I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Master and his Men

The Master and his Men

Barra Ó Seaghdha
A two-day symposium was held in Trinity College Dublin on November 2nd and 3rd, 2017 to mark the centenary of the birth of Conor Cruise O’Brien. The event was more a celebration than a sustained critique of the remarkably varied career of a man who, from the beginning to almost the end, always demanded and frequently deserved attention. Conor Cruise O’Brien was a strong literary-critical voice in 1940s and ’50s Ireland; he made his mark both as a young historian and as a civil servant; and his UN performance for the Department of External Affairs brought international attention. When, with imperial powers and big business operating in the background, the mineral-rich province of Katanga attempted to secede from newly independent Congo, O’Brien didn’t shirk a role as UN representative. No matter what he did or didn’t do, this was bound to win him enemies. The attacks on him were so intense that he was discreetly nudged towards the trapdoor – whereupon he published an interesting, if self-justificatory, memoir. He then took on a challenging university role in newly independent Ghana, where he made a stand for the independence of the university when that came under pressure. His record now brought him to a university post in New York and to participation in the liberal literary-intellectual world. Like many of his peers, he opposed the Vietnam War. He continued to take an interest in Irish matters, however, referring to Ireland in essays on international politics, producing a lengthy and still much-discussed essay on Yeats in 1965 and analysing the failures of independent Ireland in 1966 for the New Left Review and The Irish Times. For a sophisticated and gifted Irish intellectual growing into adulthood in the 1930s and ’40s, a career trajectory away from Ireland into international institutions and into the heart of American intellectual life might have appeared a consummation devoutly to be wished. To choose to reverse direction and come back to Ireland was a dramatic decision. O’Brien was invited to run for a seat in the Dáil by the Labour Party, which felt the winds of change blowing and, spurred on by an influx of bright young talent, declared that the Seventies would be socialist. As it happened, with the accelerating gradualism of the Southern version of progress coming up against the explosive release of blocked energies and aspirations in Northern Ireland, the move back home would lock O’Brien into decades of…

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