In the many accounts of the history of the emergence of Ireland from isolation from the late 1950s onwards, the name of Brian Joseph O’Connor, who has died aged 81, has rarely featured.
However this Dublin solicitor played a discreet but influential role in this process.
He helped to ease his country’s passage into the contemporary world through his work in corporate law with the Dublin firm of McCann FitzGerald.
He was also influential as a teacher at both the law school of University College, Dublin, where he was a visiting fellow from 1994, and the Incorporated Law Society. In addition, he played a role through his early extra-curricular activity in ginger groups including Tuairim, the Irish Council of the European Movement and the Irish United Nations Association.
While at UCD, he had been president of the Irish Students’ Association, and a member of the Students’ Representative Council.
When he joined the then firm of McCann, White and FitzGerald in 1962 at the invitation of Alexis FitzGerald, it had just four partners. Shortly afterwards he became the fifth. When he retired in 1998, the firm had had 55 partners.
O'Connor specialised in commercial law, especially that relating to mergers and takeovers. He played an important role in drafting the Takeover Panel Act of 1997, which for the first time provided a legal guide for the takeover of companies listed on the Irish Stock Exchange.
Later he participated in working parties at the EU Commission in Brussels, which paved the way for the EU takeover directive.
From the early 1970s, he attended the annual business law conferences of the International Bar Association, attending no fewer than 22 such events at locations on all five continents, to which he was always accompanied by his wife, Consuelo, née Cruess-Callaghan, whom he had married in 1961.
He made a particularly significant contribution to the facilitating of US investment in Ireland as co-editor of, and contributor to, the seminal work on Irish company law Doing Business in Ireland, published by the specialist New York firm of Matthew Bender in 1987.
Born in Dublin in 1932, O’Connor was the son of Joseph O’Connor, an Irish officer in the British army’s dental corps, stationed in Egypt, and his wife, Margaret Davy, and spent much of his early life in Cairo. Educated by the Benedictines at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, he read history and law at UCD, qualifying as a solicitor in 1955, thereafter working in the legal department of the National Bank.
A decidedly social being, O'Connor was a member of no fewer than 10 clubs, including the Lansdowne in London and the Kildare Street and University Club, and enjoyed sailing out of the Royal Irish in Dún Laoghaire. He especially loved angling on Lough Corrib, on the shores of which his family keep a holiday home, with his guide, Tommy Molloy.
A very committed Catholic, O'Connor served as chairman of the Catholic Communications Centre in Dublin. He was described by his close friend, former chief justice Ronan Keane, as "conservative, but very compassionate . . . he regretted the Latin Mass going, but he recognised that the church was out of touch on things like family planning and divorce. He was deeply upset by the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See."
O'Connor had a great interest in visual art, serving as a member of the Council of the Friends of the National Collections, and as its president from 1998 to 2001. During this period he organised a major exhibition to celebrate the organisation's 75th anniversary, at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Hugh Lane Gallery in 1999. He and wife built up an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century Irish art.
He is survived by his widow, Consuelo, and daughters Adele, Benedicte and Charlotte, and by a son, Marcus. Another daughter, Rachel, died in early childhood.