Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Farewell to the Cruiser

So farewell then Conor Cruise O'Brien (who died last Thursday) - that rarest of creatures: an intellectual and an Irish politician. He was one of the first to see Haughey for the venal creature that he was and all through his career showed courage in airing unpopular views. His book States of Ireland argued for the rights of the Unionists in any political solution to the problems in the North - time has shown that this was the only way forward. He had his blind spots and was frequently wrong-headed. His pro-Zionist book on Israel, The Siege, ignored the plight of the Palestinians and was a disgrace. He was popular in Africa for his anti-colonial views - but not so popular with his paymasters in the United Nations who brought an end to his diplomatic career. He was also the first prominent Irish man I can remember getting a divorce. It's hard to think of a more articulate, colourful or provocative figure in Irish public life over the past 50 years.

He did cause me a big problem in San Sebastian back in the Seventies. I was staying with an Irish girl friend in the city and we went out one night to do a tour of the Basque bars - eating pinchos and drinking San Miguel. She was a woman with strong, if not rabid, Republican views and when I started singing the Cruiser's praises she became so incensed that she dashed her glass to the ground and stormed out into the night - covering me in drink in the process. Worse was to come, when I eventually returned to her apartment (after enjoying the Basque singing that is a feature of San Sebastian night life) I found I was locked out. Luckily it was summer.