When I still lived in Belfast Frank O’Brien would regularly ring me and in his deep baritone voice, introducing himself as Proinsias, expound at length on the problems confronting humanity. He had a keen interest in Ireland, having at one time served as head of Clan na Gael in Troy, Albany. He unfailingly referred to Ireland as "the old country". Back then, hope, being the last thing to die, led Frank to be eternally optimistic that Irish republicanism might yet prove successful in the North. He died realising it was a forlorn hope. There wasn’t a chance. The rot, the careerism, the strategic bankruptcy and ideological vacuity had combined to produce the most corrosive of effects. His energy was focussed on other things and in his writings the Irish conflict barely got a mention.
Frank died in October, a month before his 51st birthday. Despite a long illness, he concealed it from us so well that when I found out he had died it came wholly out of the blue. About year before he passed he began submitting material to TPQ. He was delighted that it was carried but also with the freedom that it gave him to promote his ideas. His most viewed piece was Imran Khan, Democracy & The Imperialist War On Terror, one of TPQ's most widely read. For that year he had been in touch with me frequently. His hope was that his writing on TPQ would find him more opportunities as a columnist or broadcaster. He so badly wanted to succeed as an alternative commentator, distrusting the main news agencies whom he incessantly railed against.
Yet for all his writing we only ever got a glimpse of the man behind the pen.
He was born in Troy on November 17, 1965 to Maryalice Healy O’Brien and the late Paul W. O’Brien. Frank was a graduate of Catholic Central High School and Hudson Valley Community College and attended SUNY Oswego and Albany. Before his illness, Frank was employed by Norstar Bank in Albany.
There was so much that he wrote about on TPQ, that we would be spoiled for choice were we to begin picking through them. He was a robust defender of Muslims against discrimination and racial profiling but he oversubscribed to the dubious concept of Islamophobia which has been used all too often to suppress discussion and rigorous scrutiny of the dangers of theocracy. He was strongly Catholic by faith and I felt his own religious convictions may have led him to feel that religious sentiment should be protected from offence, a suggestion that is anathema to me. However, my own atheism never seemed to put him put in the least. One of his Pakistani friends paid the following tribute to him on his death:
Rest in peace brother Frank O'Brien and I will miss you a lot. You remained an excellent inspiration and role model for me and you have infused spirit in my abilities to write. May Allah bless your soul an everlasting peace.
There was so much of his general analysis worldview that I could never find myself in agreement with, thinking that he veered too much towards a conspiratorial view of the world. Others, however, found his writing refreshing. There was general admiration for the passion with which he promoted his ideas.
TPQ was better for having his contribution and is impoverished by his absence.