Cross, Eric (1903/5–1980), writer and broadcaster, was born in Newry, Co. Down, the only child of James Cross, a British civil servant and catholic. Educated in the north of England, he studied medicine at Manchester University for six months before moving to London to study chemistry. After graduation he wrote a chemistry textbook and worked as a researcher for fifteen years for various biochemical companies; according to the writer Benedict Kiely (d.2007), Cross found himself working on methods of warfare for a large corporation and decided to become a writer instead. In 1936 he moved to Ireland, which he knew well from holidays. After living briefly in Dublin, he allegedly bought a horse and caravan and took six weeks to reach Gougane Barra, Co. Cork, where he settled in his caravan, using a hotel opposite St Finbarr's Retreat for meals, and immersing himself in the life of the local community.
He was particularly struck by the local seanchaí and retired tailor, Tim Buckley (qv) and his wife Anastasia (1872–1947), whom he had first met in the 1920s. It is likely that he moved to Gougane Barra expressly to be near this colourful couple, who had a following among Ireland's writers and artists. He began recording his impressions and the conversations of ‘the Tailor and Ansty’ (as they were invariably called), in articles which he submitted to The Bell in 1941. The following year he expanded these articles into a book, The Tailor and Ansty (1942) which was enthusiastically reviewed by – among other publications – the Irish Independent (29 August 1942), which described Cross as ‘a smallish, leanish young man, with blue eyes and a mop of fair wavy hair, invariably wearing flannels and a high-necked pullover underneath his sports jacket’. The writer Frank O'Connor (qv) regarded the Tailor as a rural Dr Johnson and was delighted that he had found his Boswell. However, the book was first denounced by the catholic dean of Cork – who called Cross a freemason – and then banned by the censorship board on 28 September 1942 as being ‘in its general tendency indecent’. This presumably referred to the uninhibited references by the Tailor and Ansty to animal reproduction.
On 18 November 1942 Sir John Keane (qv) tabled a motion in the seanad, condemning the censorship board for its action. Passages from Cross's book, which Keane quoted in the debate, were excised from the seanad's official report on the direction of the cathaoirleach. With the liberalisation of the Irish censorship law, The Tailor and Ansty was the first book to have its ban rescinded and was adapted for the Peacock stage by P. J. O'Connor for the 1968 Dublin theatre festival. His play has since been revived on numerous occasions, most recently in 2007.
Cross's achievement in capturing the Tailor was compared by Sean O'Faolain (qv) to classics of Irish rural literature, The islandman and Twenty years a-growing, but Vivian Mercier (qv) in the Dublin Magazine (1943) found the book repetitious and occasionally tiresome. It has received little recent critical attention.
A polymath, Cross devised a way of giving turf the durability of coal, formulated a new mineral-like substance resembling marble, called ‘magnastone’, and devised and had published his Map of time (1968), showing Ireland and world history from AD 400. During the second world war he discovered a way of making knitting needles from bicycle spokes, and platform shoes from the rejected bungs of Beamish porter barrels. In 1953 he moved to Cloona Lodge, near Westport, Co. Mayo, to teach the children of Joseph and Sonia Kelly. There he remained in virtual seclusion, in later years writing over 200 talks for RTÉ's radio programme ‘Sunday miscellany’ and short stories for the BBC. In 1978 Silence is golden, an uneven, occasionally charming collection of whimsical folk stories was published. Unmarried, he died 5 September 1980.