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  JEWISH AND KOSHER IRELAND הקהילה היהודית באירלנד

 
 
 
  IRELAND  
 

JEWS IN IRELAND - BACKGROUND:
By:
Tony McCarthy, Editor - Belgrave Publications

The Irish have often been compared to the Jews, in their propensity to wander, their global spread and their ability to assimilate into most societies and rise to the top. Indeed, there is a fanciful notion that the Irish are one of the lost tribes of Israel; that Jeremiah deposited the Ark of the Covenant on a great mound in County Meath and that a cor-ruption of the Jewish word for law, torah, gave this area its name: Tara. In recent years the term Diaspora has been borrowed from the Jews to become a popular piece of short-hand to describe the world-wide Irish population.

The earliest record of Jews coming to Ireland is to be found in the 'Annals of Inn-isfallen': Year 1079 - 'Five Jews came over the sea with gifts to Tairdelbach [grandson of Brian Boru and they were sent back again over the sea.'

It wasn't until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that Jews started to come to Ireland in significant numbers. Up to that time, a trickle of Jews settled in Ireland, but failed to establish sustainable communities. The same pattern was repeated several times: a small group arrived, stayed for about two generations and then declined due to emigration or conversion and assimilation.

The earliest record of a synagogue in Ireland dates from 1660 with the establishment of a prayer room in Crane Lane, opposite Dublin Castle. In 1745 there were about 200 Jews living in Dublin.

Forty-five years later the synagogue, which by then had been moved to Marlborough Green, had to close its doors due to lack of worshippers. By 1818 there were only two Jewish families left in Dublin. The decline has been attributed to several factors including the political unrest of the period, trade depression, intermarriage and conversion and the departure of many of the community.

Things had recovered somewhat by 1836, when there were 18 Jewish families in Dublin. A meeting house which belonged to a Seceders group - a sect of the Church of Scotland - was purchased by the community . With the opening of this new synagogue, which was situated at 12 Mary's Abbey, off Capel Street, some more Jewish families and individuals came to settle in Dublin. As had been the previous pattern, they came from Germany and England.

Acceptance

Apart from some efforts to convert the Jews to Christianity, their small community was left in peace. Daniel O'Connell, the great Irish political leader of the first half of the nineteenth century, was able to say of the Jews: 'Ireland has claims on your ancient race, it is the only country that I know of unsullied by any one act of persecution of the Jews'. He supported with enthusiasm the efforts of the Jews to attain full civil rights within the United Kingdom. In 1846 an obsolete statute which prescribed a special dress for Jews was formally repealed by the British Parliament on the insistence of O'Connell.

For their part, the Jews in Ireland and internationally played a part out of proportion to their numbers in helping to relieve the general distress during the Great Famine. In the original subscription list of the British Association for the Relief of Famine, preserved in the National Library in Dublin, Queen Victoria heads the list with a gift of £2,000 followed by the Jewish financier Baron Lionel de Rothschild's £1,000. A Dublin newspaper, commenting in 1850 on the Baron's generosity, made the point that he and his family had contributed during the Irish famine of 1847 ... a sum far beyond the joint contributions of the Devonshires, and Herefords, Lansdownes, Fitzwilliams and Herberts, who annually drew so many times that amount from their Irish estates.' In 1880 when a new appeal for help for Ireland was directed at America, the Irish Relief Fund and the Irish Famine Fund was liberally supported by American Jews.

New Immigrants

The 1861 census indicates that there were 393 Jews in Ireland. Ten years later, the Jewish population had declined to a neligible 285. Though it had recovered somewhat by 1881, it stood at a mere 472.

However, events taking place far away in the Russian Empire caused the Jewish population in Ireland to increase tenfold in the course of a few decades. In 1882 severe legal restrictions were imposed on the five million Jews living under the rule of the Tsar. The Russian ruler wished to 'Russify' his empire. The Jew proved particularly resistant as far as abandoning their culture was concerned and were marked down for special attention. 'One third must assimilate, one third must emigrate and one third must die', was the solution proposed by the Tsar's adviser Pobedonestsev. Between 1880 and 1910 approximately 2,000 Jews came to Ireland from Eastern Europe. Dublin, Belfast and Cork were the main destinations. Others settled in Limerick, Derry, Drogheda, Lurgan and Waterford.

The sudden arrival of large numbers of Jews caused a certain amount of friction and a degree of antipathy towards the immigrants developed in some of those centres. These were isolated incidents, however, and were anti-foreigner rather than anti-Jewish in nature. Newspaper and local politicians were quick to condemn any maltreatment of the new arrivals and there were no major or prolonged incidents - with the single exception of the well-known boycott in Limerick.

On 12 January 1902, Fr John Creagh of the Redemptorist Order preached a sermon in Limerick indicting the business methods of the Jews of the city and accusing them of shedding Christian blood. He went so far as to suggest that they would 'kidnap and slay Christian children'. In a follow up sermon, Fr Creagh instructed his congregation ' not to deal with the Jews', which was interpreted as meaning not only to give up trading with them, but also to repudiate their debts. The Jewish community was pauperised. The boycott and the anti-Semitic views were generally condemned, though Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Féin, supported Fr Creagh in his newspaper the United Irishman.. Michael Davitt, founder of the Irish Land League strongly supported the Jews, as did John Redmond leader of the Home Rule Party. However, the boycott lasted two years and drove out 80 members of the community from Limerick, leaving fewer than 40 behind. The superiors of Fr Creagh soon came to realise that religious persecution has no place in Ireland. They disowned him and he was withdrawn from Limerick. He died in Wellington, New Zealand in 1947.

Recent History

In December 1892, the first place in Ireland to be built for the express purpose of Jewish worship was opened in Adelaide Road with seating for 300 in the body and half that again in the galleries. An annex with schoolrooms formed part of the new complex. School attendance rose from about 90 when it first opened to 200 in 1899.

The Jewish element of the Irish population reached its peak in the 1940s when it numbered about 5,500. At that time Dublin had its 'Little Jerusalem' in the Portobello district of the South Circular Road, and Cork had its 'Jewtown' on the southern fringe of the city.

Currently there are about 1,800 Jews in Ireland. In the 1981 general election to the Dáil (Irish Parliament), three members of the Jewish community were elected. All three have retained their seats to the present day. Each of the three belongs to a different one of the mainstream political parties: Mervyn Taylor, currently Minister for Equality and Law Reform, is a member of the Labour Party, Alan Shatter is in Fine Gael and Ben Briscoe is a member of Fianna Fáil. The three largest Irish cities, Dublin, Belfast and Cork have had Jewish Lord Mayors in this century.

The Museum

The Irish Jewish Museum is located in Portobello near the South Circular Road, Dublin 8, an area which once had a large Jewish population. It is housed in the former Walworth Road Synagogue, which consisted of two adjoining terraced houses. Due to the movement of the Jewish people from the area to the suburbs of Dublin and with the overall decline in their numbers, the synagogue fell into disuse and ceased to function in the mid-1970s. The premises remained locked for almost ten years and was brought back to life again with the establishment of the Irish Jewish Museum Committee in late 1984.

The museum was opened by the Irish-born former President of Israel Dr Chaim Herzog on 20 June 1985 during his State visit to Ireland. It contains a substantial collection of memorabilia relating to the Irish Jewish communities and their various associations and contributions to present day Ireland.

The material relates to the last 150 years and is associated with the communities of Belfast, Cork, Derry, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford. The museum is divided into several distinct areas. In the entrance area and corridors there is a display of photographs, paintings, certificates and testimonials. The ground floor contains a general display relating to the commercial and social life of the Jewish community. A special feature adjoining this area is the kitchen depicting a typical Sabbath /Festival meal setting in a Jewish home in the late nineteenth /early twentieth century in the neighborhood. Upstairs, the original synagogue, with all its ritual fittings, is on view.

JEWISH RECORDS

Since significant numbers of Jews did not start to arrive in Ireland until well after the beginning of civil registration, it might be expected that all vital information about them was recorded in the civil birth, death and marriage registers. However, the first generation to arrive were not aware of the registration requirements. Indeed, most did not speak English. Therefore, more importance than would otherwise be the case attaches to the records kept by the Jewish community itself.

The Irish Jewish Museum holds a number of important records of genealogical interest:

The Registry Book of the Hebrew Congregation in Dublin (Mary's Abbey Synagogue)

This record book was kept for over 40 years by Rev. Julius Sandheim. It is almost complete from 25 November 1838 to 7 May 1879. It records 308 births; 31 others which took place before his arrival from 20 February 1820 to 11 July 11838 were also traced and duly entered, and births in Belfast during the years 1849-78 likewise. Deaths are also included, beginning on 5 January 1842 and ending on 8 February 1879. Some 140 deaths are recorded.

The Membership Register of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation

This begins on 16 September 1841 and has entries down to 7 April 1883. In the margin of this book, notes of births and deaths are also recorded, not just from Dublin but also from other places in Ireland.

A third source book is the maternity attendance book of Mrs Ada Shillman, the midwife of the Dublin Jewish community. It is a 64 page record of all the deliveries she attended from 9 April 1896 up to 29 April 1908. Approximately 900 births are recorded. The remainder of her note book contains details concerning each family: address, father's name, mother's maiden name, the name of the child and occasionally the occupation of the father. Mrs Shillman's work did not extend beyond the few streets around the Portobello district of the South Circular Road, but the largest concentration of Jewish settlement in Ireland was located in that district.

The museum also possesses a record book of deaths occurring in the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, which sets out in considerable detail information about the deceased.

IRISH JEWISH MUSEUM

3-4 Walworth Road (off Victoria Street),
South Circular Road,
Dublin 8;
Telephone: 01 4531797

OPENING HOURS:
1 May - 30 September:
11.00 am to 3.30 pm
(Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday)

1 October - 30 April
10.30 am - 2.30 pm
(Sunday only)

Adult and school groups can be catered for by telephoning: 01 6760737 or 01 4758388

Admission is free but donations gratefully accepted.

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Irish Roots Magazine in which it was first published in Issue 4, 1996.

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