25th March 2024

I have dreamt of you, veiled Salomé. Your breath is on my skin – sweet with blood and lust. But your touch is unwelcome to me, Salomé. When will you be gone?


I was introduced to the story of Herod’s stepdaughter when I was her age, by way of a school text. Tetrarch Na Gailíle managed to extinguish interest in the very things it attempted to celebrate – the beauty of the Irish language and the insistent power of Biblical stories. 

But the lures of Galilee, its Governor, and the treachery of Salomé, would return by circuitous route. 


In 1998, I had decided upon a two-week cycle around Israel.

The idea was premised on Israel being small, its inheritance great, and a vague hope that the cycle paths there would be multitudinous. I imagined waving to cheery shepherds, high on yonder field, as I wheeled through ancient olive groves, signposted for ease. 

To my dismay, I discovered that Israelis get from alpha to beta by motorway alone. 

To boot, those motorways have no hard shoulders, and their drivers are testy. All this was evident on my first foray, by bike, beyond Tel Aviv. Although I had not explicitly planned to risk my life, such was the outcome.  

Happily, by midday, I found refuge in a Samarian kibbutz, by way of kind invitation. A fellow bike-enthusiast had passed in his car, pulling in when he saw my motorway death-crawl. 

Mike suggested that I come to his home for lunch, and talk through my itinerary. 

I stayed three days in that kibbutz, in the warm embrace of his family. Mike and I discussed all the subjects that the blank-slate of new friendship offers. Being a jobbing lawyer, we travelled that evening to Haifa’s District Court, where I watched him advocate for a young man caught in some misdemeanour. We ate shawarma from street vendors after court, and continued our conversation. 

Mike was American, called to the project of Israel as a young man. He had many stories to tell, and was charismatic in the telling.

The next day, I off-loaded my panniers and took a rare side-road to the Roman amphitheatre, at Caesarea. Built on the Mediterranean shore, its architecture holds the conviction of permanence. The steps were hot from afternoon heat, and it occurred to me that I was a stone’s throw from Herod’s domain. 

There is a visceral appreciation, travelling in these parts, that you are treading on storied ground. Memories of my school text floated to the surface, because Mike and I had agreed a plan. 

Tomorrow, he would drive me up to Golan, where my bike and I would find almost no traffic, fresh air, and a downhill cycle to the Sea of Galilee. 


Galilee. Most of my reasons for knowing the place were rooted in a Catholic upbringing. Salomé was hardly the first character the region brought to mind. 

But since school, my reading had brought me closer to her. 

Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde charts how Wilde came to write about her, in French, in the 1890s. The Irishman looked to find the lust and personal responsibility within her story, and place it on the stage. He would give his ‘Princess of Judea’ agency; in his script, she would own both her desires and their consequences. 

Salomé’s story is, of course, pure soap-opera. 

Herod has thrown John the Baptist into prison, as the State is fearful of prophets. Salomé, a royal teenager, is aware of her sexual control over the Tetrarch Herod. Unknown to her stepfather, she visits The Baptist in prison, and falls for his alabaster skin, his black hair and his red lips. This is lust. She attempts to consummate her desires, but the holy man refuses. 

Salomé swears revenge.

Her stepfather, overtaken by desires of his own, now wants her to dance for him. For dance, read ‘have sex’. He offers anything in return for the dance, including half his Kingdom.

Salomé then makes her fateful decision.

She demands John the Baptist’s head. Given perfumes and veils, she then dances her dance and the execution is ordered. 

The Baptist’s head arrives on a bloody platter. Salomé lifts it in her hands, and kisses his lips. Her necrophilic act scandalises Herod, who promptly orders her death.  


It was the Spring of 1998 when I rode down from Golan to Galilee. In those days before smartphones, I could access no text, either of Ellmann or of the Gospels, to fill in gaps or to bolster emotions. Her story remained wispy in my head, like the haze over Galilee at dawn. 

But Salomé never dies.

Just last week, I went to a performance of Strauss’ opera, Salomé, in Dublin. 

Soon after Wilde’s death, when his name was still sullied with scandal, the composer Ricard Strauss set his play to music. The result is a mighty one-act opera, full of lechery, nobility and gore.

The drama builds to the moment when Salomé’s dastardly wish is fulfilled. John’s head is delivered to her, on a platter. She must now justify her decision, at least to herself.

But her argument is less convincing than her dance. And thus, before she is put to death, Salomé is already dead.


I contacted Mike on October 7th 2023, the day of the Hamas attacks in southern Isreal. We had fallen out of touch for several years. His wife returned my message. Mike had died in 2020 – unknown to me, as my name had escaped the mailing list of notification.

The news hit me hard. We had known each other only briefly. But Mike was a man of kindness, who pulled me from danger, and set me on the road to Galilee.  

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