Monthly Archives: December 2014

Of Christmas Truces and Peace Deals: Ambassador’s Message, 31 December 2014

On the brink of Christmas, peace building in Northern Ireland received a major boost with agreement between the parties on how to resolve outstanding issues on the budget, parades and dealing with the past. Minister Flanagan and his team worked hard with the parties and their British counterparts to bring this about.

As the Minister said, “On one of the darkest days in the bleak mid-winter we have forged a broad agreement that will undoubtedly give rise to brighter days in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland.”

After twenty-six hours of continuous negotiations, the Irish Times summarized the deal thus:


Key proposals include:

  • The creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to inquire into killings during the Troubles;
  • A commission to enable people to privately learn how their loved ones were killed;
  • The creation of an oral history archive where experiences of the conflict could be shared;
  • A commission to report on flags within 18 months of being established;
  • Devolving responsibility for parades from the Parades Commission to the Northern Assembly;
  • Slimming the size of the Northern Assembly from 108 to 90 members by the time of the 2021 Assembly elections;
  • Reducing the number of Executive departments from 12 to 9 by the time of the 2016 Assembly elections;
  • The potential to create a formal opposition at Stormont.

This deal builds on a succession of negotiations and benchmark agreements, for a peace process is a living system of adjustments as conflict and mistrust is gradually replaced by concord and cooperation. The origins of this very dynamic diplomacy can be traced back to the early 1980s. The private story is being revealed thanks to the release of British and Irish archives under the thirty-year rule. Arguably it begins with the relationship between Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

What the record shows of their relationship is explored here; …

This was of course about more than personalities. It was in effect a strategic shift whereby Dublin and London began, tenuously but necessarily, to find common ground in trying to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. President Reagan, leveraging his own relationship with PM Thatcher, gave an important impetus to the negotiations in nudging her forward. After a decade of violence, Britain and Ireland now embarked on more or less continuous negotiations that led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, the ceasefires in 1994, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and each successive agreement, down to the Christmas deal this year.

The first great diplomatic breakthrough was the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, negotiated by Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, his government and senior officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs. It was a major achievement: In forging a structured and agenda-driven relationship between London and Dublin which began to tackle many of the underlying causes of the conflict, the AIA laid the essential groundwork for the peace process and the1998 Good Friday Agreement. The archival material from both Irish and British sources being released under the thirty-year rule makes for fascinating reading; examples of the coverage are here: … …

For more coverage, go the ‘State Papers’ section of the Irish Times here;

Of course the roots of the conflict go back deep into British and Irish history. Looking back just one hundred years, against the backdrop of the Home Rule Act, the European war offered for unionists an opportunity to prove they were vital to Britain just as nationalists saw it as an opportunity to prove that they deserved a state of their own. There was too a more widespread notion abroad, tragically innocent, that the European war would be a short, even romantic opportunity for beleaguered manhood, displaced by machines and sensing the assertion of women to rights and equality, to reassert martial prowess. Ironically, the war would prove the destructive capacity of machines to kill vast numbers of even the most heroic of men while women were called upon to do man’s work at home, boosting their confidence and their claims.

These developments lay in the future as soldiers settled down for their first Christmas in the trenches. That Christmas one hundred years ago saw the famous truce between troops in the British and German armies facing each other along the Western Front. To mark its anniversary, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese gave a lecture at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Against the background of her own pioneering peace building efforts as President, she explores the truce’s meaning, particularly for Irishmen serving with the British Army, and its implications for peace building in Ireland.

You can read her speech, thoughtful and significant, here; …

For Ireland, expectations that the war would be a proving ground for both traditions were doubly trumped; by a war far removed from heroic expectations, one that became in fact a gross caesura with all that had gone before; and by the Easter Rising in 1916.

Thanks to the 2014 Christmas Deal, the Northern Ireland peace process moves forward. As we look back one hundred years, and thirty years and now with this latest achievement, we can be reassured that our complex dialogue with our shared past continues to be a positive one for the present and the future as we encounter the coming anniversaries and commemorations.

On a more festive note, and perhaps because I am not a big New Year reveler, I found traditional Irish wariness about the New Year appealing. I enjoyed this charming piece from the Irish Times on Irish New Year traditions here;

Every best wish to you and yours for 2015.


Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv


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Season’s Greetings, Ambassador’s Message 17 December 2014

The Israel Ireland Friendship League hosted its annual Hannukkah lighting yesterday evening in the Shamrock Bar, Netanyah. Thanks to the Chairman of the League, the indefatigable Malcolm Gafson, for organizing the event. It’s great to meet our Irish Jewish community and hear their stories, often of childhood in Dublin and making Aliya here and raising their families.

In my remarks, I recalled that Hannukkah’s roots lie in the great victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army that had destroyed the Temple and tried to wipe out Judaism. And that it was the recovery of this martial prowess after two thousand years by the Jewish Legion under Longfordman Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson during WWI that laid a critical foundation stone for the creation of modern Israel.

In the audience last night was the daughter of Michael Flanagan, an Irishman in the British Army who “donated” a clutch of British tanks to the Haganah at the end of WWII, thus establishing the IDF’s first armoured unit.

Another story I shared came courtesy of Murray Greenfield who I met at the recent Jerusalem Post Conference: An Irishman, Hugh McDonald, left his legal studies at Harvard to volunteer on the vessel Hatikva in 1947, part of a clandestine fleet determined to break the British blockade and deliver Shoah survivors to Palestine. Hugh painted a Shamrock under the Magen David on one of Hatikva’s funnels. (Murray, with Joseph M. Hochstein, wrote the history of this endeavor in The Jews’ Secret Fleet, Gefen Publishing House.)

Maerton Davis and his wife Beth, stalwarts too of the Friendship League, kindly gave me a monograph of the story of his family (originally Davidowitsch) and that of the Kisners, from their Shtetl in Latvia to Dublin. This is a great way to preserve oral family histories. (From Dankere to Dublin by Beatrice Sofaer-Bennett.)

Other stories have inevitably been lost but we can recover many. If you are aware of any, please let me know.

Coming as a diplomat to Israel, I was promised an interesting time. As the year winds down for us, I can look back on a talks’ process, its climax and collapse, a war and the calling of a general election. It will be fascinating to observe this election, even now as the parties here morph and evolve before our eyes, quite a contrast to the fixity of parties in Ireland since our own independence.

Back in Ireland, we continue to make economic progress, after many years of tough decisions and impositions on our public. In the end, early exits from the bailout and the confirmation of our financial reputation are invaluable: in the short run by lowering our bond yields and helping to ease the burden of servicing the national debt; and in the longer run by encouraging economic confidence and inward investment. Growth rates in Ireland are ahead of the Eurozone average, domestic demand has ticked up but real progress will depend greatly on renewed growth and demand in Europe.

Finally, I want to say goodbye to the Deputy Head of Mission and great colleague Julian Clare and his wife Siobhan. They arrived with Mary and me and they have been a pleasure to work with and to get to know over the past year and a half. They and their lovely family of three daughters are heading back to Ireland thanks to Julian’s promotion. Thanks for everything and the very best of luck.

I am heading back to Ireland myself to spend Christmas there with my family. Tel Aviv really doesn’t do Christmas so I expect to be hit by a Yuletide avalanche on arrival in Dublin of lights, decorations and carol singing, not to mention the odd hot toddy to ward off the cold. We in Ireland take our Christmas fun and festivities very seriously!

Happy Hannukkah, merry Christmas and have a great New Year.


Eamonn McKee


Tel Aviv

PS Our new website is being rolled and while it is not fully complete yet, you can follow my twitter account there, including for example a photo of the shamrock on the Hatikva, courtesy of Murray. Website here


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Col. Patterson Rests Now in Israel

This morning I attended the ceremonious re-interment of Col. John Henry Patterson and his wife Frances.  The event was the culmination of efforts by his grandson Alan Patterson to fulfill his grandfather’s wish to be buried alongside his Jewish Legion veterans in Israel. Guests included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon and Minister for Tourism Uzi Landau, my colleague the British Ambassador Matthew Gould, members of the Knesset, and representatives of the armed forces and the Jabotinsky Institute, key supporters of the event.   After the re-interment at Moshav Avichail, we adjourned to the auditorium of the Beit Hagedudim Museum for a wonderfully evocative programme of music, recital and song.  Alan Patterson spoke engagingly of his commitment to the reinternment and his grandfather’s influence in the pre-state evolution of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke eloquently and movingly, clearly from the heart, of Patterson.  He asserted emphatically that Patterson was the “godfather” of the Israeli army.  Jews had had a great reputation in ancient times as fierce fighters and defenders against aggressors but this martial prowess was lost through two thousand years of wandering.  It was Patterson who instilled discipline in the Jews under his command.  And critically he instilled confidence that Jewish fighting units could distinguish themselves in battle.  Like Herzl’s commitment’s to the Zionist state and Patterson’s to a Jewish army, both notions were initially rediculed.  Yet Patterson had proved a point that Jews could and would defend themselves, fighting valiantly in the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns.  The Prime Minister spoke too of Patterson’s close relationship with his family, recounted below.  He said that his presence, along with that of his wife Sarah, was repaying a debt of honour owed to Patterson by his family and by Israel.

It is interesting to reflect that if Patterson made his contribution to the formation of Israel through his profession as a British soldier, it was Irish guerrilla fighters like Michael Collins and Tom Barry who inspired the early Zionists to take up the fight through irregular actions during the Mandate period.  Ireland had defied an Empire and won; Zionists could do the same.

In the blog below, I recount Patterson’s life, seeing in its motivation and aspiration a parallel with that other great figure of this region and this era, T.E. Lawrence.

Patterson of Ballymahon, Zionist Hero Comes Home

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was re-interred in Israel on 4 December. While not well known in Israel and fast being forgotten elsewhere, certainly compared to that avatar of the British adventurer in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, Patterson made an early and significant contribution to the Zionist cause. Indeed in some critical ways, both he and Lawrence shared common impulses that underlay their remarkably picaresque lives in the service of others.

Patterson’s birthplace was Ballymahon, Co Longford, son of an Anglo-Irish Protestant father and an Irish Catholic mother. The year of his birth, 1867, also witnessed the sporadic Fenian Rising that fizzled out ineffectually. Though it would be the last incidence of insurrection by Irish republicans until the Easter Rising of 1916, the Anglo-Irish lived insecurely with ominous signs on the horizon about their future. Demands by tenant farmers for rights and proprietorship, backed up by political campaigns and nocturnal violence encouraged a series of land Acts that weakened the gentry’s hold. More ominously still, Gladstone became a convert to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886.

Patterson’s mixed heritage may have given a personal edge to this sense of uncertainty, lending a certain air of mystery, even alienation that was to surround him all his life. Unlike so many scions of this class, Patterson did not join the British Army as a cadet but as a groom for a cavalry unit, working his way up through the non-commissioned and, over the years, commissioned ranks.

Patterson’s first claim to fame came when he was hired by the East Africa Company to oversee the construction of a railway in Tsavo in present-day Kenya. Local workers were preyed on by man-eating lions, sparking both real and superstitious fears, and posing a threat to the whole project. Having learned big-cat hunting skills while on service in India, Patterson eventually tracked down and killed the two male lions, manifestly huge beasts as evidenced by the trophy photographs. Patterson’s account of this, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, was published to much acclaim and fascination in 1907, becoming a best seller (and eventually a number of films, including the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer).

In the meantime, Patterson fought in the Boer War under General Allenby, winning the DSO and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also involved in a scandal which drew Ernest Hemingway’s attention to his colourful life: the suggestion of an affair with the wife of a fellow soldier who died from a gunshot wound while they were all on safari. The cocktail of big-game hunting, sexual pursuit and contested machismo forms the basis for his story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Patterson is the inspiration for the safari guide Robert Wilson, a hunter of big game, and women if the opportunity presented itself, taciturn but manifestly philosophical in a manly, rough hewn way. Being Hemingway, the prose is pruned and compressed but a psychological portrait emerges of Wilson which may not have been too far removed from Patterson; courageous, skilled, cool under pressure, tough, self-sufficient, detached.

Patterson, a committed unionist, was drawn back to Ireland during the Home Rule crisis of 1913-1914 where he took command of a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force. However Patterson’s destiny lay neither in Africa nor even in Ireland but rather in the Levant. That Patterson did not stay to participate in the revolutionary tumult of his native Ireland but opted for the allure of the Middle East and the adventures of fighting the Ottomans says much about his inclinations and interests.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled during the onset and course of World War I, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor formed the Zion Mule Corp in 1915 as approved by General Maxwell. Their intention was to help the British wrest control of the Levant from the Turks and stake their claim to the creation of the state of Israel. Having served in Flanders in 1914, Patterson travelled to Egypt where he met with and was evidently impressed by the young and determined Zionists. Jabotinsky made a marked impression on him as did his idea for a Jewish Legion, both as a symbol of resurgent Jewish nationalism (the first Jewish fighting unit for two thousand years) and as a statement of intent to form a nation state..

The Corps fought gallantly at Gallipoli under Patterson’s command (recounted in his With the Zionists at Gallipoli (1916). Patterson wrote: ‘I have here, fighting under my orders, a purely Jewish unit. As far as I know, this is the first time in the Christian era that such a thing has happened.’ (Quoted by Zeev V. Maizlin, in the Jerusalem Post, link here

After a stint back in Ireland where he commanded the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers and fifth Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Patterson went to England where he formed and trained the Jewish 38th Fusiliers, part of what was to become known as the Jewish Legion, the sobriquet of five Jewish battalions in the British Army.

According to one account, “in February of 1918, Patterson proudly led soldiers of the 38th Fusiliers Battalion, one of the components of the Legion, in a parade in the Whitechapel Road, before they were shipped off to Palestine. They met a tumultuous and joyous reception among the Jews of London, as well as generating amazement among other bystanders….” Patterson fought with his battalion in campaigns in Palestine, notably recorded in his memoirs With the Judaeans in Palestine (1922).

Throughout his time with the Jewish Legion, Patterson encountered and resisted anti-Semitism in the British Army, an experience that came to alienate him further from his erstwhile colleagues and increase his sense of identity as one of uncertainty and flux. Increasingly, he came to admire his Jewish comrades. He was becoming a fervent advocate for the creation of the State of Israel, forming life-long friendships with Zionist leaders, including Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu. (Netanyhu would name one of his sons Yonatan in Patterson’s honour: Yonatan died in the famed Entebbe raid and his younger brother Benjamin would become Prime Minister.)

After the war, Patterson helped lay the foundations for what would become the Israeli defence forces. From his adopted home in America, he would advocate for the cause of the Jewish people and was at the forefront of efforts there to save Jews from the Holocaust. He died in California in 1947, a year short of the creation of the State of Israel.

Patterson in many ways was the Judean counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. Patterson and Lawrence shared a common origin in both having Anglo-Irish fathers. Lawrence’s father was Thomas Chapman, born not far from Patterson’s Ballymahon. Chapman absconded from his first wife and family with the family governess, Sarah Lawrence, to Wales where T.E was born and given his mother’s surname. Both men shared ambiguous or hybridized identity and an outsider status. Both were soldiers and scholars, innate researchers as well as searchers. Both appeared to be compelled to search for inner meaning and outsized causes, Lawrence in Arab studies and Arab nationalism, Patterson in Hebrew and biblical studies and ultimately Zionism.

Patterson lived a life in tumultuous times and his wanderings progressively created a life that became a veritable palimpsest of the times and places in which he lived, stretching from Ireland, to the heart of Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean; a man of Ireland and yet not Irish per se, Anglo-Irish and not quite British enough, ambitious and independent, a tough disciplinarian and spiritual, worldly and erudite. Above all, his experience of life never dulled his capacity to strive – not for himself but for others. It is a deeply appealing quality that he shares with Lawrence (and which distinguishes him from the fictional Wilson).

Ultimately Patterson would find a sense of belonging with his Jewish comrades, outsiders like himself, looking to fashion their own home and indeed their own identity through the Zionist cause. If there is one place for Patterson to finally rest, it is surely here in Israel.

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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