Conor Cruise O’Brien: Quotations


“Nationalists and Democrats”: ‘Nationalism and democracy are qualitatively different and incommensurable. Nationalism is a conglomerate of emotions; democracy is a system of government. If nationalism and democracy are fully compatible in any given case that is a most fortunate circumstance. Not all peoples are so lucky.’ (Feature article in New York Review of Books, 15 Aug. 1991, q.pp. [online].)

Irishness: ‘Irishness is not primarily a question of birth or blood or language: it is the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being mauled by it. On that definition Swift is more Irish than Goldsmith or Sheridan, although by the usual tests they are Irish and he is pure English.’ (Review of Donagh MacDonagh & Lennox Robinson, eds., Oxford Book of Irish Verse, in New Statesman, 17 Jan. 1959 [under pseud. Donat O’Donnell]; rep. as “Irishness” in Writers and Politics, 1965, pp.97-100; quoted in Alan Warner, Anglo-Irish Literature, 1981, p.10; also in Owen Dudley Edwards, ‘Anthony Trollope, Irish Writer’, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, 38 1 (June 1983), pp.1-42 [as supra]; Harry Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, 1988, Preface; Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish, 1995, p.13 [epigraph to chap. ‘Maria Edgeworth’]; Robert Mahony, Jonathan Swift: The Irish Identity, Yale 1995, p.xiii - et al.)

The Great Melody (1992) - extracts
See also under Edmund Burke [q.v.]

Extracts from the Works
Maria Cross (1952)
The Listener (1968)
States of Ireland (1972)
“The Playwright Politician” (1972)
“Passion and Cunning” (1965)
To Katanga and Back (1962)
Modern Irish Writing (1979)
Ancestral Voices (1994)

Sundry Remarks
Imperialism
Yeats & Co.
Patrick Pearse
1916 Rising
Maud Gonne & 1916
‘Decade of Violence
Irish Republicanism
Punishment beatings?
Heaney’s North
The Fall (Camus)
“Memorial Address”
Nonsense, Willie!
Right of Response
McCarthyism
Atwood’s Tale

There is a Conor Cruise O’Brien page in Wikiquotes - online

‘Confusion is the condition in which history exists.’ (Intro., The Shaping of Modern Ireland, 1960; quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.102.)

Maria Cross (1952): ‘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 history. Our elders have talked their memories into our memories until we come to possess some sense of continuity exceeding and traversing our own individual being. The degree in which we possess that sense of continuity and the form it takes - national, religious, racial, or social - depend on our own imagination and on the personality, opinions and talkativeness of our elder relatives. Children of small and vocal communities are likely to possess it to a high degree and, if they are imaginative, have the power of incorporating into their own lives a significant span of time before their individual births.’ (Quoted [with ref.] in Colm Tóibín, ‘Emmet and the historians’ [what the epaulets were for]’, in The Dublin Review, 12, Autumn 2003, p.115.)

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The Listener (24 Oct. 1968): ‘Antigone’s action was one of non-violent civil disobedience […] The consequences of her non-violent action emerge in acts of violence […] A stiff price for that handful of dust on Polyneices. Civil disobedience is non-violent, but everywhere attracts violence. The relation of nonviolence to violence may be seen clearly […] in what has occurred recently in Northern Ireland, especially in Derry City.’ (p.526.) ‘The subordination of Catholic to Protestant in Derry is a result of force and the threat of force. The conditions of Derry may be thought of as one of frozen violence: any attempt to thaw it out will liberate violence which is at present static. There are many […] who feel that the price of change would be too high: the spiritual children of Ismene are more numerous than those of Antigone, in Ulster as elsewhere. And their arguments, as always, are reasonable.’ (Idem.) ‘The disabilities of Catholics in Northern Ireland are real, but not overwhelmingly oppressive: is their removal really worth attaining at the risk of precipitating riots, explosions, pogroms, murder? Thus Ismene.’ (Idem.) ‘Peace depends on the acceptance of civil subordination, since the powerful will use force to uphold their laws[…] Without Antigone, we could attain a quieter, more realistic world. […] We should be safer without the trouble-maker from Thebes. And that which would be lost, if she could be eliminated, is quite intangible.’ Note that in the revised version, given in States of Ireland (1972), O’Brien writes: ‘after for years of Antigone and [.] more than a hundred dead you begin to feel that Ismene’s commonsense and feeling for the living may make the more needful if less spectacular element in human dignity. (States of Ireland, 1972, p.153.) [The foregoing all quoted in Loredana Salis, ‘“So Greek with Consequence”: Classical Tragedy in Contemporary Irish Drama’, PhD Diss., UUC, 2005.]

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States of Ireland (1972), ‘What is coming across to ordinary people is that our problem is not how to get unity, but how to share an island in conditions of peace and reasonable fairness, and that such conditions preclude unity as long as the Ulster Protestants reject that [unity].’ (States of Ireland, p.297; quoted in J. H. Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland, 1991, p.122.)

States of Ireland (1972) - cont.: ‘My roots are entirely in one community, my formal education has been almost entirely in schools of the other community. these communities have traditionally very different attitudes … My family was a political one, and the activities of its members since the eighteen-seventies, traversed at different times most of the range of what seemed politically, culturally and socially possible and desirable within their community … there are no privileged observer … blind spots as well as … possibilities of insight … mother’s family from Limerick and Tipperary … father’s from Clare … We were on the lower fringes of the educated middle class. My father was a journalist - a leader writer on the (Catholic) Freeman’s Journal. (From States of Ireland, London: Hutchinson 1972, q.p.). [See further under Patrick Pearse, infra.]

Further: ‘And in Padraig Pearse’s mind and those of some other notable Irish patriots, the sufferings of the Irish (Catholic) people were in a particular sense one, the sacrifice of Irish patriots was analogous to the sacrifice of Christ, and the resurgence of the national spirit that such a sacrifice could set in motion was analogous to the resurrection of Christ. The timing of the rising was no coincidence.’ (p.287; quoted in Richard Kearney, Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1987, pp.309-10 [‘Myth and Martyrdom’], n.4.) Note: Kearney adds; ‘Unfortunately Dr. O’Brien does not go on to analyse the meaning of the analogy.’ [Ibid., p.310.]

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The Playwright Politician’ [interview with Cruise O’Brien] in Des Hickey & Gus Smith, eds., A Paler Shade of Green (London: Leslie Frewin 1972), p.228-35: ‘Among living Irish writers Seán Ó Faolain influenced me more than anybody else when he was editor of The bell by his astringent criticism, which was very good for me at the time, although did not realise this immediately, and in particular by his example in combining the activity of a writer with social criticism. I think it was Harold Macmillan who gave Frank O’Connor some bad advice when he suggested that he keep out o f public life at a time when O’Connor had been on the Board of the Abbey Theatre. His implication was that the writer should sit at his desk in an ivory tower. I think this advice may be good for certain writers, but not for all writers. It would have been better for Sean O’Casey if he had stayed in Ireland and become involved in politics and other aspects of the social struggle and written out of the experiences he shared. I have an almost total lack of admiration for everything O’Casey wrote after he left Ireland, including the autobiographies, the style of which I find extremely repellent. But in his earlier plays, which probably will always be performed here and to some extent in other countries, suggest a considerable discrepancy between what his writing and what his thinking. To the end of his days O’Casey though of himself as a revolutionary, but what his plays are talking about are the horror and pain and ignominy of such acting. It is the tension between the writer and the man himself that makes the plays come alive. ’ (p.231-32); ‘My grandfather sat in the old Irish Parliament form 1885 to 1918. Frank Skeffington and Tom Kettle were members of this family group. I grew up listening to politics, mainly Irish politics, and I suppose even in my youth I conceived the ambition to serve my country in this particular way. It may not be entirely useless for the Dáil to have among its members someone with the wide and perhaps unusual experience which I have had outside this country. I don’t think anybody could be completely happy about the cultural climate of Ireland or any country either now or at any other time. Elizabethan England looks very bright in retrospect … Television has, on the whole, been beneficial in shaking us out of our very strong tendency to stagnation. [&c.]’ (p.232.)

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Passion and Cunning and Other Essays (1988), incls. title essay and reviews such as ‘The Irish Mind, a Bad Case of Cultural Nationalism’, and ‘Bobby Sands, Mutations of Nationalism’, a review of John Feehan’s Bobby Sands. The title-essay is on W. B. Yeats’s politics, rep. from A. N. Jeffares, ed., In Excited Reverie [London 1965]; it consists in arguments purporting to demonstrate from letters and poems the charge that Yeats was ‘generally pro-Fascist in tendency.’ O’Brien quotes in particular Yeats’s remarks on the social and cultural tone of modern Ireland, and his nationalist contemporaries in particular (e.g., ‘men who had risen above the traditions of the countryman, without learning those of cultivated life, or even educating themselves and who because of their poverty, their ignorance, their superstitious piety, are much subject to all kinds of fear’), and remarks that these views are ‘a classical statement of the Irish Protestant view of the rising Catholic middle-class’ (223). See also A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (1984), quoting O’Brien’s remarks on Yeats’s political associates of the 1890s together with this sentence. [‘Men who had risen … &c.] (Jeffares, 1988, p.87).

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Passion and Cunning [in] the Politics of W. B. Yeats’ (1965): ‘[Yeats’s] greatest poetry was written [339] near the end of his life when his ideas were at their most sinister.’ (Quoted in Margaret Mills Harper, Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W. B. Yeats, OUP 2006, pp.339-40, citing ‘Passion and Cunning […; &c.]’, in A. N. Jeffares & K. G. W. Cross, eds., In Excited Reverie: A Centenary Tribute to W. B. Yeats, 1865-1939, London: Macmillan 1965, p.224.) Note: Harper remarks that Yeats’s poems have inspired ‘vehement debate [about] the politics of the 1930s [in] their relation to his art’ and refers to Conor Cruise O’Brien’s ‘gauntlet’. (Ibid., p.339.)

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To Katanga and Back: A UN Case History (London: Hutchinson 1962): ‘The Penal Laws were very similar in conception to the apartheid system, with the distinction that religion and not colour provided the line between conqueror and helot.The achievement of freedom in the advanced country had involved the negation of freedom in the backward country. Any Irishman who thinks about history and freedom must be conscious of this puzzle and, unless he suppresses this consciousness, it will eventually affect his conception of the world around him. he will be wary, for example, when he hears about ‘bastions of freedom for he cannot nelp remembering that there was probably no greater bastion of freeodm than Great britain in the eighteenth and early nienteenth cneuries, and that his forefathers were prisoners of just that bastion.’ / This is not just a question of brooding on the past - but of present day contrast rooted in history. Ireland is still a relatively backward country, next door to a highly advanced one. The culture of the advanced country ha almost completely destroyed, but only partially replaced, the culture of the backward one. The replacement can only be partial, for the conquered can never properly assimilate one central element in the conquering culture, the psychological attitudes of racial superiority. True, the language of racial superiority has been taboo among enlighted adults since the rise of Hitler, but the think itself is with us, as not only West Indians or Irish labourers in Birmingham, but any Irish boy at an English school can testify. It is entirely inevitable that it should be so.’ [Goes on to distinguish between brooders and gloaters]. (Katanga and Back, Four Square edn., 1965, p.42.)

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Modern Irish Writing by Grattan Freyer (Irish Humanities Centre 1979), 309pp., Preface by Conor Cruise O’Brien [x-xvi] identifies ‘the moment of the literary revival [as] a cultural movement removed, although in part derived, from the actual culture of the majority of Irish people, Catholics; Ascendancy, then entering upon its euthanasia; masterful image of C. S. Parnell, Protestant landlord who became chosen leader of the Catholic people; mission to destroy social and economic power of landlord class to which he hismelf belonged; could there be an equivalane condition, for an acceptable kind of cultural leadership?’ Further, O’Leary tells Yeats that ‘in Ireland a man must have the Church for the Fenians on his side and you will never have the Church’; Yeats had to pay a price for leadership […] later came to identify that price and regret it, ‘We had fed the heart on fantasies/The heart’s grown brutal from the fair’; Provisionals latest wave of Fenians, most noxious, intimidating and regressive force that even the most hostile of reasonable minds could think of the Catholic clergy in Ireland then or now as being. [Sect. ii: ] Ireland represented in Freyer’s sentivitely chosen canthology is Catholic Ireland, Hewitt only partial exception [ed. adds Morrow in ftn.]; Ulster Protestants share a strange and tragic kind of culture, not with the Republic, [nor Britain] but with the Catholics of Northern Ireland […] blacks and whites in the culture of old Dixie; they have in common the knowlede of the rules, the significance of the counters, the calendar of commemoration, the interpretation of names, addresses, accents, facial expressins, movements of feeting, a commonly programmed computer for the assessment of the stranger, and of the manner and degree to which the novelity of his presence modifies the immediate social environment - and in whose favour it has been modified; Northern Ireland does possess a common culture in that particular sense, real but so rarified as to be hard to breathe. CCOB discusses relations to Catholicism in Clarke, Kavanagh, O’Faolain, and Edna O’Brien. [Sect iii: ] Behan’s Big House rejoicing in the downfall of the old Ascendancy; Sean O’Faolain’s Lovers of the Lake about the power exerted by a medieval pilgrimage over a modern middle-class couple, true to the realities of modern Irish life, the humdrum magic of Catholic island in the Anglo-American secular sea, waves beat louder now, with television, but the island remains intact; Heaney, certainly the finest poet on the island, and perhaps the finest also in the sea.’ O’Brien quotes in conclusion a passage in which Heaney describes himself as Christian, Catholic and also pagan, and ends: ‘Yet perhaps the Catholic poet is lucky, because Catholicism managed to preserve part of the old feminine religion in its structure. The Virgin Mary, intercessor, mother of mercy, star of the sea, occupies in the common psychology the place occupied by the Muse in the poetic psychology […]’ (quoting Seamus Heaney; no source).

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Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (Dublin: Poolbeg 1994), contains several citations from an autobiographical excerpt printed in The Atlantic Monthly (June 1944). Epigraphs include, ‘Here be ghosts that I have raised this Christmastide, ghosts of dead mean that have bequeathed a trust to us living men. Ghosts are troublesome things, in a house or in a family, as we knew even before Ibsen taught us. There is only one way to appease a ghost. You must do the thing it asks you. The ghosts of a nation sometimes ask very big things and they must be appeased whatever the cost.’ (Patrick Pearse, [Speech] Christmas Day 1915). O’Brien’s essay includes a section of W. B. Yeats’s relations with Irish-Ireland and especially with D. P. Moran: ‘W. B. Yeats and Other Nationalists’ [53-70], together with another entitled ‘Yeats and Maud Gonne Diverge’ [70-77], and a third called ‘The Fall and Resurrection of Maud Gonne’ [77-85]. Sel. Bibl.: Writings of W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne [letters], Patrick Pearse, D P Moran, and others; also historical studies by Thomas Bartlett, ‘Defenders and Defenderism in 1795’, in Irish Historical Studies (1985) [c.375]; Barry M. Coldrey, Faith and Fatherland: The Christian Brothers and the Development of Irish Nationalism 1838-1921 (Dublin 1988); Emmet Larkin , Consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland 1860-1870 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1987); Daire Keogh, The French Disease, The Catholic Church and Radicalism in Ireland 1790-1800 (Four Courts Press 1993); Frank Callanan, The Parnell Split, 1890-91 (Cork 1992) [for which O’Brien wrote an Foreword]; Alan O’Day, ed. Reactions to Irish Nationalism (Dublin 1987), which incls. David Miller, ‘The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, 1898-1918; Monsignor Patrick J. Corish, ‘Cardinal Cullen and the National Association’ [c127]; W. F. Mandle, ‘The IRB and the Beginnings of Gaelic Athletics Association’ [c.94]. (For longer quotations, see infra.)

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Imperialism: ‘I was brought up to detest imperialism, epitomised in the manic and haunting figure of Captain Bowen-Colthurst, who murdered my uncle Frank Sheehy-Skeffington during the Easter Rising. As a servant of the United Nations, I combated a British imperialist enterprise in Central Africa in 12961 … From 1965 to 1969 in America I took part in the protest against what I saw as an American imperialist enterprise: the war in Vietnam. And from 1971a until now I have been combating an Irish Catholic imperialist enterprise: the effort to force the Protestants of Northern Ireland, by a combination of paramilitary terror and political pressure, into a United Ireland they don’t want. I addressed the Friends of the Union to show solidarity with that beleaguered community against the forces working against them within my own community. I joined the United Kingdom Unionists for the same reason.’; ‘The moment at which the British government agree to “reform” the RUC at the bidding of its mortal enemies, will be the moment when it becomes clear that th eUnion has become a trap for the unionists. It is at this pooint that ht unioniists are likely to be forced to consider … a deal with constitutional nationalism to avert British surrender of Northern Ireland to violent republicanism.’ (Memoir, 1998; cited in Books Ireland, Dec. 1998, p.340.)

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Yeats & Co. [literary revivalists]: ‘The natives they idealised were those who had remained most thoroughly native, and unfortunately they idealised these in ways that did not appear to the Catholic colonisé to be ideal.’ (States of Ireland, 1972, p.73; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.32).

Patrick Pearse: ‘a maniac, mystic nationalist with a cult of blood sacrifice and a strong personal motivation towards death. A nation which takes a personality of that type as its mentor is headed towards disaster.’ (Quoted in Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, London: Profile 2004; quoted in Kevin Kiely, review, Books Ireland, March 2005, p.60.)

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1916 Rising: ‘The event was one thing, the way the event was imagined another thing, and more powerful. And there were men and women who lived through the event, and through the imagining of the event. Their lives, marked by this double experience, marked mine. And both the event and its imagining, and the consequences of the way in which it was imagined, helped powerfully to shape what happened in Ireland in the early twentieth century, and what is happening there now.’ (Conor Cruise O’Brien: States of Ireland, 1972, p.23; cited in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal Gill & Macmillan 1977), epigraph, Pt. I: ‘Revival’, [p.9].

Maud Gonne & 1916: ‘What is the difference between the play Cathleen Ni Houlihan and the Easter Rising of 1916? Can we say one is fiction and the other real life? If participants in th ereal life action have taken in the fiction as a gospel or sacrament, that is a transforming spiritual agency. If a participant, remembering a play, and remembering the conditional promise to be remembered for ever, enacts the sacrifice demanded in the play, is she not, in fact, continuing the action of the play in terms that are different, not in the sense that real life is different from fiction, but in the sense that the new action crosses a social and conventional threshold into illegality and violence?’ (The Irish Times, 21 Aug. 1975; quoted in John McGovern, MA Diss UUC 2002.)

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Decade of Violence’, first of two articles charting the course of Northern Ireland’s tragic conflict (Sunday Times, 19 Aug 1979). Of the 1920 Govt. of Ireland Act, he writes, ‘That act was the resultant of three forces, the manifest desire of most Catholics in Ireland for control over their own affairs; the not-less manifest desire of Ulster Protestants not to be included in any kind of Catholic-majority political unit, and the general desire of the British people to be rid of Ireland and its controversies, for ever, if possible.’ He speaks of the ‘negative discrimination’ operated by the Northern political establishment against Catholics. Tracing the growth of the Civil Rights movement and the Protestant backlash, he cites the acronym, ‘I Ran Away’ and concludes, ‘The tragedy of the following ten years stems from the reflect of machismo evoked in a large section of the officers and men of the IRA by that experience and by those taunts.’ In the ensuing article (26 Aug 1979), he traces the events before and after the anti-Sunningdale strike of May 1974. ‘The Ulster Protestants cannot be peacefully incorporated either in a united Ireland, or in some contraption designed by Catholics to convey them to that unwanted destination. Anyone who thinks differently should reflect on the election this summer of the rev Ian Paisley with over 170,000 votes at the head of the poll in the province-wide election for the European parliament … if Britain disengages … Northern Ireland will go for independence, not for unification.’

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Irish Republicanism: ‘It is suffused with romanticism, which in politics tends in the direction of fascism’ [‘An Unhealthy Intersection’, Irish Times, 21 Aug. 1975; prev. printed in New Review, 2, No.16 (July 1975), pp.3-8; and cited in the Editorial to Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies (1982), p.14; also cited in Edna Longley, ‘North: “Inner Emigré or “Artful Voyeur”?’, in Tonyh Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney [rev. edn. 1994], p.93; rep. in Poetry in the Wars [1986].)

Punishment beatings?: ‘Nationalism & the Reconquest of Ireland’, in The Crane Bag, 1, 1 (1977), includes the parenthetical remark, anent violence in Ulster, that ‘corporal punishment, of course, forms part of our traditional concept of education’. (Rep. in The Crane Bag Book, Dublin 1982, pp.95-100.)

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Heaney’s North: ‘I had the uncanny feeling, reading these poems, of listening to the thing itself, the actual substance of historical agony and dissolution, the tragedy of a people in a place: the Catholics of Northern Ireland.’ (‘A Slow North-est Wind’ [review], in Listener, 25 Sept. 1975; quoted in Edna Longley, ‘“Inner Émigré” or “Artful Voyeur”?, Seamus Heaney’s North, in The Art of Seamus Heaney, ed. Tony Curtis, Brigend 1982, p.65 [rep. in Poetry in the Wars, 1986].)

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The Fall, review of Albert Camus, The First Man, ed. by Catherine Camus, trans David Hapgood, in The New Republic (16 Oct. 1995), pp.42-47 [extract]: ‘The Fall has the quality of a great self-reckoning. For this reason, it is Camus’s best work. It reminds me very powerfully of Yeats’s “The Circus Animal’s Desertion”, in which the mature poet rids himself of a lot of romantic lumber that had been useful to him in earlier years and suffices, wisely and soberly, with “the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart?”. Yeats’s poetry was better for the desertion of the circus animals, and The Fall, which marked the desertion of Saint-Just and Meursault and Tarrou, seemed to herald an equally admirable evolution in the work of Camus. It was with considerable disappointment, therefore, that in reading this incomplete and posthumous work I found myself back in the world of The Stranger, […] the old solemnity reigns, with seriousness about self as its consort. Humour is no more. Self-criticism has vanished. it is as if Jean-Baptiste had never been born […] What if most, or even all, of The First Man were written after the fall, so that The First Man is, if not Camus’s “final work”, at least a draft of what might have become Camus’s final work? Then […] we must conclude that as a writer Camus regressed … [&c.]’

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Memorial Address’, in Sean O’Faoláin Special Issue, ed. Sean Dunne, Cork Review (1991), pp.95-96; quotes end of first editorial of The Bell: ‘whoever you are then, reader, Gentile or Jew, Protestant or Catholic, priest or layman, Big House or shall house, The Bell is yours’. O’Brien deduces the courage of this statement from the date and the apparent imminence of a Nazi victory in Europe and quotes from a GAA pamphlet: ‘From certain Continental movements we have much to learn. As a fact, the temper of our movement, and the energy and daring of it, have more in common with them than with those nearer home; and another: ‘We cannot allow film-making to remain in the hands of the Jews, the eternal enemies of Christianity’ (1942). O’Faolain wrote of ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan’ pushing her bitter red nose into the den, the unburiable corpse’ (The Bell, Nov. 1945.) Further quotes the last O’Faolain editorial entitled “Signing Off”: I have, I confess, grown a little weary of abusing our bourgeoisie, Little Irelanders, Tartuffes, Anglophobes, Celtophiles et allii hujus generis’; ‘Our task has been more that of cultivating our garden than of clearing away the brambles’; ‘It is one thing to have a noble vision of life to come and another to have to handle what has come.’ [Cont.]

Memorial Address’, in Sean O’Faoláin Special Issue, ed. Sean Dunne, Cork Review (1991) - cont.: In ‘Pride in the Language’, an additional section, O’Brien notes that the memorial service was unattended by any government ministers; ‘we do read the writers who write in the language we habitually use, but we don’t feel much collective pride in them. Their collective product is denominated “Anglo-Irish Literature”. We are unlikely to feel warm towards anything labelled “Anglo-Irish”…. The Gaelic Revival failed to persuade the Irish people to speak Irish. But it did succeed in something. It succeeded in securing the pip service of the great majority of the elected representatives of the Irish people (in this Republic) … We forget that our people chose to become English-speakers, of their own free will, at a time when they could have gone on speaking Irish had they chosen to do so … [I]t is a curious condition and one cannot be a healthy one psychologically speaking. And it is this condition, I believe, that accounts for the complete absence of our parliamentarians from the Memorial Service for Sean O’Faolain. [&c.]’

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Nonsense, Willie!: The Great Melody (1992) takes its title from a poem of Yeats, quoted in the preface: ‘people that were/Bound neither to Cause nor to State / Neither to slaves that were spat on, / Nor to tyrants that spat, / The people of Burke and Grattan / That gave, though free to refuse -’. O’Brien remarks, ‘I regret that for about ten years I allowed myself to be distracted, by such nonsense as is contained in the above lines, from the precise and piercing sense of the two lines which now supply the governing concept of this book […] In reality the people of Burke and the people of Grattan were two distinct peoples, then in adversarial relation to one another [… &c.].’ (p.12.)

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Right of Response (Times Literary Supplement, 18 Dec 1992): Conor Cruise O’Brien replies at three columns-extent to J. Thompson’s dismissive cover-story review of The Great Melody in the preceeding issue (TLS, 11 Dec. 1992), citing support for his thesis about the Irish and Catholic sympathies of Burke in readings of his work by Thomas Bartlett and Marianne Elliott. He makes no reference to Thompson’s scurrilous characterisation of the subject of the work as ‘Conor Cruise O’Burke’ (ibid.), but does go on the offensive where he detects that Thompson has skipped over important parts of his argument. He also detects a prejudiced hostility to Burke, showing in Thompson’s reiteration of the familiar phrase ‘the swinish multitude’ attributed to Burke as a reflection on democracy. O’Brien points out that the context of the phrase in Burke is very specifically the Revolutionary mobs, and that the article (the/a) has been altered for the purposes of his Burke’s enemies, ‘Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.’ (Reflections &c., Penguin, p.173; O’Brien’s own ed.) He concludes his defense by drawing attention to a passage from Burke suggesting the sympathy with ordinary Irish people which Thompson denies Burke to have possessed, ‘That Jacobinism which is Speculative in its Origin and which arises from Wantonness and fullness of bread, may possibly be kept under by firmness and prudence. The very levity of character which produces it may extinguish it; but that Jacobinism which rises from Penury and irritation, from scorned loyalty, and rejectd allegiance, has much deeper roots. They take their nourishment from the bottom of human Nature and the unalterable constitution of things, and not from humour and capricce or the opinions of the Day about privileges and Liberties.’ (Melody, p.573). The letter is addressed from ‘Whitewater, The Summit, Howth, County Dublin, Eire.’ (TLS, 18 Dec 1992, p.32.)

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McCarthyism [in the USA] was an engine for social promotion of Catholics in America and the promotion of Irish Catholics in particular. McCarthy, backed by [Cardinal] Spellman, conveyed to millions of non-Catholic anti-Communist Americans the novel idea that Catholics were specially reliable, and especially touch, breed of anti-Communist […] Personally, I believe that without Joe McCarthy’s crusade in the 1950s, John F. Kennedy could not have been elected in 1960.’ (Godland: Reflections on Religion and Nationalism, 1987; quoted in Eric Hobsbaum, ‘The Sacred and the National’, review of same, in rep. as Chap. 5 in Encounters with Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell 1994, p.36 [as supra].)

Atwood’s Tale: a quotation from Conor Cruise O’Brien’s review of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale appears on the jacket of the Virago Edn. (1987): ‘Moving, vivid and terrifying. I only hope’s it’s not prophetic.’

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