It was with great sadness that I heard of the sudden death of my friend and publisher of more than 33 years Michael O’Brien on Sunday 31st July 2022. A giant in Irish Publishing, his death is huge loss to the Irish Book World.
I first met Michael over 33 years ago when filled with nerves and trepidation I went to meet him in his office in Victoria Road, Rathgar to talk about my first book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ Sitting there surrounded by paintings and art he told me how much he loved the book and wanted to publish it. When I told him that I was huge bookworm and growing up and had loved all the books with chapter illustrations, he decided that ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ should have them too and went on to commission artist Donald Teskey to design the book cover and illustrations.
From the beginning I think we both realised that it was a very special book. He then asked me what my next book was about… I hadn’t the nerve to tell him I hadn’t thought of a next book yet, but blurted out about writing about the Irish in America…the little maids who worked in the big houses. He looked a bit surprised at the subject but ‘Wildflower Girl’ came next
So began a long and happy time working with Michael and my editor Ide ni Laoghaire and all the great team in O’Brien Press in Dublin. Michael took my books to the book fairs in Frankfort and Bologna and sold rights in translation across the globe in my work. He had a vision for Irish Children’s Books believing that a ‘good book’ will travel and deserves to reach young readers across the world.
Ide’s offices were in the garden of O’Brien Press and I just remember working there with her and Michael coming in to see how things were going. Every July Michael held a garden party for writers and staff, translators and agents, Michael in his straw hat greeting everyone and keeping the party going long after the sun went down. I always enjoyed spending time with him, whether it was at work or lunch or travelling for a book fair or event. He was always full of ideas and plans and campaigning to try to safe guard and grow Irish Childrens Writing and Publishing.
Over the past few months we were back working together again on ‘Fairy Hill,’ my new children’s book with Michael full of plans for it and getting a good cover! I find it so hard to believe he will not be there to see it in print.
However O’Brien Press is safe in the good hands of his sons Ivan and Eoin and the wonderful O’Brien Press Team. He will be terribly missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him.
My thoughts are with his family Svetlana, Ivan, Eoin, Dara and Ferdia, his grand- children and everyone in O’Brien Press at this time.
In Michael’s memory read a good book!
Celebrating 25 years since the publication of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ with Michael O’Brien and Dr Pat Donlon at Party held in Smock Alley.