Obituary: David Marcus


Born Cork, August 21, 1924. Died Dublin, May 9, 2009, aged 84.

As editor of the New Irish Writing pages of The Irish Press for 18 years, David Marcus was mentor to a generation of writers.

The grandson of Lithuanian immigrants, he came from a talented family, with three brothers and a sister surviving him.

His uncle, Gerald Goldberg, was an eminent barrister and arts patron, his brother Louis became one of Ireland’s foremost documentary film makers. He himself was a talented pianist with a love of Mozart.

Educated at Catholic schools, where he learned the Irish language, he imbibed Yiddish from his strong Jewish home background — and was a national table-tennis champion. He studied law at University College, Cork, and was called to the Irish Bar but did not practise.

His real love was writing. Teaming up with a journalist on The Cork Examiner in 1946, he started a magazine, Irish Writing. With youthful chutzpah, he wrote to every well known author. George Bernard Shaw was one of the few to turn him down.

The magazine folded in 1954 but his 1948-founded quarterly, Poetry Ireland, still survives. He also created a stir with his 1953 translation into English of a seminal Gaelic poem, The Midnight Court, written in 1780 on the theme of women’s right to love and lust.

Moving to London in 1955 to work in insurance, he returned to Ireland in 1968 to join The Irish Press in Dublin. The 1931-founded pro-Irish independence newspaper attracted many top writers, David Marcus prominent among them.

The section he created, New Irish Writing, became a nursery for new writers, including Edna O’Brien and Patrick McCabe. He retired in 1986 to concentrate on his own writing, well before the paper’s closure in 1995.

He described his youthful feelings and experiences in his first, largely autobiographical, novel, To Next Year In Jerusalem (1954). Set in “Jewtown”, the Jewish area of Cork, the story centres round a young “minyan man” torn between his love for a local Catholic girl and his urge to join the anti-British struggle for Jewish independence in Palestine.

In the book, the girl’s parents, mindful of their own part in the Irish rebellion, are sympathetic to his pro-Israel aspirations. In real life, David Marcus never visited Israel and married an Irish writer, Ita Daly.

But while moving towards an atheistic stance, he remained committed to his Jewish identity. He remembered the Jewish community’s attitude in the Second World War as “quietly terrified” and was aware from history that Ireland had been as much the launchpad for invasions of England as the other way round.

His three early novels, two late memoirs and short story collection, revolving round his Jewishness, received excellent reviews in the JC as well as on home turf. But his true role was his assiduous nurturing of young writers, giving them, in effect, personal tuition through his close and careful editing.

He was honoured in 2008 by his native city of Cork and the Irish branch of PEN, when an affectionate tribute was paid to his selfless and decades-long contribution to Irish literature.

He is survived by his wife, Ita, and daughter, Sarah.

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