Gregory O’Connor – knowledgeable and resourceful archivist
Gregory O’Connor was known to generations of users of the National Archives of Ireland as a very knowledgeable and helpful archivist. Warm tributes to him on the rip.ie website provided strong acknowledgement of both his expertise and much appreciated kindness down the years to archive users.
O’Connor was born in 1954 in Dublin, the only child of Gertrude and Ruairí O’Connor. Both his grandfather Bernard (born 1839) and father Ruairí (born 1894) were civil servants while Gertrude worked in the Irish Sweepstakes.
After brief periods as a civil servant and in the IPA, he made his career in the National Archives. He worked there for more than 30 years and was initially based in the old Public Record Office building in the Four Courts. He joined the organisation during a period of great change – the National Archives Act was being implemented – and his fascination with historical sources gave him an unprecedented knowledge of the holdings.
A sense of history and curiosity, as well as an interest in Irish language and culture, was certainly stimulated by his family background. His grandmother, Kate, was a friend of many Fenian leaders, including James Stephens, while his father Ruairí, a keen member of the Gaelic League, had attended the founding of the Irish Volunteers and the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa.
O’Connor was amused to find him identified, in one of the police files in the archives, as a man with a particularly dangerous political outlook!
Most of O’Connor’s working life was spent in the reading room and his extraordinary kindness and generosity in sharing his vast knowledge was deeply appreciated by researchers and colleagues.
He worked in the field as well, and brought in many valuable collections from courthouses and solicitors’ offices. Court records were among his areas of special interest and this prompted him to undertake part-time legal studies at the King’s Inns.
He was a passionate advocate of the preservation of archives and a stalwart member of the Irish Society for Archives, on whose committee he served for many years.
It was on his initiative that the Rathfarnham Historical Society was launched in the late 1990s. He was chairperson of the society from the beginning but received strong support from other officers. The society succeeded in attracting a strong line-up of talented historians to speak at its meetings, held usually in the Church of Ireland parish centre but sometimes in local venues including St Enda’s museum.
Significant topics such as the first World War and 1916 received substantial coverage while historical tours of the locality and historical outings were also part of the society’s programme.
He had a strong affection for his local church and parish of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham in Dublin and for its ancient Christian heritage, and he provided great service in researching material for various exhibitions and guided tours. His attention to detail, alongside his whimsical comments on reports ranging from local land matters to 19th-century fundraising activities, always made for informative and enjoyable reading.
One of his historical interests in recent years was the Crimean War, which was sparked by the memory of a grand-uncle who fought and died in the Crimea. He travelled to Bucharest several times to do research in the national archives there. He also participated actively in the Crimean War Research Society and greatly appreciated the society’s conferences both for their scholarship and fellowship.
He took great delight in learning languages. He attended courses abroad in the 1980s, including one in Yugoslavia, which he remembered fondly. His interest in Italian led him to classes in the Istituto Italiano. He delighted in being able to surprise those he met from abroad with a word or two in their local language, and with knowledge of languages ranging from Aramaic to Native American Navajo to Mongolian, he surprised many people!
His affable nature, gentle sense of humour and genuine interest in others endeared him to many friends in Ireland and abroad.
At the time of his untimely death on December 31st, he was continuing to work in the National Archives and was on the second year of his part-time diploma in legal studies.
He had a long and happy marriage to Pauline Semple and was a proud and loving father to his three children. He is survived by Pauline and children Annalouise, Maeve and Neil, son-in-law Luke and grandson Fionn. Requiescat in pace.