Monday, 22 December 2008

Conor Cruise O'Brien - his legacy

Lavish tributes have been paid to Conor Cruise O’Brien following his death last week. O’Brien was a man who succeeded in setting aside the assumptions of his tribe. An achievement which should not be underestimated.

Not only was O’Brien steadfast and unambivalent in his opposition to terror, but his realisation that unionism formed a rational and defensible political doctrine was a hugely valuable contribution to a more tolerant discourse in Ireland.

Maurice Hayes does not offered unqualified praise for O’Brien, but in his Irish Independent piece he does produce three paragraphs which neatly sum up his political legacy.

“CCOB's great contribution to modern Irish political debate -- apart from his implacable hounding of those who would in any way condone the use of violence -- was to force the recognition of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland as Unionists as well as Protestants.

He cut through the comfortable myths which had sustained the relatively passive anti-partitionist rhetoric of successive governments in which Unionists were dismissed either as a group of deluded patriots who would soon come to their senses or a hard-headed lot who would jump to the side their bread was best buttered on.

Almost single-handedly (in public at least) over several decades, he explained the realities of a complex and confusing set of allegiances and relationships, and forced the Irish public mind to come to terms with the existence of a Unionist community in the North."

1 comment:

CW said...

The Cruiser was chairman at an inter-schools debating contest at Trinity College, in which I took part for Omagh CBS back in 1991. Didn’t actually meet him though. Seems like a lifetime ago now. A few years later whilst at Queen’s I quoted him in an essay on Franco-Algerian writer Albert Camus’ (whom he was a noted scholar of)”L’Étranger” (The Outsider).

I was no great fan of the man, but he was certainly a highly intelligent and erudite individual who had the courage of his convictions to go against popular opinion. I don’t think his obsession with media censorship while in the quaintly named position of Minister for Posts & Telegraphs acheived anything practical - and was probably counter-productive if anything,

I also feel he lost much credibility by joining the rather pointless UK Unionist Party, which was little more than an extension of Bob McCartney’s ego.

Still, he led a varied and prolific life and should be remembered for it.