This is the first comprehensive study of the life, mind and writings of Conor Cruise O’Brien. It is first and foremost a study of the main currents of thought in his writings, such as the centrality of religion to his conception of politics and his understanding of nationalism. In O’Brien’s case, however, the contradictions of his upbringing – a secular, cosmopolitan legacy entwined with the more mainstream religious nationalist tradition from his mother’s political clan – combine to form his original and distinctive contribution to Irish intellectual life. In writing this book, the unique transaction between O’Brien and the individuals whose ideas have shaped his mind is fleshed out in parallel with the events of the life of this intellectual engagé.
The book is enhanced by the author’s access to his private papers, as well as a year long immersion in his family’s papers in the National Library of Ireland. Some of the previously unseen material includes a nationalist history of Ireland which he wrote in 1950 for the then government policy of antipartition. Other tracts include a full screenplay for a projected film of Michael Collins’ life (from the late 60s) and a sympathetic radio history of Roger Casement’s trial. In addition, there is a wealth of personal correspondence with his family and other political figures of note. What emerges is a picture of an immensely gifted young man who was reared on history and politics and who lived out his years under the shadow of a conflicting intellectual inheritance, which is the source of all his talents and compromises. These previously untapped sources enabled the author to merge successfully the political O’Brien with the private O’Brien.
Table of Contents
Part One: Conor Cruise O’Brien: The Man
1. Dispossession: O’Brien’s Family and the Irish Revolution
4. Owen: the Sheehy Skeffington Influence
5. Seán O’Faoláin
Part Two: The Mind of Conor Cruise O’Brien
8. The Siege
9. Religion: Church and State in Ireland
11. Legitimacy: Violence and Irish History
12. O’Brien and Nationalism
13. Conclusion: ‘Our Greatness with our Violence?’
About the Author
Diarmuid Whelan is the author of Founded on Fear Letterfrack Industrial School, War and Exile published by Irish Academic Press in 2006.