Tuesday 28 January 2020

'Argumentative and provocative, yet capable of great charm' - warm tributes to writer Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor, who has died just days before his 91st birthday
Ulick O'Connor, who has died just days before his 91st birthday
Ulick O'Connor on the roof of Independent House in 1964

The late poet, writer, historian and journalist Ulick O'Connor has been remembered as "a vibrant and gloriously contrary figure".

The Dubliner, who has died ahead of what would have been his 91st birthday this weekend, was a contributor to the Herald and Sunday Independent for many years.

Leading the tributes to him yesterday, President Michael D Higgins said he was "proud to have him as a friend".

"Ulick O'Connor blossomed when he found the space to share his wit and knowledge as a writer and publicist, advocating strongly on a wide range of issues, particularly related to the importance of creativity and independent thought in society," said the President.

He said Mr O'Connor "became a well-loved and distinctive voice in public debate".

Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists Seamus Dooley described Mr O'Connor as "a vibrant and gloriously contrary figure on the media landscape who had made a significant contribution to Irish journalism and the arts".

"Ulick enjoyed the notoriety of his early years as a panellist on The Late Late Show," he said.

"Ulick could be extremely argumentative and provocative, yet capable of great charm and was always generous with his knowledge and insights.

"He loved writing about poetry and introducing poems and poets to newspaper readers."


Mr O'Connor was born in Rathgar in 1928 and studied law and philosophy at UCD, where he became known as a distinguished debater and academic.

He practised as a barrister for a number of years before becoming a full-time writer.

He was also a keen athlete and excelled in rugby, boxing, pole vault and cricket.

While still a schoolboy in St Mary's College, Rathmines, he won the Irish pole vault title and two years later he won the welterweight boxing championship at the British universities championships.

Mr O'Connor's literary career was launched with a 1963 biography of Oliver St John Gogarty. In 1970 he wrote a celebrated biography of Brendan Behan.

His plays include The Dream Box, The Dark Lovers, Deirdre, Joycity and A Trinity Of Two.

He was also renowned for his studies of early 20th-century Irish history and the Irish Literary Revival, his works of literary criticism and several of his plays, which were performed at the Abbey Theatre.

In 1982 Mr O'Connor was appointed to the board of the Abbey. He was also a member of artists' association Aosdana.

In later life, Mr O'Connor produced many works of poetry.

In 2001 he published a biography of Michael Collins and the volunteers in the fight for Irish freedom. This was followed in 2003 by his autobiographical work, The Ulick O'Connor Diaries.

Chair of the Arts Council Professor Kevin Rafter described Mr O'Connor as "a popular, vigorous and brave writer, who both demonstrated and understood the importance of the voice of the artist in political and culture debate".

Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams expressed his "deep sadness at the death of his friend".

"Ulick was a strong republican. He first spoke on a platform with me in the 1980s. He was a strong supporter of Feile an Phobail and brought his play Executions and other works to the Feile," he said.

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