Remembering Ulick O’Connor


A chara, – I have learned with a deepening sadness of the death of Ulick O’Connor. I described him often as my oldest friend and enemy. He was a fierce champion of those whose character and work he admired, and just as fierce in condemnation of those with whom he disagreed or whose standards failed to live up to his own exacting ideals.

Ulick loved Yeats with a feeling close to reverence; I directed his three Yeatsian-inspired Noh plays at the 1993 Dublin Theatre Festival, and one of them, Deirdre, at the Abbey Theatre. They were works of beauty and power, sublime in their spiritual yearning and urgent in their political and social immediacy.

I often quarrelled with Ulick. That was inevitable in all of his relationships given his volatile temper and implacable views on so many things.

I am chastened, however, when I remind myself that his support of my work in part led to my being invited to produce a Yeats International Theatre Festival at the Abbey Theatre from 1989 to 1993.

The festival was launched in August 1989 with my production of Yeats’s magisterial “Cuchulain Cycle” to mark the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death. Ulick wrote an incisive programme note in which he paid tribute to Yeats as the supreme model of creative thought in Ireland over the past century and a half. Not many had the wisdom or courage to say that at the time. The late critic and then-chairman of the Abbey board of directors, Gus Martin, wrote another programme note for the production in which he described the figure of Cuchulain as representing “the intransigent energy of the free spirit that serves neither cause nor state, that answers only to its own inordinate will”. Brilliantly, Gus summed up by observing that, “When Cuchulain dies, a great energy goes out of the world.”

Now Ulick is gone and, with his loss, another intransigent, ever-goading energy is no longer among us.

He was a rare one, and he will be sorely missed by those who loved him, for all he was and is. – Is mise,




Sir, – Despite his many accomplishments, Ulick O’Connor could be an awful messer.

As a young child in the 1960s I remember him on the Late Late Show bending forward to examine the evidence after a mini-skirted Mary Kenny said that school-girl camogie had destroyed her legs.

He could also be oafish and rude, resulting in him being banned from Dublin buses on several occasions for arguing with bus conductors. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.