Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

About Bruce Arnold

Bruce Arnold is a writer and journalist. He has published twenty-three books and is former Chief Critic of the Irish Independent, writing about art, theatre, music and politics. He was born in London, educated in the Cotswolds and then went to university in Dublin, reading Modern Languages. He is a Fellow of Trinity College. In 2003 he was made an Officer of the British Empire; the honour, bestowed by Queen Elizabeth, was for services to journalism and to Anglo-Irish relations. He earned a Doctorate of Letters from University College, Dublin, part of the National University of Ireland. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an honorary academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

He is the author of twenty-three books. His first was A Concise History of Irish Art, published by Thames and Hudson in 1969 and still in print. The latest translation of the book was into Japanese. It was the first, and is the only comprehensive outline of Irish art, from prehistoric artefacts to the present day.

He published Orpen: Mirror to an Age (a Life of the Anglo-Irish portrait painter) in 1981. This book is now out of print. Extracts from it are included on the website. In 1991 the original biography was followed by William Orpen, a short illustrated life of the artist (Town House Publishing, 1991).

What Kind of Country, which is an account of Irish political life, 1968-1983 (published in 1984), was the first of several political books that grew out of the author’s direct involvement in political journalism and in the coverage of crisis events during the late 1960s and the 1970s, at the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which had serious consequences on British political life and on the Republic of Ireland. It was for his writing at this time and later that he was awarded the OBE.

Margaret Thatcher: A Study in Power; (Hamish Hamilton, 1984), was a critical assessment of the British Prime Minister’s handling of a number of key political issues, among them the Falklands War which was responsible for her recovery of popularity from an all-time low for a British leader in early 1982. It led to her election victory the following year, cementing her in power for the rest of the decade.

He produced An Art Atlas of Britain and Ireland. This book, published by (Viking Penguin in association with the National Trust in March of 1991) was the first of its kind – a descriptive atlas and gazetteer covering all the main public art collections in the British Isles, together with a history of their origins and development. Some of the material from this book is part of this website.

The Scandal of Ulysses, the story of James Joyce's novel, from 1907 to 1992, was published in London on June 17, 2023 (Sinclair Stevenson) and the following year, on June 16, by the St Martin's Press, New York; it appeared in paperback in the United States in June, 1993. It is the definitive account of the printing, publishing and copyright vicissitudes of a major twentieth-century masterpiece. An extensively revised edition was published in 2004, the centenary of ‘Bloomsday’ the mythical occasion in June 1904 on which the events in the lives of Leopold and Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus take place.

He published Mainie Jellett and the Modern Movement in Ireland in the autumn of 1991, with Yale University Press. The book is an account of the life and work of the Irish Cubist abstract painter. The book was published by Yale University Press in the United States in March, 1992 and was awarded the American Conference for Irish Studies Prize the following year.

Haughey: His Life and Unlucky Deeds [a political life of the former Irish prime minister] was published in May 1993 and in paperback the following year. After many revelations about his personal finances, a substantially revised account of his Life was published in 2006 containing details of his financial affairs.

The authorized biography of the Irish artist, Jack Yeats appeared in 1998. Jack Yeats was published in September of that year, by Yale University Press. It was the first book to deal critically with Yeats’s technique as a painter and with his relationship with his brother, W.B. Yeats the poet.

He published in 1999 a Life of Jonathan Swift. This was another ‘first’. It investigates, as far as is possible, the paradox of Swift’s close and loving relationships with two women, reaffirming the theory, with additional material, that Swift was a blood relation of Hester Johnson – the ‘Stella’ of ‘Journal to Stella’ and that he was in love with Esther Vanhomrigh, known as Vanessa and written about in his longest poem, ‘Cadenus and Vanessa’.

In 2001 he published Jack Lynch: Hero in Crisis, a life of the most popular political leader in Ireland in the twentieth century. The book clears up a number of questions about Lynch’s political character, his courage under stress and his unique charm as a man.

The Spire and Other Essays in Irish Culture appeared in 2003. This first collection of essays covers all aspects of his writing.

His four novels [all Hamish Hamilton] were published between 1978 and 1984: A Singer at the Wedding, The Song of the Nightingale, The Muted Swan and Running to Paradise. All of these republished in paperback [Abacus] in 1991. In 2008 a memoir, based on the original material used in the sequence of novels, is published. Its title is He That Is Down Need Fear No Fall.

He published in April 2009 The Fight for Democracy: The Libertas Voice in Europe. This is a book of interviews with Libertas leader, Declan Ganley. It was followed in June by The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children. This is an account of the Industrial School and Reformatory School system in Ireland and of the State programme of recompense and reconciliation initiated by Bertie Ahern in 1999. A third book, a biography of the painter, Derek Hill, is to be published in October 2009.

He has made five films on literary and artistic subjects: The Scandal of Ulysses, and Images of Joyce are both about the Irish writer as is a later film, The Trials of Ulysses. His film, To Make It Live: Mainie Jellett 1897-1944, is a study of Ireland's leading painter of abstract works, and William Orpen, Portrait Painter, was made in association with Radio Telefis Eireann, and is a study of the Irish portrait painter and First World War artist.

In 1995, he collaborated, as librettist, with the Irish composer, James Wilson, in an opera, A Passionate Man, about the love between Swift and Vanessa, set in London during the period of Swift's involvement with the Robert Harley administration. The opera was performed publicly, under the conductor, Colman Pearce, for four nights, June 21-24, in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin.

He has been a journalist for Irish newspapers and publications, as well as working for radio and television, since he graduated from Dublin University. He joined The Irish Times in November 1961 and throughout the sixties he worked as a journalist in Dublin. Until 1965 he was on the staff, but then became freelance, and worked for a number of newspapers, including The Irish Times, The Irish Press, The Sunday Independent and Hibernia National Review. He was Editor of The Dubliner, a literary magazine. From 1962 to 1968 was correspondent for The Guardian, as well as writing widely for other newspapers, journals and magazines in Britain. In 1972 he joined the Irish Independent as Political Commentator and Parliamentary Correspondent, and wrote on politics throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, twice winning an award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. In 1986 he became London Editor of the Irish Independent, and the following year returned to Dublin as Literary Editor of the same newspaper.

He wrote two weekly columns for the Irish Independent. The first of these was an Arts Column, the second was his regular Political Column which began in 1973.