict observance of the Covenant to be in Ireland’s interests. For that reason he supported sanctions against Italy after Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia.

This was a courageous policy for an Irish leader: the opposition in the Dáil denounced Dev for “stabbing Catholic Italy in the back.” If sanctions had been seriously applied–specifically, if Britain had closed the Suez Canal to Italian shipping–war might well have resulted. Ireland, having supported the sanctions, would have been part of that League war.

The same would have been true if war had broken out in 1938 as a result of France’s adherence to its commitment to defend Czechoslovakia. That would have been a League war too. But after Munich the League and its repeatedly violated Covenant no longer counted. Apart from the actual course of events, the document that started the Second World War was a unilateral British guarantee to Poland.

To bring Ireland into war over a unilateral British guarantee to another country was never a possible option for De Valera. If he had tried to move in that direction, he would have had his own party against him, along with most of the rest of the country. So Ireland was neutral, by force in part of its history and in part of the circumstances in which the war broke out. We couldn’t just follow Britain into war.

De Valera took care, however, to maintain relations with Britain as good as were possible in the circumstances. He assured the British that he would never allow Ireland to be used as a base for attack on Britain. This meant clamping down on the IRA, which Dev did with a will, interning most of its members and hanging some.

The IRA, in its efforts to help Nazis and get them “to help Ireland,” was acting on Wolfe Tone’s dictum “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.” Tone was the father of Irish Republicanism, the ideology common to Dev and the IRA. But in governing Ireland, Dev ignored ideology and paid heed to circumstances and interests.

This was a sound Burkean position, though Dev was not consciously a Burkean. Much later, after having had some experience of how Dev’s mind worked, I once asked him whether he had been influenced by Burke. He looked shocked and said, “Of course not. Burke was not a Republican.” In spite of that non sequitur, his mind was more like Burke’s than Tone’s. This, of course, meant that I liked Dev.

Simon Hoggart, a former colleague at the Observer remembers one night when he stayed to the bitter end with the Cruiser in the pub one night in London:

He was a great toper, but made more sense when drunk than most of us while sober. His great theme, brilliantly expatiated, was the corrosive effect of Irish national mythology on the politics of the present day. I remember seven or so of us having a terrific session in the new El Vino’s in Blackfriars. The Cruiser had reached the stage that he had stopped drinking, but he always insisted on receiving another glass of red at each round.

My colleagues slipped away home before closing time, 8.15pm, and we were left alone. He solemnly drank the half dozen glasses in front of him, while distributing fascinating insights into the Northern Ireland problem as casually as crisps. Then he tottered to the door with me behind, waiting to catch him. Thank heavens, the orange light of a taxi loomed up, and I thought I had better find out where he was staying. “With my son,” he said gravely. “I know your son,” I said, “he’s a very nice bloke.”

Suddenly the red mist came down. He grabbed my lapels and stared at me, eyes blazing with anger. “I. Know. That!” he shouted, then gave a perfectly coherent address to the cabbie and climbed safely aboard.

Despite his reputation for reactionary politics (not surprisingly earned for his use of state censorship under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act), he was a inveterate popper of Irish public conceits. As Robert Fisk noted recently, it was the Cruiser who outed Yeats as a brief contemporary supporter of Italian fascism. His intention, by his own admission was to “administer a shock to the Irish psyche”.

Sean Coleman on the Normblog ends a short but erudite blog obit by noting the concluding paradox of his life:

A man who poured his ferocious, pugnacious energy into changing Ireland, and who dedicated much of his public life to making Ireland a less provincial, less narrow place, dies in a country that has become, extraordinarily, among the most globalized and liberal in Europe – indeed, much more liberal than O’Brien himself. He remained, to the last, an unsettled, unsettling figure. Beyond the richness of the work and the eventfulness of the life, his legacy contains, in no small part, a deep involvement in the lasting transformation of Ireland. For that, we should be grateful. Slán abhaile.

David Vance concludes that he was a great Irishman who also supported the Union. It’s a vein of seeming contradition he once teased out in detail and with typical candour in another Atlantic piece in the early 90s:

The source of the anguish was not the “loss” of eastern Ulster–not by any means. Few Catholics and nationalists in what is now the Republic of Ireland have ever cared all that much about what is now Northern Ireland, and my parents were no exception. The source of the anguish was the impact on us, inside the Catholic and nationalist community (of what is now the Republic), of the tragic and unexpected flaw that became apparent at the very moment of the seeming triumph of the Home Rule cause. The Partition of Ireland compromised the constitutional nationalists in the eyes of their own constituents. And the fact that Partition had been conceded only after a show of force by unionists was seen, by an increasingly influential group, as legitimizing recourse to force on the nationalist side. The creation and arming of the Irish Volunteers (Catholic nationalists) followed on the creation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (Protestant unionists).

Moderate nationalists and extreme ones interpreted the sequence of transactions in much the same way. As my father put it, speaking of Ulster Protestants and unionists, “The Orangemen brought the gun back into Irish politics.” Patrick Pearse, who was to provide the inspiration for the Easter Rising of 1916 (to which I shall come in a moment), put this thought with a significant difference, but the principle is the same. Pearse was replying to certain nationalists who were jeering at the Ulster Volunteers for their military posturing. Pearse said, “I think the Orangeman with the rifle a much less ridiculous figure than the Nationalist without a rifle.”

As I say, I share, or rather inherit, my parents’ feelings about the transactions of 1912-1914 (as distinct from their intellectual interpretation of the source of their grief). I am their son, after all, and my grandfather’s grandson. I have what Irish Republicans (extreme nationalists) used to call “the bad parliamentary drop.” The “drop” there is a drop of blood, meaning that Republicans detected, in the families of members of the old Irish Parliamentary Party, a genetically transmitted inclination to be pro-British.

They had a point, of sorts. The members of the Irish Parliamentary Party, including my grandfather, were pro-British by comparison with the Brit-hating Republican tradition, from the Fenians to the modern IRA, and I, too, am pro-British, in the same sense. When I listen to such Republicans going on about the Brits, and quite often about me personally, I comfort myself by recalling the neat verdict on such as these pronounced by an unidentified wit: “He has a mind like an unripe gooseberry–small, bitter, fuzzy, and green.”

When my father said that “the Orangemen brought the gun back into Irish politics,” he was omitting the nationalist contribution. It was the nationalist insistence on including the Orangemen in a united Ireland against their known and fervently declared wishes that made the Orangemen “bring back the gun.” But no nationalist, however constitutional, could ever manage to see it that way. I see it that way now because I have ceased to be an Irish nationalist.

He was a man of passion as well as a man of vision and principle. But at times, particularly later in life that principle often skewed his appreciation for larger projects. Few bloggers have captured it better than Conall, who notes in GUBU is dead long live GUBU:

His blinding hatred of Sinn Fein got in the way of compelling argument. Most days Bob McCartney and he looked more like the Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old men from the muppets, then serious players. At times it was all a bit GUBU, but then politics on this island seems destined to be so.

And I leave you with Will Crawley who has an interview with the man he calls one of “post-war Ireland’s most significant (and, yes, controversial) public figures and intellectual forces.”

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  • PaddyReilly

    Nemo omnibus horis sapet, and nobody excels in every sphere of their life. Gandhi, though a saint of Indian Nationalism, consistently sacrificed his children and their welfare to his own political career and his country. With the Cruiser, it was the opposite: by all accounts his children were well brought up and have prospered, it was his country, his party and his career he sacrificed.

    Making a career as a reactionary politician may be an astute career move, but seen from the point of view of a historian, it is a life wasted. O’Brien did nothing to forward progress or even useful compromise: his sole contribution to Irish political philosophy was the message that everything would be all right if he were made Supreme Dictator and everyone did his bidding. Of course, he was never proved wrong and the Nation was disinclined to take up his offer.

    The Republican Movement that he abhorred was an inevitable reaction to the status quo that he endorsed. The reverse situation would produce the opposite effect: the moment Ireland is united, all residual anti-British feeling will immediately disappear as being quite irrelevant.

    His intellectual contribution was thus on the same level as prescribing a compulsory diet of Ex-lax while issuing ringing condemnations of diarrhoea.

  • Mack

    CCOB
    When my father said that “the Orangemen brought the gun back into Irish politics,” he was omitting the nationalist contribution. It was the nationalist insistence on including the Orangemen in a united Ireland against their known and fervently declared wishes that made the Orangemen “bring back the gun.” But no nationalist, however constitutional, could ever manage to see it that way. I see it that way now because I have ceased to be an Irish nationalist.

    I’m not so sure about that logic. Orangemen were not being included in a “united Ireland”, it was a devolved Ireland within the United Kingdom. Their objection to this, with Ireland already a singled administrative unit within the UK is deemed enough to pass blame for illegal gunrunning to the majority of the electorate within that administrative unit? It sounds deeply flawed to me, like a criminal blaming his victim for his crime.

    Yet, the Orange position of pursuing partition through threatened violence took no account of that part of the Irish nation which would continue to reside within the partitioned entity – also against their will. So by the same logic, the Orangemen’s determination to entrap northern nationalists within a partitioned protestant state caused the rise of violent nationalism in that state? I don’t agree with this logic at all it seems very faulty.

    We were going to have the same problem no matter what way the pie was diced up. Nationalists and Catholics either a majority within all-Ireland institutions or Unionist / Protestants a majority in a state in Northern Ireland.

    Conor Cruise O’Brien was certainly a highly intelligent intellectual & a great writer but there is a danger of lionising his views now, rather than subjecting them to the same rigour as any other commentator. To blame one side or the other for intractable problem of two competing nations sharing the same space is just sloppy thinking. Nothing has changed, this is the same problem we face today.

  • Mack

    Last bit should read

    To blame one side or the other for the existence of the intractable problem of two competing nations sharing the same space is just sloppy thinking. Nothing has changed, this is the same problem we face today.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t see much evidence of lionisation Mack. When the Cruiser made his mistakes he made big enough and broadly enough to make them difficult to ignore in any summation of his life and work.

    Between Gonzo’s thread and the one over at the Guardian I’ve seen a lot of nationalist commenters trying to persuade us that he simply was not ‘one of us’: ie that in some way he simply wasn’t Irish.

    That, for me, breaks Hazlitt’s dictum on Burke; and says more about the limitations of such commenters as it does about CCOB himself. You do not have to have agreed with him to see the huge public merit of his life and work.

  • Dave

    Fair comment, Mack. He was an unmitigated puppet propagandist who initiated a regime of censorship of dissenting (nationalist) viewpoints. The ‘lionising’ you refer to is an extension of that campaign of rabidly anti-nationalist propaganda by (mostly) the same media puppets who were employed alongside O’Brien and ilk to proffer it. These puppets publish ‘historical’ books via approved channels that give a pseudo-intellectual, quasi-factual (to invent a word, probably) basis to their organised propaganda enterprise, then they all appear in the media citing other puppets academics as ‘authoritative’ to support each other’s ‘arguments.’ It is how they claim ownership of the debate, shutting out said dissenting viewpoints.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘Yet, the Orange position of pursuing partition through threatened violence took no account of that part of the Irish nation which would continue to reside within the partitioned entity – also against their will.’

    The Cruiser chose conveniently to ignore that point . I agree his logic re NI was suspect not perhaps in the overall analysis but in his apparent ‘disregard’ for the 750,000 pro Irish nationals resident in Northern Ireland who had endured five decades of less than equal treatment at the hands of a one party tyranny of the ‘majority’ . I suspect when he chose to be an ex Irish nationalist the ‘germ ‘ had to come out somewhere else, as indeed it did in his later support for both Israeli and Unionist ‘nationalisms’

    ‘To blame one side or the other for the existence of the intractable problem of two competing nations sharing the same space is just sloppy thinking. Nothing has changed, this is the same problem we face today. ”

    Precisely . Rather than face the harsh reality of a fair repartition of Northern Ireland between the ‘competing ‘ nationalisms both Northern Republicans and Nationalists have chosen to fudge the issue via the ‘power sharing ‘ powerless Assembly . Unionists on the other hand seem to have lost their political bottle for the hard choice that would have to be made if they were to say farewell to their fellow ‘nationals ‘ of Fermanagh , Tyrone, Armagh , Derry and South Down as they withdraw to a more certain Unionist political majority territory mainly east of the Bann .

    Oddly enough the present economic crisis and it’s impact on the NI economy may give rise to some ‘different’ thinking . While ostensibly it should favour an at least short term strengthening of the Union – sometimes history works in odd ways to favour seemingly unlikely outcomes.

  • Mack

    Mick –

    I always enjoyed reading his articles, though they did strike me as highly paranoid in his later days (entertaining, but not particular convincing). He definetely was a controversial figure, and national myths always do need their critics. The above piece where he turned the traditional nationalist view on it’s head is valuable, but incomplete. He’s made a journey from a deep understanding of the nationalist view point, to critiscing it – without affording his new perspective the same courtesy.

    In a lot of his writing he implicitly glossed over northern nationalists – as angered by their minority status – ignoring that someone had to be a minority in this situation and it was the responsibility of all the players to find acceptable (to all), ongoing solutions. In that regard, he is certainly Irish, but maybe first and foremost a southern Irishman? It could be that his opposition to violent Republicanism forced him into this position, where he felt he could give little quarter.

    I hope you are right, and his views won’t be lionised (even by those who share that view point) as his analysis often suffered from that flaw. I picked up on that paragraph because it was a thought provoking. CCOB’s legacy will be better served by robust criticsm of his more interesting work, which may just round it off as something less one-sided but closer to a shared truth.

  • Mack

    Greenflag –
    Precisely . Rather than face the harsh reality of a fair repartition of Northern Ireland between the ‘competing ‘ nationalisms both Northern Republicans and Nationalists have chosen to fudge the issue via the ‘power sharing ‘ powerless Assembly .

    Is a fair repartition possible? Or is it the same solution to the same problem. You could end up with a New Northern Ireland, perhaps once again 70% Protestant and British Unionist.

    A lot of it comes down to demographics. For nationalists and Republicans it does not make sense to pursue repartition as a strategy until Catholic (to be blunt) numbers stop rising vis a vis Protestant numbers. As long as they are rising there is the hope of becoming a majority and taking the whole of NI into a united Ireland.
    They’d also be giving away territory. There’d be other serious strategic considerations too. If you repartition once, can you repartition again in 20 or 30 years to get more territory? What would that do for the stability of New Northern Ireland?

    I’d like to see a risk management approach. That is a number of outcomes are possible, so what would we need to put in place to make each of those less painful to those who might find them so. As part of that people might like to continually expand the North-South (and East-West) strands of the Agreement in tandem, starting now.

  • Dave

    Those who don’t grasp the role of organised propaganda in Ireland might be well served by reading ‘Don’t Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media’ by David Miller or ‘The origins & Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland 1920’ by Brian P Murphy (reviewed by David Miller here). They can also get a detached view of this organised propaganda by viewing how it was applied by Whitehall in a non-Irish context via the Information Research Department (this included, for example, sponsoring publishing houses to publish propaganda texts from a variety of academics). You can also look at how Mossad uses academics for this purpose or how MI5 uses pubishers such as the late Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch to place propaganda deguised as genuine academic work into the information system. Alternatively, you can pretend that while this propaganda is is highly sophisicated and highly organised, that it isn’t used in Ireland because, well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen here.

  • Erasmus

    Originally Posted by Anamnua
    A lot of people don’t realise that he left the UKUP and ended up as a United Irelander:
    http://www.amazon.com/Memoir-Themes-Conor-Cruise-OBrien/dp/0815410646
    ________________________________________
    He was a highly complex character. To get a proper perspective you have to look at his life as a whole and not just one or two quotes or vignettes. Or one or two of his many incarnations. And there were incarnations aplenty some of them, admittedly, chilling and off-the-wall: UKUP member, persecutor of letter-writers etc. I thing Iain McLeod’s summation of Enoch Powell hits the nail on the head here:
    ‘He was tortured by the remorseless push of his own logic’.

    However those of you who want to simplistically stereotype him as a blinkered pro-unionist ideologue should chew on the following quotes:

    ‘I believe that what happened on Bloody Sunday was murder’

    ‘The British public learned that there was something peculiar about the situation in Derry;a Catholic-Nationalist majority was ruled over by a Protestant-Unionist minority, holding a near -monopoly of jobs and housing.Some among those who learned of this situation thought it was contrary to democratic principle and ought to be changed.So far this was a considerable reward for a limited act of non-violent civil disobedience.For the first time the Catholic minority in northern Ireland seemed to have the some prospects of achieving normal democratic rights.Yet the reaction of the minority to this change has not been one of unqualified rejoicing:it is more a case of bracing onself against shocks to come.For these people know that more is involved than the correction of an electoral anomaly:it is a question of changing historic relations between conqueror and conquered-something not likely to happen without violence.The subordination of Catholic to Protestant in Derry is a result of force and the threat of force.The condition in Derry may be thought of as one of frozen violence: any attempt to thaw it out will liberate violence which is at present static.’

    ‘The great losers of the settlement of 1921 were undoubtedly the Catholics of Northern Ireland.Of them alone it could be truly said that they were much more fairly treated under direct rule than they were under the new system.The Protestants of the Free State had also been better off, in terms of acknowledged social standing, at least under British rule – but for many years, and certainly since 1886, their situation had been obviously precarious, and their status under the new disposition quite tolerable, and better than they had expected.The reverse was the case with the Catholics of Northern Ireland …They looked forward with hope to the coming of Home Rule for all Ireland and through it an end to Protestant supremacy in Ulster.But Protestant supremacy, in the latter stages of British rule lacked an institutional framework…the devolution of power from Westminster to Stormont changed this situation drastically….As was to happen with many another minority as imperial power declined they were delivered into the hands of their enemies.. ..the Northern Catholics found themselves abandoned by their brothers in the rest of the island.’

    He referred to law-enforcement agencies in N.I. in 1969 as the ‘state’s apparatus of coercion.’

    To many Catholics, feeling themselves prisoners in the Protestant state, the Lemass-O’Neill fraternization seemed like a final abandonment.’

    BBC radio 1969:
    ‘the British people and public would do better to examine their own responsibilities, through their collusion with an oppressive sectarian regime , over nearly fifty years’.

    When Orangemen marched in or near a Catholic area they were essentially saying that Catholics would have to accept the fact of Protestant domination.’

    – all quotes from ‘States of Ireland’ in 1973

    He also expressed the view , writing in the London Times circa 1990, that unionists did much to bring the conflict upon themselves through their misrule during the Stormont era:
    ‘Dragon’s teeth were sown in those years’

    RTE radio 1998:
    ‘Drumcree was an example of Protestant bad behaviour.’

    1998 autobiography;
    ‘Unionists should seriously consider a united Ireland.’

    Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Not even his admirers would ever describe him a a successful politician, but the description of him as a reactionary strikes me as well wide of the mark, indeed it is a term which far better describes his denigraters.

  • PaddyReilly

    ..the description of him as a reactionary strikes me as well wide of the mark, indeed it is a term which far better describes his denigrators

    Yes of course, the UKUP was the latest thing in modernity and liberalism. Obviously ahead of its time, which is why it has not survived.

  • Mick Fealty

    Jimmy,

    I had a particular view of the term reactionary in mind. The Burkean anti revolutionary. O’Brien’s own self description of having the ‘Parliamentary drop’.

    Mack,

    I think you may be looking for completion where none could have reasonably been expected.

  • willis

    “You will either have to share power with terrorists in Belfast or democrats in Dublin”

    I know this quote is not completely right, please correct.

    However it was the right message.

  • RepublicanStones

    The guy was a bit of a loon, lets be honest !

  • peter

    he let his anti republicanism blind him to the position of northern nationalists, look what happened to Mary McAleese when she worked in RTE. he was very intelligent but like a lot of intellectuals was in love with his own intelligence.

  • Feartide

    Is a fair repartition possible? Or is it the same solution to the same problem. You could end up with a New Northern Ireland, perhaps once again 70% Protestant and British Unionist.

    A lot of it comes down to demographics. For nationalists and Republicans it does not make sense to pursue repartition as a strategy until Catholic (to be blunt) numbers stop rising vis a vis Protestant numbers. As long as they are rising there is the hope of becoming a majority and taking the whole of NI into a united Ireland.

    Hmmm. It is a problem that people believe that “becoming a majority and taking the whole of NI into a united Ireland” ISN’T “the same solution to the same problem”. It is exactly “the same solution to the same problem” and if anything more unjust because it leaves a greater absolute number of people in a non-national state to which they do not belong.

    There is nothing magical about the existence or otherwise of a geographical body of water.

    Whatever the solution is, incorporating the entirety of Northern Ireland into a mono-ethnically nationalist all island state is certainly not it. It simply replicates the problem again.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Peter,

    What did happen to Mary McAleese at RTE, other than getting hired, and what on earth has it got to do with the late Dr. O’Brien?

  • andy

    Peter
    are you thinking of Mary Holland Who the Cruiser tried to get sacked from the Observer? He succeeded in demoting her I believe.

    Jimmy – I tend to agree with you (his atheism itself was pretty brave), although he was prone to some reactionary positions. He was fine with some manifestations of ethnic nationalism as we briefly discussed on the other thread, which he himself would have described as reactionary if appearing in an Irish setting.

    Actually Jimmy you made an interesting comment on the previous thread – asking (if I may paraphrase) why so much bile arises against someone who challenges Irish nationalism from within?

    This seems to illustrate stances on the man. If you are not a fan of Irish Nationalism – you like him, regardless of his censorship, approval of state violence, support of other ethnic nationalist ideologies etc

    If you are sympathetic to Irish nationalism, you dislike him despite his obvious intelligence and eloquence.

    Essentially I think the knee-jerk ” he was a west-brit traitor” reaction to him has a mirror image in the “he hated the provos – therefore he must be great” theme found among the Irish polity.

    I suppose I should add one could dislike him while also being a trenchant critic of the provos given Section 31 on its own.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Andy,

    I can admire his intellect and courage, notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with him on a number of the issues you highlight. It’s too paraochial to define him solely in terms of Ireland

  • PaddyReilly

    Whatever the solution is, incorporating the entirety of Northern Ireland into a mono-ethnically nationalist all island state is certainly not it. It simply replicates the problem again.

    Not really. Protestantism is a 16th Century religious ideology which in Britain is giving way to Buddhism, Hare Krishna and other exotica. The number of Protestants in Northern Ireland is fated to keep falling, probably for ever, and the bulk of this population is among the elderly, not the young. So in a United Ireland, whatever problem existed initially would diminish with every succeeding year, whereas in a partitioned or repartitioned Ireland it grows/would grow every year.

    At the same time the Republic is ever less and less mono-ethnically Irish Nationalist, as it receives immigrants from Poland, Lithuania and China.

    In 20 years time I would expect the average child in a Belfast school to have one Catholic Irish, one Protestant Irish, One Polish and one Philipino grandparent, or something on that line. This is already the norm in London.

    This “two nations” crap as endorsed by CCON is simply not tenable in the long term. It is part of human nature to seek out a partner with different genes to you. Montague has ever fallen for Capulet, and will continue to do so.

  • PaddyReilly

    For CCON read CCO’B

  • Harry Flashman

    As I posted over on Mick’s CiF piece there are two issues for which the Cruiser is rightly famous, two issues which posed an existential threat to Irish democracy; the fundamentally fascist nature of the Provisional IRA and the endemic corruption of Charles Haughey which was polluting Irish public life.

    For daring to speak out and speak out strongly about these two issues he was scorned, slandered, derided and sneered at, this continued even while his body still lay warm on his deathbed.

    On both issues Conor Cruise O’Brien was 100% correct, as the passing of time has now unquestionably proven. Now we all know that the Provos were fascists and that Haughey was a crook and we can pretend that we said so at the time, but we didn’t.

    When elements in the media and the Church and fashionable Dublin opinion were sucking up to and excusing the fascists and the crooks Cruise O’Brien was a lone voice in the wilderness and sadly like all prophets (especially in the land of the begrudgers) he was not much esteemed in his home town.

    RIP Conor Cruise O’Brien, your job has been done, enjoy your well deserved rest.

  • picador

    Is a fair repartition possible?

    Don’t feed the fair repartition oxymoron troll!

  • Here is some more for you Cruiser enthusiasts to feast upon, this glorious Sunday morning here in Sweden:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/21/conor-cruise-obrien

    While it shows CCOB’s sense of reckless fancy, inflated social position, and destructiveness yet anew – especially his fight to prevent “Tiny” Rowland’s takeover of The Observer when it was apparently going down the tubes while he was editor – his wit and wisdom are in short supply, particularly when he can only recall the great George Orwell to clean up his own prejudices about Catholics and Zionists.

    Cruiser is obviously loved by the English because he gives some legitimacy to their hatred of the Paddies, and other difficult colonials – what the Americans have gone out of their way not to be.

  • andy

    Mick
    by the way forgot to mention your CIF piece is one of the best summaries of CCOB I’ve seen over recent days. Most others are unthinking hagiography, while others damn him for his mistakes while dont praise his achievements.

    Jimmy
    OK – I see where you’re coming from

    Cheers

  • Feartide

    @PaddyReilly

    Your argument is no more one in support of a united Ireland than it is for a United Kingdom. The basic issue is not one of religion or of genes but of national consciousness. A united Ireland is just another form of repartition that happens to draw the border at a water barrier. It suffers from ALL of the problems that any repartition plan would have. To think otherwise is irrational magical thinking. That was my point.

    The less precise (in terms of dividing those with different consciousness) a partition the more the necessity, both morally and practically (including avoiding violence) of consociational arrangements / devolution etc. A united Ireland would be a very imprecise partition.

  • Martin

    I remember him stoned out of his mind on a program about the French Revolution in 1989. He did not grasp that other people are entitled to their opinions.
    Also he cheap shotted the GAA saying that the Irish soccer fan and GAA fan were different breeds.
    Someone from Meath wrote in to O’Reilly’s paper that he had attended the famous 1 – 0 game in Stuttgart, flew home and then went to the Dublin (East)meath GAA game.

  • PaddyReilly

    @feartide

    Much of the world has at some time been occupied by the British Empire, and where this Empire withdraws, there is generally an imperially minded residue which constitutes a problem, which has been treated in a number of ways.

    In the United States, the residue were told to shut up or get out.

    In Canada, they were given their own NI type British enclave in Newfoundland, but it proved economically unworkable and had to join Canada.

    In Malta nearly half the population wanted to be integrated in the UK, but this was unworkable, so the island became independent and eventually a Republic. Within the Commonwealth.

    In South Africa, they just had to put up with majority rule.

    In China they got a special development area with a distinct legal system.

    In none of these countries has partition and incorporation in the British state succeeded permanently, and obviously this isn’t going to work in Ireland either.

    The idea that a water frontier is no different from a land one is equally untenable. Britain rightly declined to be incorporated into a Greater Germania, holding that the sea made it a different country to the continent, and so obviously Ireland must be a different country to Britain.

    Nationalism is really an ideology of the 19th Century. For some of the people who live in Britain, the state of Britain is an expression of their ethnicity: but for many, indeed it seems to me, the majority in the cities, the state is merely an administrative convenience. In fact, such is the relentless pursuit of political correctness and equal opportunities, I would even hazard to say that the ethnicity element has largely disappeared. What advantage is there in being native in a state which is determined to employ non-nationals where ever possible?

    It suffers from ALL of the problems that any repartition plan would have.

    No, as I pointed out, any partition is adminstratively inconvenient, and under partition the minority has a tendency to grow until it becomes a threat, eventually ceasing to be a minority. In a United Ireland the minority would tend to diminish, and thus become less of a problem every year. This is the ideal solution for all concerned, except, perhaps, the imperially minded residue, and the one successfully adopted in all the above mentioned countries.

    At the same time, the natives, due to a greater mobility on a world scale, will become more varied in their background and Ireland, United, will become primarily an adminstratively convenient entity within the European Union rather than the expression of any exclusive religious or ethnic mindset.

  • NP

    “he simply was not ‘one of us’: ie that in some way he simply wasn’t Irish.”

    bit like CS.Lewis.

    His neighbours refered to him as “that English cunt”

  • PaddyReilly

    His neighbours refered to him as “that English cunt”

    Who, C.S. Lewis or the Cruiser?

  • NP

    it was Lewis…… but i think it probably covers both bases.

    Lewis apparently said “i love the Mourne landscape & Northern Ireland countryside, but i would ship all its inhabitants out & repopulate it with more sound & rational people”

  • andy

    You’re a cheery fellow NP.

    Thats strange about Lewis, I thought he was very proud of his Irish birth, and indeed a bit on the anglophobic side when he went to Oxford (by his own admission).

  • Mick Fealty

    I know just how he felt NP.

    Now go and take a look at what I have ‘apparently’ posted the Sean McKenna thread; then come back here and tell us something of substance.

    Or else, for the sake of ould decency, hold your peace!

  • Mack

    Mick
    Mack,

    I think you may be looking for completion where none could have reasonably been expected.

    But if we are to judge a great man, isn’t it neccessary to complete the argument? Otherwise while he will be adored by unionists, he’ll be dismissed as a crank by many nationalists. When speak of him we could say he was half-right, and here is the full picture…

    Feartide

    You almost got my point. Any solution replicates the same problem, someone has to be the minority somewhere. Being the minority is never going to be pleasant. If anything the majority should be bending over backwards to accomodate the minority – but if they did that, what would be the point of being the majority?

    Dismissing any possible solution out of hand (above the others) because it makes a tribe you empathise with the minority is biased. It’s the same mistake Conor made in his analysis, and partition then and a UI today, or repartition today all replicate it. That’s not to say that some solutions are not more workable than others, just that they are not in themselves more morally correct (unless you can identity other justifications present within a solution).

  • Erasmus

    Lewis said (I quote from memory):
    ‘I don’t think much about (Northern Irish)politics but if I did I would probably be a nationalist.’

  • Mick Fealty

    Mack,

    I give you Pound:

    But the beauty is not the madness
    Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.
    And I am not a demigod,
    I cannot make it cohere.

  • Juan Campos

    As a Spniard who hasdepp links t ireland and has studied and lived there many years ago I find Conor Cruise wasone of the few voices in Ireland I could genuinely sympathise with. Neither the moderate but tribal national/catholics, nor the nationalist revolutionnaries and murderers of the Ira, nor the antipopery bigots like Paisley seemed to me more than dated pimitive minds who were part of the problem of Ireland and not of its solution.
    Whatever Cruise´s shortcomings he towered as an enlightened and free mind above the rest. Had there been many more like him in positions of influence Ireland would have been amore livable country . I have hopes, though, that the Ireland of today is a very different and better country than the one of the seventies, in spite of the crisis.