Conor Cruise O’Brien, politician, writer, historian and academic often nicknamed “The Cruiser,” is born in Rathmines, Dublin on November 3, 1917. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1973 to 1977, a Senator for University of Dublin from 1977 to 1979, a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-East constituency from 1969 to 1977 and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from January 1973 to March 1973.
Cruise O’Brien follows his cousin Owen into Sandford Park School, which has a predominantly Protestant ethos despite objections from Catholic clergy. He subsequently attends Trinity College Dublin before joining the Irish diplomatic corps.
Although he is a fierce advocate of his homeland, Cruise O’Brien is a strong critic of Irish Republican Army violence and of what he considers the romanticized desire for reunification with Northern Ireland. His collection of essays Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Modern Catholic Writers (1952; written under the pseudonym Donat O’Donnell) impresses UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who in 1961 appoints him UN special representative in the Congo, later the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He orders UN peacekeeping forces into the breakaway Katanga province, and the resulting scandal forces him out of office. Despite UN objections, he writes To Katanga and Back (1963) to explain his actions.
After serving as vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana (1962–65) and Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at New York University (1965–69), Cruise O’Brien enters Irish politics. He holds a Labour Party seat in Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1977 and then in the Senate from 1977 to 1979, representing Trinity College, of which he is pro-chancellor (1973–2008).
In 1979 Cruise O’Brien is named editor in chief of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, but he leaves after three tumultuous years. He remains an active newspaper columnist, especially for the Irish Independent until 2007. His books include States of Ireland (1972) and On the Eve of the Millennium (1995), as well as perceptive studies of Charles Stewart Parnell, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson.
Conor Cruise O’Brien dies at the age of 91 on December 18, 2008 in Howth, Dublin.