When Irish eyes are smiling

Nearly 200 expats and their friends celebrate a festive ‘Paddy’s Night Reunion Celebration’ in Netanya.

Gaelforce Sound (photo credit: MAURICE PICOW)
Gaelforce Sound
(photo credit: MAURICE PICOW)
Although the event occurred the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Israel’s Irish community and their friends amply celebrated the “hanging of the green” at Murphy’s New Irish Pub at Netanya’s Yachin Center. Sponsored by the Israel Ireland Friendship League, an organization dedicated to maintaining close ties between the State of Israel and the Republic of Ireland, nearly 200 Irish expats and their friends celebrated a festive “Paddy’s Night Reunion Celebration” that included traditional Irish music, foot-stomping Irish dancing and ample quantities of Irish stout.
“We hold these reunions every year and it brings all of us together in a really positive manner,” says Malcolm Gafson, IIFL chairman. And positive it was for those in attendance, with the tempo and excitement growing along with the music, performed by the group Gaelforce Sound and including fantastic vocals by lead singer Maya Johanna Menachem. Attendees included Irish Ambassador Briefne O’Reilly and his wife, Eavan Doyle, along with other members of the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv. O’Reilly, who is concluding his second year as head of the Irish delegation in Israel, was present at the previous annual reunion, also held at Murphy’s in Netanya.
“Many of us who made aliya from Ireland depend on events such as this one to help us keep in touch with our origins,” says Beverly, who came to Israel more than 30 years ago and now has grown Israeli children. Some Irish olim have relatives still living in the Emerald Isle, and this results in visits back and forth to the “old country.”
“These events almost make me feel like I’m back in Galway,” says David, who met his wife, Esther, in Jerusalem in the 1970s and returned with her to Israel 10 years ago. Other Irish expats share the same feeling, including Malcolm and Barbara Epstein who made aliya from Dublin more than 30 years ago and now live in Kfar Saba. “We love these events and look forward to coming to them every year,” says Barbara.
Not only do Irish olim look forward to the annual event, but so do many of their children, as well as native Israelis who just love Irish folk music and dance. This particularly applies to Dana and Avital, two young Sabras who love Irish dancing and formed the Tiltan Duo, performing their own renditions of the classic Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.
One of the more popular aspects of Irish music is the sing-along of wellknown Irish melodies. Some of these that were enjoyed during the evening included “Cockles and Mussels,” an old Irish song about a young lass called Molly Malone, which dates back to the 17th century and has since become the unofficial anthem of Dublin.
Irish culture has always been popular in Israel, and recently even more so as additional venues of Irish folklore and culture have become available. These include the Irish film and music festivals at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the Irish Studies Seminar at Ben-Gurion University, the Samuel Beckett Lecture at Tel Aviv University and a number of Bloomsday activities in June. Bloomsday was derived from the Irish author James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses, based on life in Dublin during the early 20th century and centered on the principal character Leopold Bloom.
Irish pubs such as Murphy’s, Molly Bloom’s in Tel Aviv and Dublin Pub in Herzliya have become popular watering holes for young and not-so-young beer drinkers who have become fond of the dark, slightly bitter stout brews that have made Ireland famous throughout the world.
Love of Irish music and culture was very much in evidence at Murphy’s on this particular evening. As noted by IIFL chairman Gafson, “We have people here tonight from abroad, including Ireland, and from as far away in Israel as Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. We’ve all come together to celebrate the close ties between Israel and the Republic of Ireland – especially with song and dance!”
The Ireland Israel Friendship League was founded in 1967, which was a long time before full diplomatic relations came into effect between the two countries in 1994. There are now approximately 2,000 Irish citizens living in Israel. Despite Ireland’s small Jewish population, more and more Israelis are visiting the country, especially to popular tourist spots like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and of course the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, about eight kilometers from Cork.