Cork academicwith deep religious belief


Cornelius O'LearyCornelius O'Leary spent most of his adult life as a university teacher in Belfast but remained at heart the Corkman he was born.

He was buried in Timoleague Abbey Cemetery after Requiem Mass the previous day in St Brigid 's church, near his academic home in Queen's University.

As fascinated by politics in action as by the political science he taught, for years he fulfilled every commission for written or broadcast analysis and comment.

He also loved the letters pages, chiefly writing as a champion of orthodox Catholicism, impassioned on the subject of abortion and outraged by feminist counter-argument.

His earlier visibility was as expert on the nuts and bolts of election results. After University College Cork he went to Oxford to do a doctorate and was very proud that he had been the first DPhil student of David Butler, later television doyen of British psephology, the science of election results.

After an unhappy spell teaching unruly boys in London he arrived in Belfast to the politics department in Queen's, in a generation of appointments which included the late John Whyte. O'Leary would say later that he recognised Queen's was then part of the unionist establishment, but he found senior figures supportive and had no personal complaints. Much later, he wrote that only the brave few alleged discrimination in the 1960s.

Students in his heyday remembered tutorials on American politics dominated by monologues across swathes of scholarship, delivered without notes.

He impressed those who had done their homework and lost the rest. The fidgeting with window-blind cords that became entangled around wrist or even throat kept the audience alert, though sometimes unnerved.

As a rare Belfast academic well disposed towards journalists, O'Leary won some wider recognition early in the Troubles. For a time he was a frequent broadcaster, less popular later as his time-keeping became more wayward.

After the dissolution of Stormont he was frequently called on to explain alternative forms of government in lay language, though presenters could find it difficult to punctuate the flow of information.

Early enthusiasm for John Hume dimmed, to be replaced by interest in unionism. He advised the UDA at one point, like several other academics much impressed by John McMichael (later killed by an IRA bomb) and the UDA's initial flirtation with the concept of politics as alternative to violence.

At McMichael's request, O'Leary wrote a lengthy paper on independence for Northern Ireland. In one of the more bizarre press conferences of the Troubles, the bespectacled academic with pedantic voice and lingering Cork accent read the entire paper aloud in the east Belfast hotel favoured by loyalists, the Park Avenue.

Ambitious in midlife, he won a D Litt from NUI, became a member of the Royal Irish Academy, with Dr Ian Budge wrote Belfast: Approach to Crisis, a study of politics 1613-1920, and with Dr Patrick Maume wrote Controversial Issues in Anglo-Irish Relations.

Affable and gregarious by nature, he was also deeply religious, the simple faith of his childhood more pronounced with age.

The austere O'Leary of the letters columns made curious contrast with Con the anecdotalist who giggled in the middle of his own jokes.

Some who knew him well could not square the shambolic life of an ageing bachelor with the harsh dicta of public campaigning.

Even fond friends thought a man with such scant knowledge of the other gender might have balked at voicing authoritarian opposition to abortion.

Enthusiasm for the anti-abortion cause and admiration for Opus Dei made him a fervent campaigner. He was vice-chairman of the pro-life amendment campaign in 1983, though gradually displaced by the more polished.

He became suddenly ill on September 7th and died soon afterwards. His brother pre-deceased him by some years, as did several relatives in religious life in the US.

Cornelius O'Leary, emeritus professor of political science at Queen's University Belfast; born August 1927; died September 2006.