Thursday 18 April 2019

Cork: Cockpit of cheerful combat - especially at Christmas time

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Our Christmas trip to Cork began under the cloud cast by Brexit.

The Romanian taxi driver with excellent English who took us to Heuston told us he supported Brexit.

He did so on nationalist grounds. And added that the Jews ran Austria.

Gwen with asperity told him this was unlikely as there were only 10,000 Jews in Austria.

The driver dismissed this. She then asked him the hard question hanging in the air: what about the Holocaust?

He told her flatly there had been only two million Jews in Europe so how could six million have perished in the Holocaust?

Alas, such views are not rare in Romania. Communist education evaded the role of Romania in the Holocaust.

In 1940, the Romanian state didn't wait for the German go-ahead. The Iron Guard butchered Jews in a bestial fashion, beating, raping, torturing.

Naturally, I told the driver in terse terms what I thought, but I could not in clear conscience pretend we are a pure role model.

As the Nazis did not invade Ireland, we had the moral luck not to have to decide what to do about our few thousand Jewish citizens they had earmarked for extinction.

Also, as Gwen said, the relaxed way the driver told us the Jews ran Austria argued he had said the same to other Irish passengers without challenge.

Yes, the Palestinians should have their state - provided they recognise the right of Israel to exist. Meantime, I'm glad Israel is armed to the teeth.

*****

The grey-bearded Cork taxi driver who took us from Kent station to the Imperial Hotel was a welcome contrast - after a shock.

Complaining about the health service, he concluded by telling us: "I'm s******g into a colostomy bag."

As we digested this, so to speak, he turned into the South Terrace where I drew Gwen's attention to the disused synagogue.

Greybeard broke in to castigate Cork City Council for not buying the synagogue and turning it into a Jewish museum.

We talked about the old Jewish area of Cork and I remarked that George Hook had often spoken about it on his show.

Greybeard said Hook was a bollix. I passed on defending George but said we'd both been to Pres.

Greybeard communed briefly with his colostomy bag. "Yeah, who're you?" Somewhat diffidently I introduced myself.

Silence. The total silence that told me I had been put in the same bollix bracket.

Luckily, I was braced for these war wounds. Read my remarks in Reflections of Cork by Paul Daly published by the Irish Examiner:

"Cork is the closest thing to a Jewish area of New York." Of course I was thinking of the old city portrayed in Once Upon A Time in America.

I went on: "I think of Cork as always being at war and everybody is a combatant."

Roy Keane sums up that relentless aggression, the Darwinian struggle for survival among the fastest-thinking, fastest-talking people on earth.

Cork was made for Christmas. Oliver Plunkett Street was ablaze with light along its golden mile.

Business is booming but prudently fitted with a silencer in deference to the recent recession.

Gwen reports that every bookshop is stacked high with two bestsellers, whose titles I guessed correctly.

One is Atlas of the Irish Revolution, on which I am reserving my position until I have digested its data.

The other is Dennis Horgan's stunning Cork From the Air, which was a perfect present for Gwen's lively Aunt Kay.

Romania surfaced again when a Garda chief superintendent reported organised begging rings were being flown from there with return tickets.

Locals believe the beggars are members of the small Roma ethnic minority who are also familiar figures on the streets of Dublin - one of whom is a much-beloved fixture in Blackrock.

Naturally, these aerial arrivals prompted me to a comic fantasy of people parachuting into the city carrying Cork From the Air instead of identity papers.

As always, the highlight of my visit is a chat with my old friend John Coffey of Uneeda Books in Oliver Plunkett Street.

Reflecting stoically on the physical toll taken by age, John consolingly reminds me: "All men are cremated equally."

*****

Arriving back in Dublin, I read the Taoiseach thinks that Trump's move on Jerusalem is "a wrong long-term decision" and that it makes a peaceful settlement "very hard to secure".

The same could be said for his - and the Tanaiste's - increasingly incoherent statements on Northern Ireland.

A pious pact among political correspondents - with the exception of Stephen Collins - prevents them from pointing out that the Taoiseach and Tanaiste are stoking up tensions in Northern Ireland by inflating the role of the British and Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

In the past two weeks, both Varadkar and Coveney warned that in the absence of devolution they could "trigger" the Intergovernmental Conference, implying it had some governing role in Northern Ireland.

We can only conclude the Department of Foreign Affairs is giving them the wrong steer on the limitations of the Intergovernmental Conference.

The Good Friday Agreement makes it clear the conference is not a forum for pooling sovereignty. Full stop.

The British government is the sole sovereign authority in Northern Ireland. The conference is simply a talking shop where the Irish Government can waffle as much as it wants.

The only right the Irish Government has is to put forward views and proposals on non-devolved issues.

In sum, the conference gives the Irish Government the right to talk, not to govern. Here I can offer a useful analogy.

The Intergovernmental Conference is an Anglo-Irish version of the Nordic Council that facilitates cooperation between the Scandinavians. No more.

Accordingly, the Taoiseach should stop tormenting unionists and focus on forcing Sinn Fein to take up its seats. As Micheal Martin has done.

*****

None of the above is likely to go down well with my annual correspondent, Tadgh O'Leary of Mayfield.

As Tadgh is a regular reader, I look forward respectfully to his ''more in sorrow than in anger'' republican missives.

He says he's surprised I gave so much space "to such an insignificant item as Prince Harry's forthcoming nuptials".

He also takes me to task for saying positive things about the British. "Anyone who can read will know the cruelty and pillage our forebears suffered at the hands of the invader."

Sternly, but also magnanimously, Tadgh concludes by conceding that since this is the season of goodwill "we should forgive but not forget".

This is a reverse of my own position where I have forgotten my grievances but can't forgive them.

Tadgh finishes by wishing me a happy Christmas. The same to you, Tadgh, and to all my regular readers.

Sunday Independent

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