Cremin, Cornelius (‘Con’) Christopher (1908–87), diplomat, was born 6 December 1908 in Kenmare, Co. Kerry, the son of Denis J. Cremin, draper, and Ann Cremin (née Singleton) from Tuam, Co. Galway. He was educated at the local national school and as a boarder at St Brendan's College, Killarney. He achieved first place in Ireland in leaving certificate Latin and second place in Greek. He entered UCC in 1926 after achieving first place in three entrance scholarships. Cremin was awarded a first class BA in classics in 1929 and a B.Comm. in 1931 with a first in economics and accountancy.
In 1931 he graduated MA with first class honours in ancient classics and was awarded a travelling studentship, which he spent (1932–4) in Greece, Rome, Munich, and Oxford, earning a diploma with distinction in classical archaeology (Oxford 1934) before entering the Department of External Affairs in 1935 as a third secretary along with Denis Devlin (qv) and William Warnock (qv). Cremin was ranked in first place in the entrance examinations. As a junior diplomat he assisted Frederick Boland (qv) in the League of Nations section of external affairs and is reputed to have taught Éamon de Valera (qv) ancient Greek.
He was first secretary of the Irish legation in France (1937–43), serving first in Paris and afterwards at Vichy. In 1943 he was appointed chargé d'affaires ad interim at Berlin (1943–5). When the Irish legation premises were destroyed in a bombing raid in November 1943, the legation was rehoused at Schloss Staffelde to the north-west of the German capital. British sources show that Cremin's reports to Dublin were being intercepted and decoded by the allies and in some cases were shown to Winston Churchill, including Cremin's report of the July 1944 plot against Hitler. When German defeat became inevitable, Cremin was ordered to move his office to the Swiss border; at Babenhausen he was the last foreign diplomat on the soil of the Third Reich.
After serving at the relatively less taxing post of chargé d'affaires ad interim at Lisbon (1945–6), Cremin returned to Iveagh House in Dublin at the rank of counsellor. In 1948 he was promoted to assistant secretary in the economic division. This division was of great importance during the immediate postwar years and during the Marshall plan. He was posted to Paris in March 1950 and appointed ambassador to France in September 1950. In his four years in Paris Cremin was head of the Irish delegation to the OEEC, where his experience in the economic division in Dublin stood to him; he was vice-chairman of council of the OEEC (1952–4).
In 1954 Cremin was posted to the Holy See as ambassador replacing Joseph Walshe (qv). His considerable economic and financial skills were somewhat wasted in this old-world posting. A move up the diplomatic ladder was a two-year posting as ambassador to Britain from 1956 to 1958. In 1958, at the relatively young age of 50, Cremin returned to Dublin as secretary of external affairs. He remained in charge of the department to 1963, years that coincided with Ireland's first application for membership of the EEC (1961) and the beginnings of the state's removal of tariff barriers and other impediments to trade. Where his predecessors Seán Nunan (qv) and Seán Murphy (qv) had limited knowledge of international economics and finance, Cremin was a technocrat very much in tune with the times. He returned to London as ambassador for two years (1963–4), a period that saw an improvement in Anglo–Irish relations.
With Frederick Boland's retirement in 1964, Cremin was appointed ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until 1974. Though Ireland's United Nations policy in these years noticeably lacked the zeal of the late 1950s, Cremin maintained the state's high profile in the work of the UN. The most important event of his posting was Ireland's attempt in the autumn of 1969 to have the violence in Northern Ireland raised on the agenda of the Security Council and afterwards at the General Assembly. He drafted the details of Ireland's appeal to the Security Council and worked on the address to be delivered by his minister, Patrick Hillery. Cremin worked hard to raise the Irish request, but was left in no doubt by members of the Security Council that Ireland would fail in its move. When Hillery spoke before the council in New York, Zambia proposed an adjournment after the Irish minister's speech and so no vote was taken; the situation in Northern Ireland was not inscribed on the Security Council's agenda. Ireland fared little better at the General Assembly: there would be no UN peacekeeping force in Northern Ireland or no censure of Britain. But the Irish government had succeeded in publicising events in Northern Ireland on the world stage, even if it was only for domestic consumption in Ireland.
Cremin held a number of important positions while at the United Nations. In 1968 he was elected president of the third food-pledging conference for the world food programme. The following year he was one of three envoys invited to join a special inquiry into alleged violations of human rights in Arab territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and he was unanimously elected (1971) the chairman of the special political committee of the assembly.
Known to be a stickler for detail, Cremin demanded that every document sent to him had to be dated. His penchant for detail could be a disadvantage; at times he seemed to lack a sense of perspective when establishing the relative significance of apparently similar items of business. When approached for leave by a junior diplomat who was feeling unwell, Cremin is reported to have replied: ‘some people do their best work when they are sick'. He was a fluent speaker of Irish, French and German and (with his background in classics) modern Greek. He also had good Italian and Spanish, all of which he spoke with a strong Kerry accent. Made a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1954, he was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Pius (1956), the German Grand Cross of Merit in 1960, and an honorary doctorate of law by the NUI in 1965.
Con Cremin retired on 7 February 1974. After retirement he continued to represent Ireland at international conferences. He was chairman of the Irish delegation to the law of the sea conference in Caracas from 1973 to 1979. He died at his home in Kenmare on 19 April 1987. He was buried in Old Kenmare Cemetery on 22 April 1987.
Con Cremin married first Patricia Josephine O'Mahony from Killarney (1935); they had four children: Ann, Aedeen, Creeda, and David. After the death of his first wife, he married (1974) Dr Mary Eta Murphy of Bere Island. He was a brother of Monsignor P. F. Cremin (1910–2001), DD, professor of moral theology and canon law at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.