Ulick O’Connor, writer and commentator, dies aged 90

Rathgar native wrote biographies, poetry and several plays staged at the Abbey Theatre

Writer Ulick O’Connor, pictured in 2011. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Writer Ulick O’Connor, pictured in 2011. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times


Ulick O’Connor , writer, poet, historian, critic, public intellectual and controversialist, has died aged 90.

President Michael D. Higgins extended his condolences to O’Connor’s family, friends and “all those whose lives he touched in so many ways”.

“His commitment to performance will be remembered fondly as well as his lifelong support for actors and their livelihoods,” Mr Higgins said.

“I was proud to have him as a friend.”

Mr O’Connor wrote biographies of Oliver St. John Gogarty and Brendan Behan, as well as books on the Troubles and the Celtic Revival, and several poetry collections, including Lifestyles in 1973, All Things Counter in 1986 and The Kiss: New & Selected Poems in 2009.

His autobiographical The Ulick O’Connor Diaries 1970-1981: A Cavalier Irishman (2001) describes his encounters with well-known Irish and international figures, including politicians Jack Lynch and Paddy Devlin, writer Christy Brown and actor Peter Sellers. The book also details the peace process and the Northern Ireland Assembly over the same period.

Born in 1928, in Rathgar, where he continued to live, he was the first child of Prof Matthew O’Connor, of the Royal College of Surgeons, and his wife, Eileen Murphy.

O’Connor was a barrister for 15 years before becoming a fulltime writer. He was a member of Aosdána,

He never married, and said he could not accomplish what he wanted with the responsibility of a wife and family.

In an interview with Vincent Browne in The Irish Times in 2001, he said: “I have one nightmare still, that I got married by mistake... and this is how I usually wake up, covered in sweat, but in an immense state of relief that it hasn’t actually happened.”

In the same interview, he remarked, “as you get older, I think you get less happy. You recognise too many things that you didn’t recognise before...

“You begin to see human nature in a much purer sense.”

He was a frequent and outspoken guest on The Late Late Show in the 1970s and 1980s, and a controversial commentator on social, cultural and political issues.

Several of his plays - including Brendan in 1971, Deirdre in 1975 and A Trinity Of Two in 1998 - were staged at the Abbey Theatre, where he was appointed to the board in 1982 by then taoiseach Charles Haughey. He also performed solo shows, many about Irish literary figures.