Wednesday 23 October 2019

'He was kind, a great man of learning' - funeral of writer Ulick O'Connor held in Dublin

11/10/'19 The remains in the hearse pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
11/10/'19 The remains in the hearse pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
11/10/'19 Artist, Robert Ballagh pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo; Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

At his funeral Mass in Dublin today the writer, journalist and sportsman Ulick O’Connor, who would have been 91 on Saturday, was compared with Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be canonised a saint in Rome on Sunday.

“Ulick and Newman had much in common, both were pernickety, controversial and somewhat contrarian and both loved words” said Fr. Patrick Ryan, a friend who just happened to be in Dublin from his missionary work in Kenya and celebrated the funeral mass along with another friend, Fr. John Flavin, in the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar yesterday.

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The actor Patrick Bergin who gave the eulogy said that he got to know Ulick O’Connor when he was performing in a play of his called Trinity of Two. “We often shared a bottle of wine and I got the full range of his belligerence” said the actor.

The play dealt with the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Edward Carson, who cross examined him on behalf of the Marquess of Queensbury during the famous libel trial at the beginning of the 1900s. But he said he had never forgotten Ulick telling him that when the Crown asked Carson, the Dublin born leader of the Ulster Unionists to then prosecute Wilde for homosexuality he refused, something that O’Connor admired about the man.

11/10/'19 Actor, Patrick Bergin pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
11/10/'19 Actor, Patrick Bergin pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

It was rather ironic then that the two major political figures in the congregation at the funeral Mass were Gerry Adams the former President of Sinn Fein and the current party leader Mary Lou McDonald. A wreath on the altar from Jim Gorry read “tread gently through the night and give Bobby Sands a hug” a reference to first Republican prisoner to die on hunger strike in Long Kesh in 1981.

The attendance at the funeral included the former chief justice Ronan Keane, artist Robert Ballagh, playwright Bernard Farrell, fellow biographer Charles Lysaght, actor Geraldine Plunkett, musician Donal Lunny, horse trainer Jim Bolger, portrait painter Thomas Ryan, writer Ann Haverty, Cormac Figgis, Marina Guinness, Eamon Carr of Horselips, publican Dan McGrattan, Councillor Mannix Flynn and journalists Campbell Spray, Alan Steenson, Trevor White and Larissa Nolan and many other friends and colleagues from the worlds of writing, theatre, the legal profession and sport.

Fr Ryan said Ulick O’Connor was “no respecter of persons, he targeted the top of society and the bottom of the heap, regardless of their social standing or station in live and if occasionally his voice came across as shrill it was because he was impartial.

“Yet he was kind, he was a great man of learning with a breath of interests as wide as the sea and his literary output alone was prodigious.”

Man of letters: Ulick O’Connor at his home in Rathgar in 2008. Photo: David Conachy
Man of letters: Ulick O’Connor at his home in Rathgar in 2008. Photo: David Conachy

Gifts brought to the altar included the his hat, a copy of his biography of Oliver St. John Gogarty, the trophy he received as British and Irish Universities boxing champion in 1950 and a copy of the Sunday Independent newspaper, where he was a columnist for many years.

Patrick Bergin finished his eulogy by reading Yeats’ The Song of the Wandering Aengus and ended with the title of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem, ‘and death shall have no dominion.’

Ulick O’Connor, a member of Aosdana who died on Tuesday 7th of October, never married and the chief mourners at his funeral were his niece Mary Buckley and his friend and personal assistant of many years, Anna Harrison.

Before his coffin was taken from the church Mary Buckley read Ulick’s poem Requiem for a Nanny, which was written in honour of his Tyrone born nanny Anne Bell, who raised him and remained a life-long friend until her death in 1984.

11/10/'19 Ulick O'Connor's niece, Mary Buckley, right and great nieces, Jenni Kilgallon and Laura Kilgallon pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
11/10/'19 Ulick O'Connor's niece, Mary Buckley, right and great nieces, Jenni Kilgallon and Laura Kilgallon pictured this morning at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar Road, Dublin at the funeral of writer, historian and critic, Ulick O'Connor. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Following the funeral Mass Ulick O’Connor was buried in dean’s Grange cemetery with his parents, Matthew O’Connor, Professor of Pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons, his mother Eileen Murphy a noted Celtic scholar and his beloved Nanny.

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