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Friday 22 August 2014

Lay of the land: Behold our Ireland of the lukewarm welcomes

Fiona O’Connell

Published 11/11/2012 | 05:00

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THE Celts were the ultimate 'glass half full' spin masters. While others cowered before winter, they interpreted death and darkness as the source from which life and light springs. So Happy New Year, as according to our optimistic forebears it begins in November.

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The Celts also viewed time as circular, not linear. Now you know why sometimes you feel like you're going around in circles. Moreover, each day, and festival, began at dusk rather than dawn -- a custom comparable with that of the Jewish Sabbath.

'Zakhor. Al Tichkah' translates from Hebrew as: 'Remember. Never forget.' It's appropriate to quote on this 'Remembrance Day', in memory of the 'Great War'.

Tragically, it was soon followed by another 'Great War', one in which six million Jews perished in the Nazi genocide.

The philosopher Santayana warned that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It's the premise behind a 'Bearing Witness' retreat that takes place in Auschwitz--Birkenau every November. People from all over the world take part in the multi-faith gathering, although I was the only Irish person when I attended 13 years ago.

I arrived into a bitterly cold Poland to discover that my luggage hadn't turned up. Which, given my destination, was ironic.

Nothing can prepare you for the endless rooms filled with the victims' belongings. They were stripped of everything, from their hair to their battered suitcases. Each piece bears a person's name, as the Nazis instructed.

What did 'Ireland of the Thousand Welcomes' offer these people? According to the Wiesenthal Centre, it is "the only World War Two neutral to have never confronted its dealings with Nazi Germany".

For we have a shameful record. From de Valera, who not only sent his condolences when Hitler died, but commiserated in person with his Nazi representative here.

From Oliver J Flanagan, who praised Hitler in the Dail for ridding Germany of Jews, claiming,"I doubt very much if they are human." His comments went unchallenged.

Ireland gave asylum to a grand total of 30 European Jews during the war.

Joyce never wanted an Irish passport. Yet he inspired Bloomsday, a joyous annual event named after a fictional Jew.

Brendan Behan observed that "other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis".

I remember these writers as Celts, with their love of words and a good time, rather than national heroes, with all that adjective's dangerous baggage.

Sunday Independent

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