The Potemkin sailor who became an Irish capitalist

In Dublin everybody knows the Beshoff Bros fish and chip shops. The history of this institution is no less impressive than the fare served there. The restaurant was founded by a subject of the Russian empire, Ivan Beshov, who took part in the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin in 1905. He outlived all the members of the crew on the ship and bequeathed to Dublin not only his superb “fish ‘n chips” but, more importantly, an amazing story.

No one knows Ivan Beshov’s exact date of birth – in those days birth certificates were not issued. Nevertheless, it is definitely known that he died in October 1989 aged between 104 and 106 years, as his grandson, John Beshoff, affirms. Ivan Beshov came to Ireland by chance. “He had never thought of living in Ireland,” says his grandson John.“He came here just to board a steamship, which would have brought him to America. That’s where his sister was living.” However, Ivan never boarded the steamship. This all happened in 1914 and the Irish authorities suspected Beshov of being a spy and put him into prison. Suspicions were aroused by his unusual biography as well as his connection with the Socialist movement.

Ivan Beshov was born near to Odessa. He was not yet 20 years old when he found himself on the legendary battleship Potemkin, serving as a mechanic. When in 1905 the famous mutiny broke out, Beshov,the son of a judge, joined in. But his contribution to the revolutionary cause was limited to this. When the Potemkin’s crew surrendered to the Romanian authorities, he did not want to go back to Russia. In 1914, using forged documents, Ivan left Romania for Turkey, and from there, onward to London and Ireland.

“It is said that in London he met Lenin and Trotsky,” says John Beshoff, “But, in my opinion, grandpa was not interested in socialism. He travelled home three times – in 1927, in 1937 and in 1962. However, he did not stay for long, he preferred Ireland. He was not one of the builders of the radiant communist future, but rather a hard-working capitalist.”

After his release from the Irish prison Ivan Beshov got a job in Dublin in a company called Russian Oil Products. But soon the company went out of business, crushed by its competition, the British company BP. Then Ivan, or John as his Irish acquaintances now called him, opened his own café.

“My grandpa really loved the sea and ate a lot of fish, – explains his grandson John – Therefore, it is not by chance that he decided to sell fish ‘n chips. His first business was a little restaurant in the centre of Dublin, on Ussher’s Quay. Afterwards, my grandpa opened cafés in Howth, Clontarf and on the North Strand Road.”

Ivan changed his surname to the more sonorous – from the Irish point of view – Beshoff and over several decades he managed to establish himself in the fish ‘n chips market. He married an Irishwoman, Noreen Mulcahy from county Tipperary, and they had 5 sons and one daughter together. Ivan really loved his wife. He survived her and, according to his grandson John, lamented her right up until his own death.

Ivan Beshoff withdrew from business when he was 82 years old, but even after this he carried on helping his sons, doing different jobs in the café. “Until his death he was an independent and active man. He used to walk a lot and every year he completely repainted his own house all by himself and cut the firewood for the winter…” – remembers his grandson John.

Beshoff spoke Russian and Ukrainian, but never completely mastered English. Every time when a Russian ship dropped anchor in Dublin port he went to introduce himself to the crew. Ivan’s astonishing resistance to alcohol was legendary. When he turned one hundred, the Irish prime minister Charles Haughey came in person to congratulate him. Delighted by his guest’s visit, the Ukrainian entertained him with such a quantity of whiskey that Haughey was forced to pour his drink into the flowerpot behind the long-lived man’s back, to make sure he would still be on his feet afterwards.

“Until his death my grandpa could outdrink any Irishman,” remembers John with a smile. “He ate a lot of boiled fish and meat, and alcohol didn’t affect him at all. It is strange that he never drank vodka, and only rarely beer. But he was incredibly keen on Irish whiskey. Moreover, he adored strong cigars and he was always smoking his pipe.”

Ivan Beshoff managed to see many things in his time. In his spare time he travelled in Europe and went to South America – Brazil and Argentina.

His grandchildren regret knowing none of the Beshov family, who remained in Russia and Ukraine. John Beshoff says that one day he would like to go to Odessa and try to find the home village of his famous grandfather.

WEB site for Beshoff restaurants: http://www.beshoffrestaurant.com/

Viktor Posudnevsky

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Матрос-потемкинец, ставший ирландским капиталистом

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