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In Search of Author’s Resting Place

January 30th, 2021 · 1 Comment · Books

Grave of Patrick O’Brien, in Collioure, France; a fan has left a copy of a book.

One of my favorite authors is Patrick O’Brian, creator of the “Master and Commander” sailing series. All 20 books of it.

He was a bit of an eccentric who left his family before World War II, seemed to have a government job that perhaps pertained to military intelligence and who legally changed his name after the war — from Richard Patrick Russ, Englishman, to Patrick O’Brian, Irish-Catalan.

And, I found out recently, he lived 40 years in the south of France, only 90 or so miles from where we dwell now.

So, with some kindly weather finally making an appearance, we made the 90-minute drive south to Perpignan, taking the exit for the beach towns from there to the border with Spain.

And there we were, in a handsome little town named Collioure, wedged between the Mediterranean and the vine-covered hills, at the feet of the Pyrenees, a few miles from the Spanish border.

We also planned to find his grave, there in the town he called home for the final 40 years of his life.

Winter in France in 2021, a soupcon of sun and an urge to take a drive during a pandemic, just to get out of the house for a bit.

We got to Collioure in 90 minutes, and we easily found the town of 2,400 residents. It was early in the afternoon, and several cafes were operating through the doors of their places, since the government has banned indoor dining.

The place is tidy and scenic. We saw a movie crew working, with the town church in the background, and it is easy to see why movie makers would be drawn there.

After about a half hour, we took a break to find Patrick O’Brian’s final resting place. The cemetery is on the main business artery, and we figured the town must have grown significantly over the years, given that the cemetery has a prominent place near city hall.

Neither of us are graveyard enthusiasts, and we hoped O’Brian’s grave would be easy to find. It was not. No one was working at the cemetery, and we were left to shuffle along, staring at headstones. An internet site had posted a photo that indicated the grave was located between two others that rose much higher than O’Brian’s place, and that gave us hope. A clue.

About 30 minutes later, we had admitted to defeat … but another search of the keywords on the phone suggested O’Brian is buried in the new Collioure cemetery, up in the hills. It never occurred to me that the town would be big enough to warrant two cemeteries.

We drove up the hill, parked in front of the gate, and 25 yards later we had found our man.

We didn’t talk much about it, but it was interesting to consider that Patrick O’Brian had re-started his life in that town. For one, it is very much a tourist town, and it was a surprise that he would be in such a place. But, then, the town could have charged down the path of “summer escape” in the 20 years from his death in January of 2000.

His grave had two names on it, OBrian’s and that of his wife, Mary Tolstoy.

O’Brian’s final years were made uncomfortable when two media outlets dug into his background, noting the name change and other previously private actions.

The unspoken suggestion was that the intellectual medical man in his Aubrey-Matarin universe was meant to be Irish or Catalan or both — and O’Brian was at best one-quarter Irish and not Catalan at all, aside from living there, at Collioure.

It ultimately does not matter much, because his millions of readers will overlook eccentric behavior — as long as his books remain available.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Rob Stevenson // Feb 24, 2024 at 6:32 AM

    I also love this author’s books and plan a visit to see where he lived and his grave site this May, 2024. If you have any travel tips I’d appreciate them. Thank you for writing about his wonderful author,

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