Mourners at the removal of Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien (91) heard how “the written word was his life as a writer, historian, academic and journalist”.
And they were told that behind the public image was a warm and generous family man with a great sense of fun.
Among those leading the tributes at the removal on Saturday evening of Dr Cruise O’Brien at the Church of the Assumption in Howth, Co Dublin, were former Irish leaders Liam Cosgrave and Dr Garret FitzGerald.
Recalling Conor’s time as a minister in his coalition government in the early 1970’s, Liam Cosgrave described him as “solid as a rock”.
And Dr FitzGerald also paid tribute to his former colleague. “He had an extraordinary life and was very active for a long period of time,” he said. “When we were in government we used to gather after meetings — he was so witty and so funny, such an exciting person to be with,” he added.
Local parish priest Monsignor Brendan Houlihan spoke of Conor’s enormous attachment to Howth and to his home on the Summit where he died peacefully shortly after catching the flu. “Howth was very special to Con. He loved this place and found so much happiness over the years in his house on the Summit,” said Fr. Houlihan.
Also officiating at the removal was Conor Cruise O’Brien’s cousin, Fr Richard Sheehy, parish priest at Rathmines, Co Dublin. He spoke about the personal side of the writer and politician. “Much has been said over the past days about Conor’s wide-ranging career in public life; I will leave it to others more qualified to speak about that,” he said. “Family was always very important to Conor. He was a warm, generous and engaging host and he had a great sense of fun”.
Fr Sheehy described how Conor’s son Patrick believed that his father had “lived five lives. He packed a lot in and left a legacy of great work on subjects as Irish history, Edmund Burke and the state of Israel,” he said.
“It was Burke who famously said that in order for evil to survive, it is sufficient that good people do nothing. Conor was never going to be one of those who did nothing,” added Fr Sheehy.
Referring to the huge outpouring of work over the years throughout Conor’s varied careers, Fr Sheehy said: “The written word was his life as a writer, historian, academic and journalist and he devoted long hours of his study to writing.”\[Stephen Alexander\]
He also made reference to the many waves made by some of his late cousin’s words and actions. "Conor was often controversial but I don’t think he cultivated controversy for the sake of it, but rather out of concern for the truth as he saw it," he said. "He was perhaps closer to one of the Old Testament prophets, finding the courage to say things that he felt needed to be said either in season or out of season. With Conor, they were more often out of season".
But his reflection on the life of Conor also drew a laugh from the congregation. Fr. Sheehy revealed how Conor regaled him with one anecdote during a recent visit to his Howth home. "He recalled one experience as Editor-in-Chief of The Observer going to interview a despotic leader of an African country. When he walked into the room, the leader made a caustic remark to Conor, to which Conor replied, ’Well, at least I’m not oppressing my people’. Conor added, ’the interview went downhill after that’."
And he also paid tribute to Conor’s wife of 46 years, poet Maire Mhac an tSaoi. "It was through his wife Maire’s unstinting generosity and care that he was able to be nursed at home".
The chief mourners were his wife, Maire Mhac an tSaoi, their son Patrick, daughter Margaret, and also Donal and Fedelma, Conor’s two children with his first wife, Christine Foster. Another daughter, writer Kate Cruise O’Brien, died in 1998.
The funeral takes place at Glasnevin cemetary today after funeral Mass at the Church of the Assumption.