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We will never have too many soft-hearted Shays

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Veganism is not a common lifestyle choice here, but Rosanna Davison is one of Ireland's more high-profile vegans

Veganism is not a common lifestyle choice here, but Rosanna Davison is one of Ireland's more high-profile vegans

Pictures: VIPIRELAND.COM

Veganism is not a common lifestyle choice here, but Rosanna Davison is one of Ireland's more high-profile vegans

With a name like O'Connell, it isn't difficult to work out my roots. My grandmother was a Murphy, and no doubt there were plenty of Paddys in the mix as well.

Shay is another typically Irish name. But the one I met recently is Israeli. Like many who make their home here, he came to Ireland 14 years ago between jobs "just to have a look." He loved the green. And even liked the weather. ("Past tense," he adds. "Though this summer and the last were good.")

Judging by the grousing that accompanies even a drizzly day in this country town, that confirms him as a typical Paddy.

Shay's job doesn't pay much. Which is why he dumped Dublin for a cottage "in the middle of nowhere" in Galway several years ago.

So what does he think of us?

"That's a tough question," he answers, somewhat diplomatically. Until he explains that he doesn't think he knows typically Irish people because of his interests in meditation, music and animals. For Shay is a vegan.

He "just had a hunch" when very young that vegetarianism was the right way to go. "Then I watched Earthlings and that was the push. I've seen loads of stuff on the Holocaust, but it was worse than that."

His parents don't get it. They have been in Israel "since the early days", arriving in 1948 from Bulgaria. His father had to swim part of the way from Cyprus, while his mother, who hailed from high society, went from having it all to not even speaking the language.

His father is now over 90 years old, but his 70-something mum "will rant whenever she can. But if I ask her, she says 'You're right, but I like the taste.'"

Veganism is still considered odd here, but is adhered to by a fifth of Israel's population. Shay got involved there with '269', an animal-rights group named after a calf destined for slaughter. Both Arabs and Jews collaborate and hold joint demonstrations throughout Israel.

The movement hasn't stopped, despite the war. Indeed, Israel recently became the first country in the Middle East to open a farm-animal sanctuary. And while Hamas were flinging dogs and donkeys loaded with incendiary devices at Israeli soldiers, much as the Taliban did against British troops in Afghanistan, Israel became the first country in the world to ban horse- and donkey-drawn carts from the nation's streets.

Shay endured some abuse here during the Gaza conflict. He tried talking, but they wouldn't listen. So in the end he walked away.

I hope he doesn't sidle away from these shores. Because we can never have too many soft-hearted Shays in our midst.

Sunday Independent