- 02 Aug 22
The sad news was announced today of the death of the pioneering Irish book publisher, Michael O'Brien, of The O'Brien Press. President Michael D. Higgins is among those who paid generous tribute to a man who helped to transform Irish publishing...
Hot Press is greatly saddened to hear news of the sudden death of Michael O’Brien.
Michael was the founder of the O’Brien Press – one of the leading lights of publishing in Ireland for many decades now. Michael enjoyed a warm relationship with Hot Press over the years – something that was always valued at the magazine.
The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, was among those who paid handsome tribute to a man who was credited with helping to transform Irish publishing.
“News of the death of Michael O’Brien of the O’Brien Press will have been received with great sadness by all of those who love books, writing and the world of publishing,” President Higgins said.
"Michael O’Brien was a pioneering, brave and encouraging publisher. His work alone in relation to the publication of children’s books was a significant contribution.
"He understood the great challenges that were there to the intrusion of the market in the world of publishing. I recall meeting him, as with others as Representative of Irish Publishers, in relation to the fixed price of the book and the importance of the cultural exception.
"He had a deep love of Dublin and its people which was reflected in his publication choices. He was rightly proud of the tradition that he and his father shared.”
The President went on to speak warmly of O’Brien senior – Michael's father, Tom.
"Tom O’Brien, his father, whose life is described in Strong Words, Brave Deeds, was one of those who went from Ireland to fight for the Spanish Republic as part of the International Brigade,” President Higgins said admiringly.
He also spoke of the importance of Michael’s contribution to Irish writing.
"There are many writers whose talent was first recognised by Michael O’Brien,” he said. “Not only those but all those interested in the world of literature will recall as I do his warmth, kindness and encouragement. At our last meeting, when he visited the Áras, we discussed the 1930s.
"He will be missed by so many. Sabina joins with me in sending our deep condolences to Michael’s wife Svetlana, his children Ivan, Eoin, Dara and Ferdia, his grandchildren and his wider family and his many, many friends.”
Thomas was involved with Michael in the original establishment of The O’Brien Press, in 1974.
The first book published by The O’Brien Press was Me Jewel and Darlin' Dublin by Éamonn MacThomáis. From there, the company went on to become a prolific publisher of adult fiction, children’s fiction and non-fiction titles. The O’Brien Press was the first company to publish the renowned children’s writer Eoin Colfer.
The company also published Marita Conlon-McKenna's celebrated Under the Hawthorn Tree.
"His bravery and willingness to take real risks and follow his instincts was always so impressive,” Ivan O’Brien told RTÉ. "He built a fantastic team of creative and highly-skilled people at O’Brien Press – predominantly women from its earliest beginnings – which was a testament to his unwavering belief that talent will deliver.
"Michael believed in telling great stories, in equality and tolerance and in Ireland's place in the world. He challenged everything, but also built so many things and committed his time and energy to national and international organisations because it was the right thing to do.
"We will take this legacy and do our best to maintain and build on it."
The founder of The Lilliput Press, Antony Farrell, described Michael O'Brien as a titan of Irish publishing.
"Warm, ebullient and charismatic," Farrell said, "his cyclonic energy transformed our world, seeding the arid landscape of the late 1970s and 80s and beyond with his roster of authors and publications.
"His was the heart of Dublin letters, and its legacy beats on through his son and successor Ivan."
In a statement, the O'Brien Press said it will "continue Michael O'Brien’s legacy: to pursue a policy of excellence, diversity, cultural independence and ground-breaking publishing for adults and children in the years to come."
Whether as a fellow publisher or as editor of Hot PressHot Press it was always a pleasure to know that Michael was on the line. He loved talking about books and was willing, at the drop of a hat, to share the wisdom that he had accumulated over the years. We had in common that there was a real challenge in trying to make publishing businesses work in what, in truth, is a very small market. But Michael was rightly proud of the fact that his son Ivan had become the MD at The O’Brien Press, and succeeded in taking the business on to new heights.