Fintan O'Toole

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Fintan O'Toole (born 16 February 1958) is an Irish polemicist, literary editor, journalist and drama critic for The Irish Times,[1] for which he has written since 1988. O'Toole was drama critic for the New York Daily News from 1997 to 2001 and is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. He is also an author, literary critic, historical writer and political commentator.

O'Toole was born in Dublin, grew up in a working-class family and was educated at University College Dublin. In 2011, he was named by The Observer as one of "Britain's top 300 intellectuals", although he does not live in the UK.[2] In 2012 and 2013 O'Toole was a visiting lecturer in Irish letters at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey and contributed to the Fund for Irish Studies Series.[3][4]

Early life and education

O'Toole was born in Dublin[1] and was educated at Scoil Íosagáin and Coláiste Chaoimhín in Crumlin (both run by the Christian Brothers) and at University College Dublin. He graduated from the university in 1978 with a BA in English and Philosophy.[5][6]


Soon after graduation, he became drama critic of In Dublin magazine in 1980. He joined the Sunday Tribune on its relaunch by Vincent Browne in 1983, and worked as its drama critic, literary editor, arts editor, and feature writer. From 1986 to 1987 he edited Magill magazine.

Fintan O'Toole in 2010
Fintan O'Toole in 2010

He joined The Irish Times as a columnist in 1988 and his columns have appeared twice-weekly ever since. He took a sabbatical in 1990–1991 to work as literary adviser to the Abbey Theatre. In 1994 he was one of the presenters for the last season of BBC TV's The Late Show. From 1997 to 2001 he was drama critic of the Daily News in New York. In 2011, he was appointed as literary editor of The Irish Times. He also has published articles regularly in the New York Review of Books, and The Guardian.[7][non-primary source needed]

In 2017 he was commissioned by Faber and Faber to write the official biography of Seamus Heaney. O'Toole said of the process that his “one terror is that [Heaney's] favourite communication mode was the fax, and faxes fade."[8]

In 2018, he was awarded the UCD Alumni Award in Arts & Humanities.[6]


O'Toole has criticised what he sees as negative attitudes toward immigration in Ireland, the state of Ireland's public services, growing inequality during Ireland's economic boom,[9][non-primary source needed] the Iraq War, and the U.S. military's use of Shannon Airport, among many other issues. In 2006, he spent six months reporting for The Irish Times in China.[10]

His former editor, Geraldine Kennedy, was paid more than the editor of the UK's top non-tabloid newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, which has a circulation about nine times that of The Irish Times. Later, O'Toole told a rival Irish paper, the Sunday Independent:

We as a paper are not shy of preaching about corporate pay and fat cats but with this, there is a sense of excess. Some of the sums mentioned are disturbing. This is not an attack on Ms Kennedy, it is an attack on the executive level of pay. There is double-standard of seeking more job cuts while paying these vast salaries.[11]

In June 2012, O'Toole compared the Irish Constitutional Convention to the American Citizens Union, a reformist political organisation that the New York City political machine Tammany Hall did not bother suppressing so long as it did not threaten its hegemony.[12]

In August 2019, after the selection of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, O'Toole proposed to get Parliament to back an alternative Cabinet who would push back the October deadline for Brexit to allow a trade deal to be negotiated. The proposal required seven Sinn Féin MPs in northern Irish border constituencies to resign in favour of a pact between the four largest anti-Brexit parties in Ireland, thereby triggering by-elections at a certain date in mid-September. O’Toole believed they would result in a more hardline anti-Brexit parliamentary faction that would make a stronger case for a no-confidence vote in Johnson.[13][non-primary source needed] The proposal received sharp criticism from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who claimed the existing anti-Brexit factions in Parliament were strong enough without the party making too many policy concessions.[14][non-primary source needed]

A 26 June 2018 column in The Irish Times by O'Toole examined how the Trump administration's policies, as well as public-facing communications concerning immigration and asylum-seekers from Mexico, might be deliberately calculated to bring elements of fascism to the world's leading democracy.[15][non-primary source needed] An April 2020 column in The Irish Times asserted that the destruction of the public image and reputation of the United States by Donald Trump culminated with his bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis,[16][non-primary source needed] and that subsequently pity was the only appropriate feeling for the American people, the majority of whom had not voted for him.

Selected publications


  • The Politics of Magic: the Work and Times of Tom Murphy. 1987.
  • A Mass for Jesse James: A Journey Through 1980s Ireland, 1990
  • Black Hole, Green Card: The Disappearance of Ireland, 1994
  • Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: The Politics of Irish Beef, 1994
  • Macbeth & Hamlet, 1995
  • A Traitor’s Kiss: The Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1997
  • The Ex-Isle of Ireland: Images of a Global Ireland, 1997
  • The Lie of the Land, 1998
  • The Irish Times Book of the Century, 1999
  • Shakespeare is Hard But So is Life, 2002
  • Contributor, Granta 77: What We Think of America, 2002
  • "Jubilee", Granta 79: Celebrity, 2002
  • After The Ball, 2003
  • Post Washington: Why America Can't Rule the World, 2005 (with Tony Kinsella)
  • White Savage: William Johnson and the Invention of America, 2005
  • The Irish Times Book of The 1916 Rising, 2006 (with Shane Hegarty)
  • Ship of Fools, How Stupidity And Corruption Sank The Celtic Tiger, 2009
  • Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic, 2010
  • Up the Republic!: Towards a New Ireland (editor), 2012
  • A History of Ireland in 100 Objects, 2013
  • Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks, 2016
  • Judging Shaw, 2017
  • Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, 2018
  • The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism, 2019
  • We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958, 2021



  • 1993 AT Cross Award for Supreme Contribution to Irish Journalism
  • 1994 Justice Award of the Incorporated Law Society
  • 2000 Millennium Social Inclusion Award
  • 2012 TV3 Tonight Show Journalist of the Year
  • 2013 Irish Book Awards (Best Irish Published Book of the Year), A History of Ireland in 100 Objects[17]
  • 2014 GALA Journalist/Broadcaster Award
  • 2014 Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Letters for services to broadcasting by Queen's University Belfast[18]
  • 2017 European Press Prize (Commentator Award)[19]
  • 2017 Orwell Prize for Journalism
  • 2017 Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Laws by NUI Galway[20]
  • 2017 NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards Broadsheet Columnist of the Year
  • 2018 NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards Broadsheet Columnist of the Year
  • 2019 Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Letters by Trinity College Dublin[21]
  • 2020 NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards Broadsheet Columnist of the Year
  • 2020 Member of the Royal Irish Academy[22]
  • 2021 Irish Book Awards (Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year) for We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958[23][24]


  1. ^ a b "Fintan O'Toole – Personally Speaking Bureau". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  2. ^ Naughton, John. "Britain's top 300 intellectuals". 8 May 2011. The Observer.
  3. ^ "Fintan O'Toole, Lewis Center for the Arts". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Theater critic O'Toole to give Robert Fagles Memorial Lecture". News. 2 April 2015. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  5. ^ McCarthy, John-Paul. "2003 interview with Fintan O'Toole". The Science and Art of Communications. Penhire. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  6. ^ a b "FINTAN O'TOOLE". UCD Alumni Awards. Retrieved 3 September 2022.
  7. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (19 June 2016). "Brexit is being driven by English nationalism. And it will end in self-rule (Opinion)". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  8. ^ Flood, Alison (14 November 2017). "Seamus Heaney's biographer races to see poet's faxes before they fade". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  9. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (3 August 2020). "Inequity the bedrock of McDowell's 'Republic'". The Irish Times.
  10. ^ "The Corporate Media – Part 1, interview with Fintan O'Toole". Archived from the original on 14 May 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
  11. ^ Byrne, Ciaran (7 August 2005). "Irish Times staff revolt at editor and directors' 'indefensible' salaries"". Irish Independent.
  12. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (26 June 2012). "Tammany Hall lives on in feeble reforms". The Irish Times. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  13. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (2 August 2019). "Ireland can stop a no-deal Brexit. Here's how". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  14. ^ McDonald, Mary Lou (6 August 2019). "Fintan O'Toole wrong to say SF can block hard Brexit". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  15. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (26 June 2018). "Fintan O'Toole: Trial runs for fascism are in full flow". The Irish Times.
  16. ^ O'Toole, Fintan, Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again, The Irish Times, April 25, 2020
  17. ^ Mackin, Lawrence (27 November 2013). "Roddy Doyle's 'The Guts' named novel of the year". The Irish Times.
  18. ^ "Katie Melua, Dermot Desmond and Ciarán Hinds receive Hononary Degrees from Queen's". Development & Alumini Relations Office.
  19. ^ "Winners European Press Prize 2017 – European Press Prize". European Press Prize. 20 April 2017. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  20. ^ "NUI Galway Honorary Degrees Conferring Ceremony". NUI Galway. 9 June 2017. Archived from the original on 19 October 2017.
  21. ^ "Honorary Degrees 2019". Trinity News and Events. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  22. ^ "29 New Members Admitted". Royal Irish Academy. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  23. ^ "The best of the best! Irish Book Awards 2021 winners revealed". 29 November 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  24. ^ Doyle, Martin (8 December 2021). "An Post Irish Book of the Year 2021: Fintan O'Toole's personal history of Ireland wins award". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 December 2021.

External links