Conor, Volume I

Conor, Volume I: A Biography of Conor Cruise O'Brien: Volume I, Narrative

Donald Harman Akenson
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 608
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conor, Volume I
    Book Description:

    The career of Conor Cruise O'Brien reads like the work of several people, not just one. Having served as a diplomat under Sean MacBride, he came to world prominence as special representative to Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, in the then-Congo. Squeezed ruthlessly by big-power politics, he resigned and wrote To Katanga and Back (1962), a classic in modern African history and still the only book to get behind the polished marble façade to reveal how the United Nations works.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6510-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    Christmas morning, 1927, was heavily clouded, and the sunrise was more sensed than seen. A short December day in Dublin promised to be even shorter than usual.

    Francis Cruise O’Brien, journalist, marched into the back garden of his rented house at 44 Leinster Road, accompanied by his ten-year-old son. Mr. O’Brien was a small man, not robust, but he moved with an avian quickness, the sort one associated with hummingbirds. He had chosen a perfect Christmas present for his son, an only child, who was just beginning to take on the interest of a young man: a handmade archery set....

  6. Part 1 Bending Life’s Bow
    • CHAPTER 1 Nationalist Dublin: Not, Indeed, Joyceland
      (pp. 5-39)

      The most important events in any of our lives occurred before we were born. Each of us is a contemporary summation of a chain of biological and social cause and effect that stretches back of time’s horizon to a point beyond all possible knowing. For most of us, knowledge of what makes self is restricted to a hazy time before our birth. Conor Cruise O’Brien has put it this way:

      There is for all of us a twilit zone of time, stretching back for a generation or two before we were born, which never quite belongs to the rest of...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Cruise O’Briens before Conor
      (pp. 40-59)

      If Conor Cruise O’Brien had been born in, say, 1912, instead of 1917, he would have known his father better, but would have had a father less worth knowing. In the year or so after his marriage into the Sheehy flotilla, Francis Cruise O’Brien was a bitter and cruelly clever man; by the time Conor was born in 1917, he was much more generous, less mordant, much more constructive, and increasingly concerned not with straightforward political nationalism but with the well-being of other persons, considered broadly in social and economic context. Still witty, still clever with words, he became a...

    • CHAPTER 3 His Father’s Son: 1917–1936
      (pp. 60-82)

      As was usual in Ireland of the time, the Cruise O’Briens chose to have their child born at home. What was unusual was that, in addition to a midwife, a gynecologist was present at the birth. This was Bethel Solomons, considered to be the best in Ireland and one of the best in the British Isles. He was a friend of Francis (a well-known Dublin figure, Solomons had been capped ten times for Ireland as a rugby fullback in the years 1908–10 and was the fulcrum of a famous rugby story: a Dublin cabby picked up an English newspaperman...

  7. Part 2 A Rising Professional
    • CHAPTER 4 Living by His Wits: 1936–1941
      (pp. 85-112)

      Conor entered Trinity College, Dublin (tcd), in the autumn of 1936 with a sizarship (that is, a modest scholarship) earned by taking a competitive examination in the Irish language.

      Trinity in the 1930s was in a bad way, but it had its charms. The college resembled an old lady of once-classical beauty, a former debutante, now aged and fallen on hard times. From a distance, she still looked good and her conversation, if stilted, was excellent. But her hands on the teacup, delicately held, shook, not least because she was lacing the tea with cooking sherry. Up close, her face,...

    • CHAPTER 5 A Reasonably Civil Servant: 1942–1954
      (pp. 113-148)

      There were two plum departments in the Irish civil service: foreign affairs and finance. Conor wanted the former and was assigned to the latter. That may seem surprising, given that he was exceptionally well qualified for foreign affairs and hardly qualified at all for finance: he had almost no quantitative sense and his own financial affairs were perpetually out of control. However, the appointment makes sense within the context of Ireland at the time. The “Emergency”—World War II—forced a redefinition of the way the Irish government operated. The Department of Finance which had been run up to 1939...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 6 To Paris, and New York, and Katanga, and Back: 1955–1961
      (pp. 149-184)

      To be a foreign diplomat in Paris sounds lovely; it turned out to be nothing of the sort. As counselor, Conor was in charge of the Paris embassy when the ambassador was not around. Otherwise, he was the number two person, a very good job on paper. The problem was that the ambassador was an old foe, William Fay, whose pompous ways Conor had bedeviled in the days when they both were in Iveagh House. Fay was not a bad man, but he was an incurable collector of titled persons, which was not at all difficult to do in postwar...

  8. Part 3 Surviving the Sixties
    • CHAPTER 7 Reflections on a Watershed
      (pp. 187-214)

      If you have ever traversed a major watershed—the genuine item, from which on one side the water runs, say, south, and on the other side, north—you probably were disappointed. “Watershed” is a dramatic word and it is indeed of real consequence that at one point a continent drains, say to Hudson’s Bay, and, at another nearby point, to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, on the face of things, the change is undramatic and apparently unimportant. Only downstream, after the watershed has been left hundreds of miles behind, does the acceleration of the current, the widening of the rivers,...

    • CHAPTER 8 African Academe: Ghana, 1962–1965
      (pp. 215-271)

      In late 1961 and early 1962, Conor set a pattern that he was to follow for the rest of his life: grabbing a handy lifeline and swinging with seeming ease from the deck of a burning boat to that of a better-class vessel that fortuitously was passing alongside. From the time of his leaving the un and the Irish civil service, right to the 1990s, every time he has left a long-term job it has not been by calculation, but because he was fired, forced to resign, or simply not rehired; and each time, by virtue of being alert and...

    • CHAPTER 9 In the Kingdom of the New York Intellectuals: 1965–1969
      (pp. 272-328)

      Conor and Maire now moved from the dominion of a condescending, albeit sometimes charming despot, to a land where many of Conor’s colleagues and acquaintances thought of themselves as philosopher kings. It was not a huge transition, really, from a land of sorcery and witchcraft to one in which veneficial words did the dirty work.

      As it became increasingly clear that Conor’s term as vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana would not be renewed, even had he wished it to be, he looked around for employment. One opportunity was the University of East Africa. This was supposed to be an...

  9. Part 4 An Irish Patriot
    • CHAPTER 10 “Had Life Been Normal”: 1969–1972
      (pp. 331-384)

      In April 1969, a young lad at Summerhill College in Sligo wrote to Conor in New York. He had been assigned to write on behalf of his class in connection with a civics project. “I wish to know, with your kind co-operation, if you smoke a pipe, cigarettes or cigars, and if so, what quantity do you consume on a daily average? Hopefully, awaiting your reply.”¹ Conor already was back in Ireland and his administrative assistant, Eileen Sheerin, replied: “Dr. O’Brien has gone back to Dublin where he will stand for election as a Labour candidate on June 18 next....

    • CHAPTER 11 The Chains of Office: 1973–1977
      (pp. 385-426)

      I once knew a publican, a hard, shrewd, sometimes charming, always private man, as one had to be given his background and vocation. A County Donegal Catholic, he had made his living serving drinks, lending money, listening to the confidences of Carrickfergus, Whitehead, and Islandmagee Protestants. He had learned a few things in life and one of these was “never shut a door all the way: you may have to go back through.”

      That was the sort of advice that Conor and a few other leaders of the Irish Labour party started to give to their colleagues even before the...

  10. Part 5 Participant Observer
    • CHAPTER 12 Kildare Street to Fleet Street: 1977–1981
      (pp. 429-456)

      Late in May 1977, theIrish Timesconducted an opinion poll to determine which person the people in the Irish Republic wouldleastlike to see run the country. Conor led with 27 percent of the poll, but Charles Haughey was close behind him, at 25 percent.¹ Conor shrugged off these results, but knowledge of how he was viewed by his countrymen had a revealing side effect—not on what he did politically, but on the company he kept.

      Despite all the pressure on Conor, as always, he somehow found time for reading and reflection. He found solace in Edmund...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 13 An Enviable Freedom: 1982–1992
      (pp. 457-486)

      While he was still at theObserverfall-time, Conor attended a conference on the subject of communication. Of course the meeting was flooded with the articulate and the persuasive.

      There was, however, one participant, a wise and distinguished Indian whose contribution to the total proceedings consisted of total silence.

      As I found this silence at least as interesting as many of the things that were being said, I ventured to ask my Indian friend why he chose not to speak.

      His answer was: “I am surprised, Dr. O’Brien, that at your age and with your experience, you have not yet...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 487-490)

    Remember the bow.

    Conor’s biography of Edmund Burke was not only the summit of Conor’s life’s work, it was also a summary, in coded form, of his own life.

    The bow

    Conor will continue to write political essays, certainly; books, probably; acerbic letters to the editor, inevitably. Time may not be on his side, but he will use it well.

    The bowis that of the Homeric archer, Philoctetes. Here is Conor’s explanation of where the bow fits into the life of Edmund Burke:

    The story of Philoctetes, whose bow could never miss and whose putrid wound would never heal,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 491-564)
  13. Index
    (pp. 565-574)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 575-575)