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How Matt Katz discovered his Irish family – and learned about Irish nights out – is a gripping story

Podcast review: Katz is a cracking storyteller, his meticulously researched and affecting journey is propulsive stuff

Matt Katz had a bad dad. The kind that let him down over and over, the kind that yelled down the phone at him, wouldn’t leave a contact number, failed to pay child support for years, and told his son nobody liked him. No wonder he changed his name to that of his adoptive father, Richard Katz, who Matt’s mother married when he was four. Then, one day, a grown-up Matt Katz spat in a vial and mailed off a DNA test, assuming the results would confirm he was 100 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish. Instead, this Jewish journalist, born and raised in New York City and now living in Philadelphia, found out he was half-Irish. So he started investigating – and, being a journalist, he recorded the journey. The result is Inconceivable Truth.

For centuries, establishing paternity was kind of a crapshoot. Do you look like your dad? Do you share a hot temper or a hoppy gait? Most tellingly, is he claiming you as his offspring? But then along came DNA testing and internet ancestry sites, primed to explode family myths, unearth secrets and mess with our origin stories and personal identities.

In his dive into his own story, Katz found others who had made new discoveries about who they were and where they came from. And, in his personal quest to understand how two Jewish parents of eastern European ancestry could produce a half-Irish son, he discovered three half-siblings and a great-great-grandfather from Macroom.

There is a lovely interlude in this gripping eight-part series where he and his family wander around a Co Cork townland, scaling fences and chatting to local historians. Katz even stops in Dublin for a drink in a bar, and offers up a succinct account of your average night out in our glorious capital. “I saw the sloppiest sidewalk-makeout session I’d ever seen. I got yelled at and then hugged by two very drunk, very young men. And I passed a guy bleeding from his face and heard his girlfriend say to him, ‘Why the f**k are you blaming me? You’re the one who headbutted a window!’ What a country. I liked it here.”


Katz’s honest, meticulously researched and affecting journey into his family story is propulsive stuff: I confess I had to fire off an all-caps missive after one particular cliffhanger, begging for access to the unpublished episodes (Katz obliged). Many’s the tale hangs on finding your father – see also: Star Wars – and Katz is a cracking storyteller, which, like a proud parent, I find myself wanting to claim comes from our side. As he follows the threads back into a hazy past, he unearths some wild shenanigans around fertility treatment in the 1970s.

Katz asks important questions about heritage and history, but perhaps the most moving episode for me is the final one, where he turns the attention on his adoptive father, Richard Katz, the man who raised him from the age of four, who adopted him and whose name he bears. This is who passed on the love and fatherly care that makes a man. If, as we know from epigenetics, trauma and adversity can be passed down through generations, then won’t the stability and affection Richard provided also find a way into his genetic code? Katz may pass his Irish eyes on to future generations, but they may also inherit something of the paternal love that has made this journalist who he is: 50 per cent Irish, 50 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish, 100 per cent his father’s son.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast