In the name of the father, and of his son, and of this belated post: melchy’s Ireland trip

“I am always going to fly on Saturdays from now on,” spits my sixty-something neighbour from Maccabim – taking a breather from “my son with the start-up” – on our EasyJet flight from Luton. “It is just so much nicer without the ‘penguins’.”

He uses the word, as so many secular Ashkenazi Israelis do, to describe the charedim (ultra-Orthodox) who so get under their skin. And following a delightfully good-willed twelve days in Ireland – where the only Hebrew I heard was “Nishma metzuyan, nishma Orange” (sounds excellent, sounds like Orange) – I know that I am back in the bosom (and not the ones I like) of our very own sectarians.

I had flown in and out of Kerry Airport (so tiny that, on arrival, I walked straight through baggage reclaim [i.e., without my bag] without realizing what it was) on the Emerald Isle’s west coast, and driven over 1300 (hooting-free) miles in a whistle-stop, largely coastal, tour (clockwise) of the land of my father.

“Will you have a pint?” the landlord enquires of the guy sitting next to me, on my very first evening, in the pub in Dingle. “Oh I think I’ll chance one,” comes the Normlike reply. And Ireland and I don’t look back.

Thumbs up from Fergal (Lynch's Bar, Miltown Malbay)

The Irish are simple (not a pejorative in my book), guileless, cheerful, uncomplaining, content. And we Israelis – Jews even – could learn a lot from them. They are also extremely personable and welcoming (in a way that the English most definitely are not: a similar tour, by an openly Semitic stranger, of towns and pubs across Blighty would likely end in a local infirmary). And my father often recalled how spectators would shout “Take the ball from the Jew boy,” when his brother was playing top flight football in Ireland, without it ever coming across as even remotely threatening.

There is also a wonderful, unique naivety about the Irish, which – while I can understand my father’s weariness of the Irish joke, portraying its subjects as something less than bright – I would always take over cynicism (except, of course, my own). The following are a selection of Oirishisms encountered during my 12-day stay . . .

  • First up, the old dear in Listowel (County Clare), who, upon hearing my accent, draws closer to whisper (in spite of there being no one within 50 yards) “We had to leave Birmingham. Too many blacks.” Though she doesn’t appear to see any irony in gushing, not thirty seconds later, “Oooh, it was lovely having Obama here!”
  • Then there is the driver, in Sligo, who, responding to my request for directions to Donegal, says “Follow me till I go through the last set of lights.” (“Oh yes” is all he can reply, with a sheepish grin, when I enquire how I am to know which are to be his last.)
  • There is the HSBC staff member in Derry/Londonderry (depending on your denomination), who – in the process of trying to get me to open a new type of account (though not, it would seem, wanting me to hang around for long enough to hear of its benefits) – informs me, in response to my query about the Troubles, and without a hint of mischief, that “The Real IRA are mainly targeting banks these days.”
  • And the estate agent in Dingle (I spend my last day there, too) who tells me “There are two tiers of stamp duty in Ireland: up to one million Euros, one percent; and, over one million Euros, one percent.” (“You’d better see a solicitor,” he replies, flustered, when I point out that this is really only one tier.)

The most interesting and memorable (and, on its coastline, scenic) leg of my trip is in the north. There is no need for a border between Counties Donegal and Derry, or even a sign welcoming you to Northern Ireland (there is neither), because one immediately knows, from one street to the next – because of the traffic lights, the road signs, and the architecture – that one is back in the UK. And I can’t wait to get my teeth into the conflict that permeated my childhood and youth . . .

I am not the slightest bit concerned about getting into difficulties: to Loyalists/Unionists, I will be an Israeli (if not a Jew), and to Republicans, the cousin of a high-profile IRA lawyer. And, reminding myself of the intrepid reporter that I once was (cf. tepid solicitor I now am), I throw myself in headlong: walking up Sandy Row on my first morning in Belfast, and playing Louis Theroux dumb, I ask a vendor of Marching Season accessories and regalia whether Catholics visit the street: “You know what they say,” came the gleeful reply, “Sandy Row, where the Fenians don’t go!”

Next is the Catholic Falls Road, where I am immediately ‘greeted’ by the sight of a Palestinian flag (right) flying proudly from its mast; and, a mere few hundred yards further, the Protestant Shankill Road, which flies Israeli flags in counter provocation (though, judging from the folk I speak to on both sides, neither has a clue about the conflict here). I hear shocking tales on both streets, which – as a result of the Good Friday Agreement – are walked daily by cold-blooded killers.

Indeed, never have I been as comforted by the sight of a rabbi as I am, that evening, at Shabbos dinner. And Rabbi Brackman’s ‘extremism’ – ‘making’ me repeat my (I thought convincingly drawn out) Shemoneh Esrei after I confess, under questioning, to having forgotten it was Rosh Chodesh – appears rather less so following the madness of earlier in the day. Nonetheless, I resist the inevitable invitation to shul the following morning, having already booked a Republican walking tour of the Falls Road and its environs. It is not a close call.

“I spent 16 years in jail for the attempted murder of an RUC officer,” commences Peadar Whelan, our guide. And, when I enquire (Theroux-style again) whether he had, indeed, tried to kill the man, it becomes clear that Peadar’s convictions have not mellowed with time: “He was an RUC man” is all he replies, with a hint of a glare (which, in my first encounter with a man who has attempted murder, I choose to interpret as a contact lens issue rather than a sign of menace). I don’t push it.

Over a Guinness (right) at the end of the tour, in the Felons Club – established “to foster and maintain among Irish Republicans friendships formed during imprisonment or internment as a result of their service to the Irish Republican cause” (see the memorial to the 1981 hunger strikers in the background, with Bobby Sands at its head) – I attempt to enlighten Peadar as to the Israeli side of our own troubles . . . though, with a man who professes to seeing “no difference” between Bin Laden and Bush-and-Blair (not to mention Bibi), that is always going to be a toughie.

I move on to Dublin, its Dolphins Barn cemetery (the Isaacson Bushey), Jewish Museum, and – most anticipated of all – to 97 South Circular Road, the childhood home of my father. And, having had the chutzpah to cold call (and on a Sunday morning), Ollie and Tim could not be more welcoming: they allow me to photograph the entire house, and even show an interest in my inherited stories of Dublin’s “little Jerusalem”.

Unfortunately, however, I have the wrong house: on visiting my father’s brother in London, later in the week, he informs me that the family home had, rather, been on the other side of the road (the houses having been renumbered over the years). Sincerest apologies, Ollie and Tim . . . though my offer of B&C (bed and canine) in Tel Aviv still holds good (and see June’s Mensch[es] of the Month!)

I spend my last days in Ireland enjoying the green land and its folk (and earmark Kinsale, County Cork, as the place that I may, one day, choose as my retreat in Civilisation). And, on my last evening, I peruse the young audience at the Dingle Tuesday Evening Cinema Club, and marvel how – rather than noisily sighing and tzutzing (as a Tel Aviv audience undoubtedly would) – they, without so much as a snigger or a smirk, respect the nonagenarian chairman’s ridiculous verbatim reading of a lengthy newspaper review of the upcoming “fil-em”.

“Whatever happened to our simplicity?” I wonder. We must have had some. Once.

Sophistication is not, in itself, a necessary good. And my short stay in Ireland makes me think about all the ‘sophisticates’ with whom I have surrounded myself in Tel Aviv . . . and wish I hadn’t.

Shyness is nice,” once wrote the greatest living Manc.

So, too, is simple.

Atop the Healy Pass, on the County Cork/Kerry border

http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/

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25 responses to “In the name of the father, and of his son, and of this belated post: melchy’s Ireland trip

  1. You could have played cricket for Ireland (and me for Argentina) but sadly as time and generations pass, links are lost with the past. Which is why i think this was a great trip that you did. Love the bit about the house re-numbering .. only in Ireland!

  2. Great travel notes & I just love the MM humour ….

  3. I could hardly play Jewish league, Ellis! And thank you for the compliment, Jeremiah. When are you coming to visit? Rothschild misses you!

    And, to all readers, I have just posted the following . . .

    http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/

    Take this opportunity to secure the z’chus of being top of my donors’ list: it’s the equivalent of “Platinum Page” in a charity brochure!

  4. naomi (munk) samuel

    So what do we prefer? Highlands or Ireland?

  5. A toughie, Naomi! You were right, that the Irish scenery is not nearly as dramatic as that of the West Highlands and Islands. But the Irish are friendlier (not that the Scots are unfriendly) and the Troubles, too, add a bit of spice, which kind of balances things out.

    Without wishing to lower the tone of this blog with unseemly detail, your question is a bit like asking me to choose between two memorable, though physically contrasting, former girlfriends. Hope no one from Menoyrah is reading . . . 😉

  6. philip witriol

    Really enjoyed this piece although I suppose some Irish yoradim would have found Ireland too narrow-minded in some respects.

    I too encountered a few Oirishisms on my recent trip to Galway. Eg the sign in a garage advertising 2 bags of sweets for 2.50 euros with the printed price on the bag being 1 euro.

  7. I loved the store in the middle of a terrace in Kincaldy (I think) named Connor’s Corner Shop….

  8. max witriol

    Great piece, very amusing.
    I used to call myself a Catholic Jew due to supporting Man U, but will have to change all that in light of their affiliations….
    As yer man also said: “Manchester – so much to answer for..”

  9. Reminds me of the old joke about the guy walking through Belfast at night when he’s grabbed from behind and a knife is put to his throat. “Be ye Catholic or Be ye Protestant?” asks the assailant. Thinking fast, the man says “Neither, I’m a Jew”. The assailant replies”Aye, and I’m the luckiest Arab in the land…”

  10. Excellent Jerusalem Post article (it does happen!) on Israel and the Irish . . .

    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=227916&R=R7

  11. Really interesting read, and glad you made it up north! Thanks for posting.

  12. great piece. i remember popping into dublin a few years back just to visit friends overnight and then leave the next day back to australia (after a work trip in london). when the passport guy saw that i was to be in ireland for just one night, rather than become suspicious, he just smiled at me and said “…you’ll be back, one days not enough!”
    he was right 🙂

  13. Thank you, Pamela (out of curiosity, how did you come across mm?) and George.

    I have just posted the top 100 (I took over 300!) photos from my trip here . . .

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150713378680160.710282.611810159#!/media/set/?set=a.10150713378680160.710282.611810159

  14. Hey Mike,
    Read the post on my phone but ran out of steam while trying to type a reply! Had told loads of people about our Sunday morning visitor and the history of our house etc… Think I might not confess that it was all a misunderstanding. You should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and all that.
    Glad you enjoyed the trip and I enjoyed reading about it. Also my pride in my home county (Kerry) was flattered that you chose it as the starting place and that you returned for more.
    I plan on taking you up on that offer but it might be next year before I can come over and make you regret it.
    Thanks for calling,
    Ollie

  15. Well, at least the history of your street (South Circular Road) was correct, Ollie, even if not your house . . . you can’t win ’em all! 😉 Looking forward to seeing you here!

  16. Raúl Arkaia

    Hello, Mike!
    Thanks for sharing your feelings about Ireland. And congratulations for your blog. I´m also trying to do my best with my personal blog.
    Take care and bless you!

  17. Hey Mike great to hear about all your trip, you packed an awful lot in!!
    It’s a pity that our house isn’t your ancestral home, in saying that though I’d still be interested to hear about your family’s history on South Circular Road. Are you planning on doing a family tree or history section on your blog? Like Ollie I’ve told the story to a lot of people though I think I’ll leave out the detail about the houses being renumbered!!
    By the way I was talking to my Dad yesterday; recently he got chatting to a group of Israeli tourists in Cahirciveen Co Kerry (not sure if you passed through Cahirciveen on your travels……?) and he told them about a local man who is the only Irish person to be declared Righteous Among Nations by Israel. I’d forgotten this story; if you’re interested here’s some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_O'Flaherty
    Bye for now
    Tim

    PS Ollie and I read the article you linked to in the Jerusalem Post. It turns out he knows the author; Ollie will comment separately about it. It’s a small world!!

  18. Hi Mike,

    Apologies that I didn’t follow the link to the jerusalem post article earlier, but the guy who wrote it is a good friend, who has been threatening to bring me to Israel for a while now! I think we were talking about him when you visited…

    There you are – a prime example of just how small Ireland really is! And now you are involved.

    Take care,

    Ollie

  19. I did drive through Cahersiveen, Tim, but, to be honest, the Ring of Kerry was perhaps the most disappointing part of my trip . . . mainly because it was pissing it down throughout that entire day!

    How do you know John Lalor, Ollie? After that article, you can bring him to Tel Aviv, too!

    Anyway, I forgot my Mensch of the Month for June . . . and you two were the obvious choices! I hope you won’t mind being in the same ‘club’ as some of those other characters! 😉

  20. Uncomfortable reading in this weekend’s Jerusalem Post for those of us with an Irish connection . . .

    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?ID=300877&R=R1

    I visited Cahersiveen on my trip (see post and Tim’s comment above). Those muppet teachers might want to learn and inform about the Jews who worked so tirelessly for their cause: Michael Noyk – my grandmother’s first cousin (with whom she lived, in Dublin, when she first arrived from Lithuania) – for illustrious instance . . .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Noyk

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ae1vo477tVgC&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=michael+noyk&source=bl&ots=zVJQ6gAiT2&sig=llVUPdA2hGAO_kDWqUMxJTqe9hU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=hycEUfaEK-jL4AS3kYDwCw&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=michael%20noyk&f=false

  21. Mike,

    By chance logged in this evening to see if there was anything new. I too read the article in the JPost on Shabbat, and I have to say there seems to be a certain dissonance between Irish anti-Semitism/anti-Israelis feeling as reported in the press or at the “establishment” level and that of the average Irishman/woman in the street. A number of friends from Israel who visited Ireland this past summer reported back that the people were so friendly and that they didn’t encounter any bad feeling or hostility – quite the reverse, they were warmly welcomed everywhere.

    Michal

  22. I am interested that you are a relative of Michael Noyk. I have been trying to find out why he died in Lewisham (I live in Lewisham and am a local history buff). If this is not intruding into personal family issues it would be good if you could share what you know.

  23. No idea, I’m afraid, Roz. I know that he is buried in Dublin’s Dolphins Barn cemetery. I have been meaning to get in touch with his daughters, who live in London, to find out more about him . . . so I will add your query to the list!

  24. Hi Mike; great to chat with you. We’ll need to work on the sequel to that blog post 🙂

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