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Ulick O'Connor papers

Identifier: MSS 0137

Scope and Contents

These archives consist of material accumulated over a 25-year period by Irish biographer, poet, playwright, and journalist Ulick O’Connor. O’Connor’s biographies of Brendan Behan and Oliver St. John Gogarty have been recognized internationally as definitive works. A large portion of the archives deals with materials for these books.

The Behan archives provide an invaluable insight into the method of biography. There are over 5,000 manuscript pages as well as numerous versions of the work on the way to completion. There are hundreds of interviews with friends and relations of Brendan Behan. Of particular interest are a number of scrapbooks containing many newspaper clippings dealing with Behan’s life. This section contains unpublished works of Behan such as his first play written in Irish and the first version of The Hostage written in Gaelic. There are also original magazines for which Behan wrote his first stories (one of them with a homosexual theme) and the Irish language magazine in which he wrote his diary of his bombing campaign in England.

In the section dealing with Oliver St. John Gogarty, there are signed letters to the author from Gogarty. There are unpublished Rabelesian poems written by Gogarty as well as those of his friends. There is a strong series of letters in copy form (unpublished) from Gogarty to Sir Shane Leslie (author, cousin of Sir Winston Churchill).

The archives also contain, among other items, the manuscripts for Ulick O’Connor’s Japanese Noh Plays which were first presented at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. O’Connor has been described by The Irish Times as “a man who knows more about this form than anyone in Ireland” and the Mainichi Times in Japan has said that these are “the first true Noh Plays to be written outside that country.” The archives contain letters and notes on O’Connor’s approach to the Noh form and his method of translating poetry from the Japanese.

Items in the Joyce section are especially interesting. This section contains an essay (30 handwritten foolscap pages) on Joyce by a school friend which gives a rare insight into Joyce’s character.

Ulick O’Connor was by profession a barrister and practised at the Irish Bar for 20 years. He was state prosecutor for the West of Ireland when he was twenty-four. Some of his legal cases with a literary background have been included in his archives. For example, in 1952, he was retained by Reuben Dodd (who appears under his own name as a character in Joyce’s Ulyssesin a libel action against the B.B.C., which broadcast portions of the book. The law papers in this case, with numerous personal references to Joyce (and which was won by the plaintiff) are included in the archives, together with Ulick O’Connor’s notes. Another case he was involved in brought him in touch with General Dorman-Smith who retained him in a libel action. Dorman-Smith is recognized by most military writers as the strategic architect of the victory of the British Eighth Army at El Alamain. In a series of letters to Ulick O’Connor, he describes the detailed strategy for the battle and gives a fascinating record of how he came into conflict with the British politicians as well as descriptions of Ernest Hemingway, with whom Dorman-Smith had a close friendship.

The portion of the collection which deals with Ulick O’Connor’s correspondence provides an insight into the range of Ulick O’Connor’s interests. There are signed letters from Nelson Algren, Compton MacKenzie, Samuel Beckett, Thornton Wilder, and Sarah Churchill, amongst others. Ulick O’Connor has been a columnist for the Sunday Times (London) and the Sunday Mirror (London) and his interest in political affairs is reflected in these letters. There are detailed documents written to Paul O’Dwyer, president of the New York City Council, and to John Hume, leader of the Northern Ireland Social and Democratic Labour Party, outlining the course of political affairs in Northern Ireland over the six years and which provide a valuable historical insight. Also, there are personally addressed letters from presidents of Ireland, a chief justice and a former prime minister, all of which give an idea of the breadth of Ulick O’Connor’s correspondents. Christy Brown, the author of Down All The Days (who became famous for writing with his left foot because of his physical disabilities) sent Ulick O’Connor a personally signed poem when he heard he had broken his jaw. The letter section at the end of the Correspondence portion of the archive demonstrates that the habit of writing letters, even in a small city like Dublin, thrived among writers. The correspondence between Ulick O’Connor and Monk Gibbon, as well as Ulick O’Connor and Micheál Mac Liammóir is especially interesting.

Regarding the actor side of Ulick O’Connor’s career, he has presented his one-man show on Brendan Behan at The Abbey Theatre, directed by Tony Award-winning Tomas MacAnna. He has also played a two-man show with Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill. The material related to these shows is included here.

Ulick O’Connor was a drama critic for The Times (London) between 1954 and 1970, and his notices of important dramatic events between these years form part of the archives.

As far as possible, throughout this catalogue, material which is handwritten is described [as autographed]. This also holds for the length of items included.

The literary quality of the archives, the breadth and scope of Ulick O’Connor’s interests make this a rare and valuable collection.

Note: The majority of the correspondence written by Ulick O'Connor consists of copies of typed letters (not signed).


  • Creation: 1904-1976
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960-1974


Language of Materials

Majority of materials in English. There are also items in various other languages.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S.Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Irish biographer, poet, playwright and journalist Ulick O’Connor was born in 1929 in Rathgar, a Dublin suburb. As a young man, Ulick O’Connor was a champion athlete, winning awards in boxing and the pole vault.

O’Connor received a B. A. from the National University of Ireland, a Barrister-in-Law from the King’s Inns (Dublin) and a Diploma in Dramatic Literature from Loyola University (New Orleans).

Ulick O’Connor has written that “[t]hough I practised at the Irish bar from 1951 to 1970 ... it had never occurred to me that I would be anything else but a writer.” While a barrister, O’Connor authored a 1963 biographical account of Irish writer and physician Oliver St. John Gogarty, which was published in the United States in 1964 asThe Times I've Seen: Oliver St. John Gogarty--A Biography.

O’Connor then edited The Joyce We Knew (1967), which gathered the recollections of individuals who knew Irish writer James Joyce well. O’Connor soon returned to biography, exploring the life of Irish playwright Brendan Behan, which was published in the United States as Brendan in 1971.

O’Connor wrote and acted in a one-man show Brendan Behan based on the playwright which was staged at the Abbey Theatre in 1971. O’Connor also wrote and performed an Oliver St. John Gogarty one-man show entitled The Last of the Bucks (1973) which was performed at the Dublin International Theatre Festival.

Additional O’Connor dramatic works include his three Noh plays, which reflected traditional Japanese theatre performance infused with Irish artistic culture. Two of the plays were staged at the Abbey Theatre in 1975.

Ulick O’Connor’s other published works include the poetry collection Life Styles: Poems with Nine Translations from the Irish of Brendan Behan (1973), Irish Liberation, a compilation edited by O’Connor (1974), and a collection of diary entries, The Ulick O’Connor Diaries, 1970-1981: A Cavalier Irishman (2001).

His journalism includes columns written for London’s Sunday Times and Sunday Mirror.

Ulick O’Connor resides in Rathgar, Ireland, in his boyhood home.


Ulick O’Connor.The Ulick O’Connor Diaries, 1970-1981: A Cavalier Irishman. London: John Murray, 2001, [Foreword by Richard Ingrams viii. – xi.] and [Author’s Preface xiii.]

"O'Connor, Ulick." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. (accessed April 13, 2007).

Biographical information derived from the collection.


7 linear foot (6 boxes)

Metadata Rights Declarations


This collection consists of material accumulated over a 25-year period by Ulick O’Connor: biographer, poet, playwright and journalist. O’Connor’s biographies of Brendan Behan and Oliver St. John Gogarty have been recognized internationally as definitive works. A large portion of the collection deals with materials for these books.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1977

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-6: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons

F13A-E: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize galleys

Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)

Processing Information

Originally arranged and described by Camilla McAleese in 1977; updated by Debra Johnson, February 2007. Encoded by Debra Johnson and Jaime Margalotti.

Finding aid for Ulick O'Connor papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2007 May 2
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA