Conor Cruise O'Brien ... Diplomat, politician, historian and author revered as the leading Irish intellectual of his time (obit.)

Historians in the News

Conor Cruise O'Brien, who has died aged 91, was the leading Irish intellectual of his generation, though he assumed so many guises – diplomatist, historian, literary critic, proconsul, professor, playwright, government minister, columnist and editor – that he defies further categorisation.

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.

Equally, his awareness that the problems of South Africa had no easy answers, and his determined support for Israel, cut him off from the Left, with which he had once been associated. Yet O'Brien never drifted, in the conventional way, from Left to Right. Rather he remained consistently radical in his willingness to bring a fresh mind to bear on issues normally treated with entrenched prejudice....

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