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Book Review: Meda Ryan: “The Day Micahel Collins Was Shot”

I studied history for the past 4 years as part of my undergraduate. I think thats how I became a history teacher. During this time I didnt get to read many books from cover to cover. I just had to zone in on whatever topic my assignment or essay was on and hope that the person who had the book before me had underlined the relevant parts.

When I finished my degree I decided that one thing that would do me well in my future career would be to read more history books. So I decided that the only books I will read for the next while would be historical. Some would be straight up history books, others would be biographical, others would be history based novels. Did I mention that I’m an exciting guy? No, oh pardon my rudeness. I’m an exciting guy, I sometimes go to the toilet in a nightclub and don’t tip the attendant. Rarely.

I’m a pretty slow reader and because of that it has been quite sometime since my last book review. And even longer since the one before that. So the book that took me so long to read was: “The Day Michael Collins was Shot” by Meda Ryan.

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Michael Collins was shot dead in an ambush at Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork, on 22 August 1922. The manner of his death and the identity of his killer have been the source of intense speculation and controversy ever since.

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In her book, Meda Ryan attempts to tackle a very difficult task: determining who shot Michael Collins on that ill-fated day in 1922. In the book’s preface, Ryan shares her reasons for wanting to examine the topic and her research methods in compiling the book. In Part I of the introduction, Ryan provides a short biography of Collins’s life from his birth to June 1922. In Part II, she covers the last two months of Collins’s life and then the main body of the book begins.

Ryan supplies several great pictures and several maps of Béal na mBláth. Her evidence consists of eye-witness accounts, letters, telephone conversations and newspaper clippings. The Day Michael Collins Was Shot is both an exciting and suspenseful narrative and an invaluable work of primary historical research. In the book, Ryan states several theories in how Michael was ambushed. These are:

  • Collins was hit from behind by IRA members headed to Kerry.
  • Collins was hit by a member of his own party by a close range bullet from the armored car he was travelling in.
  • Collins was hit by a ricocheted bullet.
  • Collins was hit by a bullet fired by an IRA member.

After dissecting the response of the medical examiners, the embalmer, the men who supposedly buried the cap Collins was wearing on the day he was killed, and the testimony of Emmet Dalton, Collins’s friend and comrade who was with him that day, Ryan does give a firm conclusion as to who the shooter was. She dispels the theories that Collins was shot by a bullet from a Mauser pistol and that Collins was killed by a ricocheted bullet. So who shot Michael Collins according to Ryan’s studies? Ryan concludes from her evidence: “Michael Collins was not shot by a bullet from a Mauser pistol. Michael Collins was not killed by a ricochet bullet. Michael Collins was shot by the Republican who said, ‘I dropped one man.'”

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and clocking in at 161 pages, it was quite an easy read compared ot other history books. This book would be a fantastic resource for any one who is undertaking a project on the death of Michael Collins as part of their history course. The first hand accounts, pictures and interviews are great examples of primary sources that would compliment any work being done on the topic. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the life, and more importantly death, of the hero, scoundrel, legend, enigma, god, and icon (depending on your political leanings) that was Michael Collins

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“One day he’ll be a great man. He’ll do great work for Ireland.”

– Michael Collins’ Father on his deathbed about his son, who was 6 at the time.

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To some, hummus is something that your mother buys in Marks and Spencer’s and serves to guests with crisps or pita bread. Maybe she calls this mix of chips and dips; ‘nibbles’. To others, hummus is a dastardly mix of chickpeas and garlic that creates a vile cocktail which attacks the tastebuds with it’s grainy texture and pale complexion. Me? I love it and can’t get enough of it. Hummus is king! To the people who live in Israel, hummus is not just food. It is a political topic, a matter of nationality, a source of argument and a prelude to the land ownership argument that has spanned decades.

The question in Israel is not which came first, the chicken or the egg?? but who made hummus first the Jew or the Arab?? It may seem ridiculous but there really are arguments about who was the first to mix chickpeas and sesame paste and when did they do it. The hummus wars are so intense that even best friends have turned against each other having found themselves on different sides of the hummus fence.

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Generally, most people agree that it was Egyptian Arabs who first made hummus but Jewish scholars interpret a certain biblical passage as evidence that Jews ate hummus in biblical times. Yes, things just got biblical….its that serious!!

Even after the question of ownership is put aside there is still the question of who’s hummus is better… Palestinian or Jewish??

A hummusia is a restaurant or café that specializes in hummus that opens from breakfast until mid afternoon. Each hummusia is in competition with the next over who’s hummus is superior. The arguments over who’s hummus is better can carry on for hours and go into every specific detail such as who likes it smooth, fluffy or chunky. Should it be warm, cold or room temperature? How spicy should it be?? The battle rages on!

Abu Shukri was for years considered to run the best hummusia around One day another hummusia opened up right across the road from Abu Shukri. Outside this new shop was a sign that read: “We moved here. This is the real Abu Shukri”. The new shop was owned by Abu’s son in law who had worked in the original restaurant and was using the famous recipe. The family had been split by hummus. The next day the old restaurant hung a sign on its door: “We have not moved. This is the real Abu Shukri.” A large banner appeared across the road reading: “The real, real one and only Abu Shukri”. This continued for years until the advent of food corporations selling pre-packed hummus in supermarkets forced an end to the Abu Shukri conflict.

Hummus, believe it or not, is quite easy to make. It does however take some time. What follows is a simple recipe for basic hummus:

Ingredients:

250g dried chickpeas

1 tsp carbonate of soda

270g Tahini paste

juice of one lemon

6 garlic cloves

125ml ice cold water

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Start the night before by washing chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Cover with twice as much water and leave to soak overnight.Image

Drain chickpeas and place in a medium saucepan on a high heat with bicarbonate of soda. Cook for 5 mins, stirring constantly. Add 1.5 litres of fresh water and cook until chickpeas are tender and can be broken easily between your thumb and forefinger. (40-50 mins)Image

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Process until a paste. I used a hand blender but if you have a food processor than that is better!

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With machine running add Tahini, lemon juice, garlic and 1 1/2 tsp salt.
Slowly drizzle in iced water while mixing for 5 mins.

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Transfer into a bowl, cover and put in fridge for at least 50 mins. When set, sprinkle with paprika and a good glug of olive oil. Serve with toasted pita bread.

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and enjoy!!!

Shalom 😃

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7 Days in the Holy Land (part 7)

And so begins day 7 of our trip to the Holy Land. A mid term break with a difference was coming to an end. But we were going out with a bang. What were promising to be two real highlights of the week were on the agenda for today. A trip to the desert and a float in the Dead Sea was enough to motivate ourselves to get on a bus at an ungodly hour one last time. Well….there was still one more early bus trip ahead of us since we were leaving the hotel at 4am the next morning, but we’ll come to that later.

So after one last breakfast…..sadly at this stage (3 months later), I no longer have vivid memories of the Israeli delights that were served at breakfast. Needless to say, I didn’t have the weird tomato egg things or the weird fish. I probably had cereal or a croissant. Ooooh la la.

So off we went for a trip to the middle of nowhere. The desert. I had never been in a desert before and really it wasnt what I was expecting. I always thought that the desert was just a continuation of the sand dunes on the beach. Except with more sand on the ground, in the air, in your hair, in your eyes, in your mouth and in your sandwiches. But I was wrong. Well….with this desert anyway. It was rocky as opposed to sandy and actually looked like the kinda place that would be nice to have a picnic unlike the sand dunes at home. If you can stand searing heat that is. So we took the bus to the Palestinian desert…..which was only about 5 mins outside of Jerusalem. Its funny how close everything seems to be to Jerusalem! The desert roads were narrow and windy and overlooked valleys and gorges. It was a long way down from the road and we were lucky we didn’t meet any other buses coming in the opposite direction. It was quite unnerving.

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Being out here in ‘the wilderness’ made me think of how hard travel must have been back in the day. I don’t think any of us would have enjoyed trekking across the desert on foot or by donkey back in the day. It really must have been an awful way to travel! Poor Jesus! And poor donkeys!

When we arrived at our destination in the desert we were surprised to find that, as soon as we stepped off the bus, we were bombarded with men and children selling tourist knick knacks (a polite way of saying crap). The fact that they were camped out literally in the middle of the desert didnt seem to come to bother these guys. They obviously just spent their day waiting for a bus to come by so they could sell their crap…I mean knick knacks. Obviously since they didn’t have much of a flow of customers, these salesmen were a lot more pushy than their urban counterparts. At times they were too pushy and got a bit too close for comfort. They also followed us on a 15 minute walk up a mountain/hill which annoyed us more than made us want to buy a Jesus fridge magnet.

When we reached the top of our hill (I dont think I can call it a mountain again), we were greeted with some great views of……nothing. Well, the desert. Which is nothing. But the most spectacular nothing ever!

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As you can see, it wasnt all nothing. Spectacular buildings carved into the rocky mountains really were awe inspiring,Image

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Back on the bus and we were off to Jericho. One of the most famous ancient cities of the Holy Land. The only city that I know of to be conquered by nothing more than the marching of an army and the blowing of horns. People really were push overs back in Old Testament times! I wrote my research paper about the conquest of Canaan by the original Israelite’s during my undergraduate degree so I was really looking forward to seeing Jericho. And here we are. So why didnt I take more photo’s?? Oh Mr. Bender, you crazy!Image

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Outside of Jericho we stopped at a small village. The poverty of Palestine was really evident here. It was sad to see that the people of such a famous city have ended up living in such awful conditions. I know that there is poverty everywhere but its hard not to think that the plight of these people couldn’t be helped if the world wasn’t ignoring the problems in the Holy Land.

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Near Jericho I took a picture of this car. It doesn’t look like much but what I was really taking a picture of the registration plate. It is white which means it is Palestinian. As I mentioned in the Bethlehem blog, this means that it is a Palestinian car and there fore cannot be taken past the borders of Palestine into Israel. With the borders of Israel expanding at an alarming rate you would wonder what will become of these cars. And more importantly, their owners.

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After our trip to Jericho we were off further south to Qumran. Home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the way we saw more desert and some perfectly planted palm trees.

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At this stage it would probably be good to acknowledge our wonderful bus driver. What was his name?? I forgot. How rude. Well whatever it was we salute you. Hail to the bus driver!!

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So here we were at Qumran. Qumran is an archaeological site situated in the West Bank. It is the site of where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known copies of Old Testament scripture. Discovered in the mid 20th century they are dated back to about 400BC. At Qumran we saw the scrolls themselves as well as the caves in which they were found and the excavated remains of the settlements of the Essene people.

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As we looked out over the rocky terrain we could see something glimmering in the distance….the Dead Sea. It was happening….we were going SWIMMING!!!!!!

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The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Its surface and shores are 427 metres (1,401 ft) below sea level. It is called the Dead Sea because no life can be sustained in it. It is also one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth. The amount of salt in the Dead Sea means that you can float in it which is quite the experience. It is a very strange sensation to be floating in the Dead Sea. Nothing like anything I have ever experienced before. The other peculiar thing about the Dead Sea that attracts visitors from far and wide is the mud. The minerals in the mud is said to rejuvenate and nourish the skin. Usually when people visit, they lather themselves in the mud and allow it to dry. Then they wash it off in the salty water. To say that you are left with skin as smooth as a babies bottom would be an understatement. It was such a strange experience.

I didn’t bring my camera to the Dead Sea as I didn’t want to look like a pervert. Not to worry, courtesy of Facebook….here you go!

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A warning to anyone who is going to visit the Dead Sea….don’t taste the water to see if it really is as salty as they say. And don’t dunk your head under the water. The pain of being partially blinded by salt lasts for a lot longer than you would think and it is very hard to get out of the Dead Sea when you cannot open your eyes!!! Ouch!!!!!!

After our dip in the Dead Sea, we headed back to the bus to bring us to the hotel one last time. Following a dinner of tongue in a olive sauce….which I initially thought was just really tender beef, it was time to hit the bar for one last happy hour! Since our bus was picking us up at 4am to head back to Tel Aviv, it was deemed to be smart to stay up and drink through the night until it was time to board the bus. Sure whats the worst that could happen?? Well I suppose you could end up having to travel two and a half thousand miles home having had no sleep in the last 24 hours and with a raging hangover! ah, the joys of bad decision making!

Anyway, here ends our trip to the Holy Land. Needless to say it was the trip of a lifetime. I don’t think we could possibly have thought we were going to see as many different places and people as we did. Memories with a great bunch of people that will last a lifetime, no doubt.

Shalom!

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7 Days in the Holy Land (part 6)

I have been very bold with my blogging recently. So bold that I havent done any. The main drawback from this is that a lot of time has passed since our trip to the Holy Land and I have forgotten most of the small details of the days we spent there. Luckily I only have 2 more days to recap so hopefully I wont have to make up too much stuff. Better start where I left off so as not to confuse. Day 6. Our second last day:

There was a slight change to today’s plans which was made towards the end of yesterday. We were gonna attempt to get to the temple mount to see the Dome of the Rock. Everyone agreed that this would be a fantastic experience so we were more than happy to go along with this plan. Sadly, however, this change meant that we had to get up super early. The Dome of the rock is only accessible to tourists until 11am, after this only Muslims are admitted to the Temple mount for praying. So we were called out of our beds at 6 to be on the bus for quarter past 7 and in the queue for half 7. (Just because it is sunny and has a foreign currency doesn’t mean its a holiday!!!)

I should also point out that we were wearing what I presume Israeli’s would have called: our winter clothes. As the sight of naked human flesh is not allowed on the temple mount, we were told that we would have to wear long trousers and long sleeves. How would we survive in the dreaded heat of Jerusalem? Well, fear not, as our tour guide reassured us that the weather forecast was awful and it was to be rainy and cold. What great luck for us!!ImageImageImageImage

As you have probably guessed, this was a dirty big ugly lie. It was the hottest day since we arrived in the Holy Land. And it wasn’t even 8 am yet. Uh oh!

But still, we were undaunted. We were gonna get there early and kick this queues ass!!! So we got off the bus at the Mughrabi Gate and joined the queue to enter the Temple mount. In the queue we got to see some of the early morning characters that inhabit Jerusalem such as drum players and, of course, more soldiers to play with.

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We also came across what I can only presume was the scene of a bitter telephone call breakup.

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So we stood in the queue in the blistering heat and we waited. and waited. and waited. The queue moved very slowly and after about an hour we passed through the arches of the Mughrabi Gate. We were making great time apparently and would be at the Dome of the Rock before we knew it! Huzzah!

While we were queuing, we heard an almighty racket coming from somewhere close by. It was the sounds of shouting, singing, drums and the worst musical instrument known to man, the saxophone. What was that symphony of madness and where was it coming from??

It turned out to be a Bar Mitzvah that was passing by the queue on their way to the wailing wall. The pageantry of the occasion and the joy on the faces of the 13 year old boys and their families as they went by was really great to see. At home all we seem to think of these days is how much money we are going to get at our religious ceremonies. I was tempted to have another confirmation to raise funds for Christmas this year but my granny wouldn’t let me. Spoil sport.

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 Our tour guide told us that you can tell how wealthy the family was by the amount of musicians their parade had on the way up to the wall. Just drums was the basic package available and apparently the saxophone was the most expensive instrument to have playing to you on your way to become a man! We only heard the saxophone once. (thank God)

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In between Bar Mitzvah’s we also had a visit from someone who I can only presume is an important Jew in Jerusalem. Whoever he was he told us he loved us so we loved him too.

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By now the heat was almost unbearable and some of us had to resort to desperate measures in an effort to escape its wrath.

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But we were nearly there. Our goal was in sight. It would all be worth it right??

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Sadly no, it was not meant to be. On the stroke of 11am, after 3 and a half hours of queing and with the entrance in sight, the doors to the Temple mount were closed and the queue dispersed. I say ‘dispersed’ as though it was very civilized but no, instead it reminded me of that part in the lion king where Simba gets caught in the stampede of wildebeest and gets his father killed. Silly Simba.

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We were close. But not close enough.

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After a mornings queuing it was decided that we should stop off and get a cup of tea while we decided what to do next. And where else to get a cup of scald than in an Austrian hostel. Here we met a nuns dog. A loveable fella which we named Brian.

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The view from the rooftop of the hostel gave us a chance to see Jerusalem from yet another one of its many angles.

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After our break, we took a trip to visit St. Anne’s Basillica. This church was built over a grotto where the crusaders believed to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church is also famous for its acoustics and a lot of choirs come here on pilgrimage to sing and chant but never shout. You aren’t allowed do that in the church. The priest said so.

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The next two stops on today’s agenda were places where cameras weren’t allowed. Strangely enough, I was quite pleased to hear we had to leave our cameras on the bus. It was good to be out and about and seeing things through my own eyes as opposed to from behind the lens. Sadly this means that I have no photos from the two sites. They were Yad Vashem: the Jewish holocaust museum and the Holyland model of Jerusalem.

The Jewish Holocaust museum is actually the second most popular tourist attraction in Israel, next to the Western Wall. I found it strange to be in the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. As a history teacher I found some of the exhibits to be as fascinating and awe inspiring as they were harrowing and sad yet at the same time I couldn’t help think that there was an air of hypocrisy about the whole thing considering the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. When we were looking at the exhibits dedicated to the horrific ghettos of Nazi Europe, I couldn’t help to think of the high walls and the army presence that we had seen placed around Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem. It was sad to see such double standards taking place on the stage that is Jerusalem and I was left hoping that maybe the memories of the holocaust, which is being kept alive by places like Yad Vashem, would help lead to an end to Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

The most breathtaking and harrowing part of the museum, for me, was the Hall of names.  The Hall of Names is the Jewish People’s memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust. The main circular hall houses the extensive collection of “Pages of Testimony” – short biographies of each Holocaust victim. Over two million Pages are stored in the circular repository around the outer edge of the Hall, with room for six million in all.

The ceiling of the Hall is composed of a ten-meter high cone reaching skywards, displaying 600 photographs and fragments of Pages of Testimony. This exhibit represents a fraction of the murdered six million men, women and children from the diverse Jewish world destroyed by the Nazis and their accomplices. The victims’ portraits are reflected in water at the base of an opposing cone carved out of the mountain’s bedrock. The sheer volume of folders each containing thousands of names was absolutely amazing to see and really brought the whole thing home.

After lunch at the museum, we visited the Holyland model of Jerusalem which is a 1:50 scale-model of the city of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple Period.

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My favorite part of this place (and quite possibly the whole trip) was when a crow landed on one of the walls surrounding model Jerusalem. The crow dwarfed the town and looked out upon it before leaving the wall, swooping over the temple and landing on the roof of a house to the west of the town. I’m sure the tiny Jerusalemites who dwelled in the model town were terrified. At this stage, a second crow appeared over at the Eastern wall. These crows were clearly enemies and the two giant beasts flew towards each other in the mini Jerusalem skyline. The townspeople didn’t know what to do. I think I heard one man proclaim that he was going to run to Bethlehem for help but I may have just imagined it. Or misheard him.

The crows battled for dominance of the city. both felt that they deserved to be called giant crow king of Jerusalem. Eventually, the second crow fled. Leaving the original giant bird of prey to perch atop the temple and gaze at his newly defended kingdom. Never had the Old Testament been so alive!!!! (I’m pretty sure there is something in there about a giant birdlike creature somewhere!)

Upon leaving this museum, the moment we had all been waiting for came. I havent mentioned this but we had been told that we would be allowed to go off into Jerusalem shopping after we had done all of our educational trips for today. So all during the queue for the Dome on the Rock, in the Austrian hostel, St. Anne’s Basilica, The Jewish Holocaust Museum and the holyland scale model everybody had been looking forward to getting out and spending all their hard earned cash.  It had been coming all day, actually all week. This was it. Shopping.

My main purchase was a juicer. Inspired by the roadside juice stalls that were seen and sampled all over the Holy Land I decided that I wanted to squeeze my own pomegranates and other fancy fruit at home. When I got home to Ireland with my juicer I decided to make myself a lovely orange juice. The morning after our return, I set out to the shop bright and early to buy some oranges. How many oranges make a glass of orange juice? I dont know….lets try 4. I cut the first orange in half and placed it in the juicer. Wham…instant juice More than I expected. This is the best thing I have ever bought. Second half of the orange in. Pull the lever….Bam….bye bye juicer. The handle flew off in the air under the immense pressure created either by my intense muscles or an ultra strong half an orange. Israeli produce at its best. They saw me coming.

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Bouyed by our shopping trip and delighted to have an authentic Israeli juicer in my possession, the final stop of the day was to the Church of Ecce Homo. This church, situated on the Via Dolorosa gets its name from the words spoken by Pontious Pilate upon his presentation of a scourged Jesus to the crowds gathered to see him condemned to death.

The church contains one arch of a Roman gateway, which has a further arch crossing the Via Dolorosa outside. Traditionally, the arch was said to have been part of the gate of Herod’s Antonia Fortress. While we were there we were brought down to an underground part of the church which was home to the oldest known part of ground in Jerusalem. One that had been proved to go right back to not long before the time of Jesus! You could even see the markings from games Roman soliders used to play to pass the time.

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So there ended another day in the Holy Land and our last day sightseeing in Jerusalem. Only one more day to go before we had to get back on the plane and go home. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to write the next blog!

Shalom 🙂

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7 Days in the Holy Land (part 5)

Uh oh, Last night we hit happy hour. Hard.

Today’s trip was gonna be tough unless divine inspiration was found somewhere. We were going to a good place for that sort of stuff though because today we were travelling to Bethlehem. Oh Holy Night!

Bethlehem, for those who don’t know, not in Israel, it is in Palestine and the thrill of travelling to Palestine had been brewing for a few days now. On our trip to Jerusalem (read about it here), we briefly passed over the Israeli border into West Bank,Palestine. Much checking in on Facebook occurred here but no sooner had we entered then we found ourselves back on the Israeli side of the border again. This time would be different.

We had been told to make sure we had our passports for this trip (they had been locked away in our hotels every other day) and to bring only the bare essentials. The fact that we were flirting with danger by travelling between two territories at war was not wasted on us. Excitement was in the air.

We boarded the bus and set off from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem. The first thing I noticed was the distance between Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and Palestine. There was none. Well….barely any. After what could only have been 20 minutes on the bus we were coming into Bethlehem. Bethlehem is one of the largest of the Palestinian cities and is situated just 10km south of Jerusalem.

The second thing I noticed about Bethlehem was the high walls. The border between these two places was walled. It reminded me of when, as a kid, my family used to travel to Derry in Northern Ireland to visit relatives. In the back of the car I would always find myself looking up at these high walls which made up military barracks at the border.

The final thing that hit me about Palestine was that there was a completely different feeling then in Tiberius or Jerusalem. It was obvious that there was a huge difference in economy. You could tell this from the buildings and the streets. It was clear that Palestine did not have close to the finances of Israel. The buildings seemed run down and broken, the cars were from a different time period and graffiti covered nearly every wall we saw.

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One word that came straight to mind upon my first time seeing a residential area of Palestine was: oppression. This word was cemented in my mind when I saw the local bus picking up passengers at a road side bus stop. This, for me, summed up the state of affairs in Palestine.

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Our first stop in Bethlehem was, actually, not in Bethlehem. It was in Beit Sahour just outside the city. Beit Sahour or; “The Shepherd’s Field” as it is known in English is the spot where the Angels came to the shepherds to tell them that Jesus was to be born. The great thing about this particular spot is that it is still a plain used by modern sheep farmers complete with caves which would have been used by shepherds to shelter at night. There was also a small church at Beit Sahour where we found some pretty hardcore preaching going on.

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Back outside we explored the caves. One of which had been made into a shrine.

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Following this, we travelled back to Bethlehem and stopped off for a good aul Irish tea break. We were greeted by 2 things in the place where we stopped. One thing of beauty and another of terror: A lavishly decorated ceiling and some fish. You can decide which was beauty and which was the beast.

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It was here that the previously mentioned divine inspiration came to clear the happy hour hangover. And that inspiration came in an ice cold bottle of Corona as opposed to a cup of tea. Feeling better and refreshed it was time to get going again and head to the Church of the Nativity.

On the way we saw something which stood out from the rest of the cars buses in Palestine. A bright pink Volkswagen Beetle.

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Now I am no car enthusiast but I am sure that this would be old enough to be deemed a ‘classic’ and would also be a bit of a collectors item considering the condition it appears to be in. The odd, and sad, thing about this is that Palestinian’s are not allowed to bring their cars out of Palestine. When they are crossing the border they must do so on foot and either have a second (Israeli licensed car) on the otherside, have a friend pick them up or use public transport. You never see a car with a white reg such as this on in Israel. Another sign of the oppression of the Palestinian people.

We arrived at the Church of the Nativity, which was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus, and entered through a tiny tiny door. This is known as the door of humility as people are required to bow as they enter into the church.

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The church itself is quite simplistic on the inside and is lacking of the grandeur of some of the other sites we had seen. A welcome change really.

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As you probably noticed, the church is going through some repairs at the moment so there was a lot of scaffolding involved. The original Roman style floor of the church has been covered over by a new floor, but there was a trap door which opened up to reveal a portion of the original mosaic floor.

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As you can see, the group were enthralled by this floor.

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The main event of this church is of course, the grotto in which Jesus was born. This is accessed by stone steps down into a crypt. The spot where Jesus was born is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. Just like at Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, you can reach in and touch the stone that the alter is built upon.

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The adjoining Church of St. Catherine, the Roman Catholic Church, was built in a more modern Gothic revival style. This is the church where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrates Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. We got to take part in a service which is undertaken in preparation for this special Christmas service. Basically it is a dry run for Christmas. Why in October? Well you can never be too prepared!

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Following our tour of the Church of the Nativity we visited the family shop of our tour guide Louis where we bought some souvenirs commission free. (cough)

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After this we stopped for lunch and here was where one of the more unusual aspects of our trip took place. After our meal the staff of the eatery (was it a restaurant or what?? I dunno!!) told us we were going to have a party. Here they dressed a few from our group in traditional dress, provided them with strange props such as jugs and baskets and kitted the rest of us out with fez hats while the staff themselves played drum beats for us to dance to. At times it felt as though we were being forced to dance, possibly at gun point. The 13 minutes that this lasted for was surreal yet enjoyable. I was glad to be able to hide behind my camera and miss out on the dancing.

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Following what could only be described as utter madness, it was time to get back on the bus and head back to Jerusalem. Not before getting a picture with a Palestinian freedom fighter, I mean, soldier. When we asked could we get a photo of him he was delighted to pose, so long as it was taken in front of the Palestinian flag and framed photo of his friend Yasser Arafat. Sadly we managed to block them out in the photo. ooops.

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As we passed through the border again our bus was boarded by some not so friendly soldiers who checked our passports to ensure we had not joined the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. We probably should have, but we hadn’t.Image

Our final stop of the day was to the Church of the Visitation in Jerusalem which honors the visit paid by Mary to her sister Elizabeth. This is the site where, tradition tells, us that Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat, The church is beautifully adorned with tiled representations of the song in many of the worlds languages.

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After a ladies only group photo shot it was time to head back to the safety of the hotel bar. Sure what harm could come of us there??

Shalom 🙂

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7 Days in the Holy Land (part 4)

Our first morning in Jerusalem was an early one. We had a long day ahead and our tour guide was adamant that we get going early to beat the crowds. There were a few factors that had to be taken into account when deciding what time was good for a wakeup call.

1. We had just checked into a much larger hotel and most of our rooms were on the 14th and 16th floor.

2. The lifts in the hotel were bizarre. Besides queues upon queues of people at random times as groups arrived (it had taken me 45 mins to get to my room upon arrival the night before), there was also the added bonus of the lifts not respecting the sacred code of the elevators. You could press your button for what floor you wanted and the elevator could either stop at every floor on the way up to yours (14 for me), go straight up to the floor below yours and then go straight back down to pick someone up on floor 2 again or it could just completely ignore you and stop wherever it wanted until you eventually got to your floor.

3. Our new hotel had happy hour in the bar between 8pm and 10pm. Happy hour was banned from Ireland by the evil powers that be almost half a decade ago as part of their campaign to abolish the American stereotype of Irish people being cuddly little drunks who hoarded away bowls of Lucky Charms. As a result of this, the effects of being happy at happy hour did not just disappear at 10. Oh no, we were happy for a long time after happy hour which led to some late nights in Jerusalem.

I was very excited about breakfast in the new hotel. Visions of bacon and sausages and black pudding ran through this heathens mind as we navigated the floors in our great and all knowing elevator. But alas it wasn’t too be. My idea of a multi-cultural breakfast where the rules of religion and race were thrown out the window was not to be. Instead I saw eggs in tomatoes, looking very similar to the ones in the first hotel. Cereal it is so! The common worldwide bond of cereal that makes milk chocolatey is something that should be discussed by world leaders as a possible catalyst for a peaceful eutopia. Naturally Coco the monkey would be made president with Quiky the Nesquik bunny as his number 2 and professor Weeto as their minder.

“”Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth – Put out my hand and touched the Face of God”

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We were leaving the hotel early to go on a tour. But no ordinary tour, today we were going to walk the Via Dolorosa or ‘Way of the Cross’. Well…..maybe we were, maybe we weren’t. Who’s counting. Actually, my good friend Simon Sebag Montefiore is counting!! (Have you read my review of his book?? He has!)

So what does he have to say about it? An edited version of course:

‘Every event in this (Jesus’ passion) story was to develop its own geography in Jerusalem, though many of these sites are probably historically wrong….He carried the crossbar for his own crucifixion, out of the Citadel prison and through the streets of the upper city….Jesus left Jerusalem for the last time, turning left through the Gennath Gate into….the aptly named….Golgotha…..This is a totally different route from the traditional Via Dolorosa. The Gennath gate….was identified…in the northern part of the Jewish quarter…Christians wrongly believed that the Antonia fortress was…where Pilate had made his judgements. Medieval Franciscan Monks developed the tradition of the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, From the Antonia site to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – almost certainly the wrong route.’

I’m sorry to burst your bubble and to do so in such long winded fashion only adds salt to the wound. I have a lot of spare pinches of salt to throw around so it was inevitable that one would find its way into a fresh wound. But hey, the route may not have been legit but the destination and the experience of getting there sure were!

So…finally….we have left the hotel. And following our faithful guide Louis like blind ducks behind their mother, we prepared to walk the (wrong) Way of the Cross!

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So the idea was simple. We picked up our cross at the start and carried it through the street’s of Jerusalem, stopping at the marked sites of the stations of the cross until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There’s not much point in reading about it so let’s just take a photographic adventure….

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We had made it with our cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a huge maze of a church, containing many interior chapels and sites, which was built over the actual site of Golgotha and the tomb where Jesus’ body was put after his crucifixion. There have been many churches and temples built on this site over the centuries but this one has been standing since about 1027 -although it has gone through multiple renovations since then.

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There is only one entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and that is through a single door on the south side of the building. Let’s hope a fire doesnt break out!Image

The church is a very confusing building so I will do my best to retrace our steps:

To the right as you enter is the entrance to Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

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As you make your way up towards the site (it was on a hill remember!), there is a room that is reserved only for the Pope to pray in.

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Fancy!

Once you reach the top of the stairs you are faced with the alter of Golgotha which contains, in a glass box, the Rock of Calvary. The rock can be seen on both sides of the alter and underneath is a hole where you can reach in and touch, where it is said to be, the spot where Jesus’ cross was. There was also a spot for some good aul’ fashioned candle lighting.

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Back down the stairs and just beside the entrance is: The Stone of the Anointing. This is the stone that Jesus’ body was laid on and anointed with oil by Joseph of Arimathea after it was taken down from the cross. The stone had some funky lamps hanging over it. Of course, in true Holy Land fashion, this stone was only actually placed in this area in the 19th Century reconstruction of the Church. But shhhh… dont tell anyone that last bit because it was fun to see people grow weak in its presence and throw themselves upon it!

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Next we followed a path into a larger room known as the Rotunda.This is the centre of one of the church’s domes. In the centre of this room is the Aedicule which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, one containing what is known as ‘The Angel Stone’, which is the stone used to close the tomb and a second room containing the Holy Sepulchre which is the tomb in which Jesus was laid in.

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As you can imagine with the Holy Sepulchre being a focal point for all of Christendom, its a pretty popular place and because of this, the queue to get into the tomb was pretty big…about an hour long. But of course we queued. You wouldn’t go to Disneyland without queuing up for Space Mountain!

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While we were in the queue we saw a man at the back of the room praying. He had long brown hair, a brown beard and was dressed in white cloth robes.

“Jesus, Mary and good St. Joseph, it’s the J-man” , we exclaimed in our best Irish accents.

I tried to get some pictures of this elusive figure but I couldn’t catch him. They all came out blurry.

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 After we visited the tomb, and were free from the queue, I went looking for him to try get a picture but he was no where to be seen. Vanished into thin air. Or……ascended into heaven?? Answers on a postcard please.

Not having enough of morbid fascination for one day we went from one tomb to another tomb to another tomb. Next up was Mary’s tomb which would be followed closely by King David’s tomb. Tombtastic.

Ok, I say the tomb of Mary but I have no recollection of where we went next, all I have are the photos. I know it was a church, it had a French flag, there was an Irish priest there, inside there were lots of paintings of women from the Bible such as Ruth and there was some sort of statue in the middle of a room which depicted the body of Mary in a reposed state. But didn’t Mary not die and go straight to Heaven?? I know….maybe this was an Orthodox church cos they don’t believe that one….or maybe it wasnt a tomb…but why the body?? Oh God….I’M SO CONFUSED!!!!!!! I’m hyper-ventilating. I think I’m coming down with Jerusalem fever. Lets get out of here to the next site!!!

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Next stop was the upper room, site of not only The Last Supper but also of the Washing of the feet, The gathering of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, some resurrection appearances by Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost. All under one roof, handy!

Since at least the fourth century AD a structure identified as the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper, has been a popular Christian pilgrimage site in Jerusalem. It has been visited by pilgrims as far back as 384 AD. The building has been destroyed and reconstructed many times since then, culminating in the Gothic structure which stands today.

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While we were in the room there was a curious bunch of Christian’s wearing little orange hats. Even more curious was the crying, wailing and moaning that was coming out of them. The leader of the group, who I can only presume (and hope) was a priest, was touching each group member on the head and clutching the hands of others while chanting and praying. This action reduced those whom he touched to a quivering, emotional wreck who could no longer contain themselves and either spoke in tongues or dropped to the floor in tears. Turned out they were Pentecostal Christians.

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I wanted to have a go but I thought that it would either have no effect on me and I would have inadvertently made a mockery of their beliefs or I would have lost control of my bodily functions, wet my self and inadvertently made a mockery of me. Pentecostal Christianity looks like great craic all the same!

Down the stairs, in the room below, we found King David’s tomb. How convenient these Pilgrims are! Here we were seperated as the women could only visit a small part of the tomb while the mighty men could visit a much larger section.

I got thinking while I was in here…..If King David was the greatest of all Jewish kings…..and this was his tomb….why on earth would Jesus and his mates have been allowed to host their parties in the room up above?? You wouldn’t rent a room at the top floor of a sacred church to a bunch of college students now would you?? Of course not!

But of course, this isnt actually David’s tomb silly! Its more just a spot of remembrance. No-one knows the exact spot of David’s final resting place. Its been lost for centuries. They don’t actually know if it’s in Jerusalem or not. Sad really. I know how it feels,  I lost my car keys for days once and hadn’t a notion where to find them so I can empathize with the Jews on this one.

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As we meandered around the streets of Jerusalem we finally came to one of the most famous spots. The Temple Mount. Original home to the Jewish temple, now home to the Muslim Dome on the Rock and the Jewish Western, or Wailing, Wall. This Western Wall is the most significant site in Jewish worship. This is the wall which, following the destruction of the Temple, has been revered by Jews as the centre of all worship.

Again, men and women were segregated with men praying on the left side of the wall and women to the right. After praying, women are not allowed turn their back on the wall and must walk backwards away from the wall as a reminder to them that they are more likely to turn away from God then a man is. Oh sexism. I wish we had more of you in Ireland.

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Being at such a famous landmark and the site where  3 religions meet was the perfect opportunity for a photo op:

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Our final stop after a loooooong day was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. This was a church built to commemorate the spot where Peter denied Jesus. The spot was originally home to a Byzantine shrine which was built in 457 but destroyed in the 11th Century. Since then, a crusader church was built there in the 1100’s. The church fell into ruin but was restored again in 1931.

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It would be rude at this point not to mention the ornate door that this Church had. Great for recreating scenes from ‘E.T’.

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Underneath the Church was a cave, discovered in the 19th Century, where it is believed that Jesus was kept during his arrest.

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Around the grounds of the church were other statues depicting Peter’s denial and some old ruins.

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So there ends another day in the Holy Land. We had crammed more than thought to be humanly possible into this day so we were only delighted to head home for dinner and another overly stretched happy hour.

Shalom!