Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The Dead

From time to time, Irish people of a certain stripe, after considering the troubles brought by those who would force a synthetic identity of "West Briton," on the one hand, and those who assert the necessarilly insufficient Irishness of a protestant, on the other, quietly congratulate themselves and their people over the almost complete absence of serious outbreaks of antisemitism in that country. It is a splendid ornament to the history of Ireland, regardless of the reason.

But people like Tom Paulin, an Irish poet who advocates the murder of Jews in Israel's disputed territories, enters one's consciousness like a lover who leaves a turd on the sheets and thinks it no big deal, and exemplifies why James Joyce cared to put passages like this in Ulysses:

-- I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?

He frowned sternly on the bright air.

-- Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.

-- Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.

A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.

-- She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That's why.

On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.

In fairness to the Irish, poet, critic and playwright Tom (Thomas Neilson) Paulin was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, on 25 January 1949 but was raised in Belfast in Northern Ireland, where his father was the headmaster of a grammar school and his mother was a doctor. He was educated at Hull University and Lincoln College, Oxford.

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