Eminent peace studies campaigner spent the last, and best, year of his life in Hackney

James O'Connell

James O'Connell - Credit: Archant

A missionary who became the head of peace studies at Bradford University has passed away, aged 87.

James O'Connell

James O'Connell - Credit: Archant

During his 15 years heading the department until 1993, Professor James O’Connell, of Hackney, saw it treble in size and establish a worldwide reputation, and he became a frequent television and radio contributor on issues of international conflict resolution.

Prof O’Connell was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1952 and joined the Society of African Missions. After studying in Belgium, he spent 18 years in Nigeria.

Although he left the priesthood in 1973 he remained there as professor of government at Ahmadu Bello University.

But by playing a significant role in redrawing the Nigerian constitution in the aftermath of the Biafran war in the late 1960s, he fell foul of some leading political figures and in 1975 was deported at 24 hours’ notice.

Prof O’Connell who was born in Cork, moved from Yorkshire last year to Matchmakers Wharf, the old Lesney toy factory site, to be close to his family.

His daughter Dee said he “absolutely loved” Hackney.

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“He was in his element here, chatting to Nigerian people in Yoruba, telling Ghanaian jokes to people from Ghana, walking on the marshes, hanging out at Homerton library,” she said.

“He loved the diversity. He even got photographed with Sweettoof’s teeth at a High Roller Society exhibition.

“He said this last year in Hackney was one of the best of his life.”

His daughter Sheila added that his “kindness, intelligence and gentle Irish humour will be greatly missed”.

Prof O’Connell died peacefully in his sleep on September 8, having been diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer just three weeks before.

He is survived by his wife Rosemary, his daughters Sanjida, Sheila and Dee, his son Patrick and three granddaughters.

Online memorial and donations pages at: www.justgiving.com/jamesmoconnell.