Publisher Michael O’Brien remembered as a ‘force of nature’

Funeral service hears O’Brien Press co-founder fought against inequality and discrimination

Publisher and activist Michael O’Brien was remembered at his funeral service as a “force of nature” who fought against hypocrisy and inequality.

O’Brien, one of Ireland’s best-known publishers who founded O’Brien Press with his father in 1974, died aged 81 on July 31st.

His funeral service, full of music and tributes from friends and family, took place on Tuesday in Presbyterian Christ Church in Rathgar, south Dublin.

His son Ivan O’Brien told those gathered how his father believed he “could change the nature of reality”, adding that he often did.

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He inspired a “fierce loyalty” from friends and colleagues and was a “worthy opponent” to those with different opinions he debated. “Dad hated discrimination, he was a huge defender of minority rights,” his son said.

The publishing company O’Brien Press “grew around the kitchen table” of the family home, and later in life Ivan said he had always assumed his father would be too busy to die.

Bride Rosney, his friend of 50 years, spoke about O’Brien’s campaigning work to preserve Dublin’s heritage, such as the fight to protect the site of a Viking settlement in Wood Quay from being redeveloped in the 1970s. She said his death had left “a Michael-shaped hole in my life that will never be filled”.

The small church was full for the funeral, with those in attendance including a range of figures from literary and political circles, including President Michael D Higgins, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and author Paul Howard.

Kunak McGann, who worked in O’Brien Press for more than 20 years, described its co-founder as a “force of nature”, who was one of a kind. “He was an ideas man, some of his most outlandish ideas were his greatest successes ... Michael never kept to his lane, not as a driver, not as a publisher,” she said.

Whether in meetings, telephone conversations or out at events, his energy was “phenomenal”, Ms McGann said. His discussions would range from the profound to the absurd and back again, she said.

His son Dara O’Brien recalled him as a “gentle playful grandfather” to the family’s younger members, but also a man of “vision and action”. He was best described as a “charismatic rogue”, he said.

Eoin O’Brien, another son, said his father was intolerant of inequality and hypocrisy, and was not someone to “go along with the status quo if the status quo is wrong”. He added his father had the gift of knowing how to enjoy life.

“The world is still full of hypocrisy and inequality, but I am proud to say my Dad did his bit,” he said.

O’Brien’s wife Svetlana read a poem, Pain, while several of his children and grandchildren performed the last song of the service, the 1961 hit Moon River.

Speaking at the end of the funeral, President Higgins said O’Brien was a friend who placed “a great emphasis on courage” and a man of “great values” who it had been a privilege to know.

Rev Purvis Campbell said O’Brien had made a big impact in the local community in Rathgar and would be missed, for among other things “his intolerance of those things that are wrong”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times