George O'Brien was born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. He is an award-winning Irish memoirist, writer, and academic.
O'Brien was raised by his paternal grandmother in Lismore, County Waterford after his mother died. He was educated at St. Augustine College, in Dungarvan. In 1962, he moved to Dublin to live with his father and stepmother. He graduated as an electronic engineer from the College of Technology in Dublin and worked as an apprentice photographer. He moved to London where he worked as a barman, clerk, and encyclopaedia salesman. He continued his education at Ruskin College, Oxford in 1968, then moved to Warwick University in 1970 where he graduated with a BA in English and American Literature in 1973, and earned a PhD in 1980.
O'Brien taught at the University of Birmingham (1974) and at Clare College, Cambridge (1975), then lectured at Warwick University (1976-1980). He crossed the Atlantic where he was visiting assistant professor at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie (1980-1984), and then became associate professor, then professor of English at Georgetown University in Washington (1984-present).