Jewish Community

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Jewish Community

The first evidence of Jewish settlement in Ireland dates from 1079, when the Annals of Innisfallen record the arrival of five Jews with gifts for the king of Munster, Turlough O'Brien. King Edward II expelled the Jews from Britain and Ireland in 1290, but there has probably been a continuous Jewish presence in Dublin from the 1650s, when Oliver Cromwell invited a community of Sephardic Jews to the city. In 1818 there were reported to be only 9 Jews in Dublin, but by 1861 their numbers had increased to 324; the majority were craftsmen—jewelers, goldsmiths, and watchmakers.

The 1911 census records a Jewish population of 5,148. The exodus of Jews from eastern Europe in the closing decades of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of Jewish communities in Belfast, Cork, and Limerick and a substantial increase in Dublin's Jewish population. The new settlers were poorer than the established Jewish families: They made their living as traveling dealers, as small shopkeepers, and allegedly as moneylenders; their arrival triggered attacks on Jewish property, anti-Semitic poster campaigns, charges that they were engaged in sweated labor, and organized boycotts of Jewish businesses. The most serious incident happened in 1904 when a series of anti-Semitic sermons by a Limerick priest resulted in a boycott of Jewish businesses, and the departure of city's Jewish community, which had numbered 171 in 1901. The Limerick "pogrom" reflects one aspect of the Jewish experience in Ireland, but it is not the entire story.

The Jewish community played an active part in the campaign for Irish independence, and subsequently in Irish political life. In the early 1990s there were three Jewish deputies in Dáil Eireann, one in each of the three major parties, an impressive record for a community of less than 1,600 people. Article 44 of the 1937 Constitution gave formal recognition to the Jewish congregation, but the Irish government was reluctant to admit Jewish immigrants who were fleeing central Europe. Irish society was introspective and somewhat xenophobic, and there was widespread resentment toward any foreigner who appeared to be taking jobs from Irish people, but the hostility and suspicion toward Jewish immigrants was exacerbated by a vein of anti-Semitism in Irish Catholicism, which was exploited by some unscrupulous politicians. After World War II a limited number of Jewish families and approximately one hundred children were admitted as refugees. The Irish Jewish population peaked in 1946 at a figure of 5,381. Since that time the population has fallen to between 1,000 and 2,000. The decline is consistent with what has happened elsewhere in Europe, especially in cities with a small Jewish population, where a combination of emigration, out-marriage, and an extremely low birthrate threatens the survival of communities that have existed for centuries.

SEE ALSO Gaelic Catholic State, Making of; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922; Protestant Community in Southern Ireland since 1922


Hyman, Louis. The Jews in Ireland from Earliest Times to the Year 1910. 1972.

Keogh, Dermot. Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland. 1998.

Shillman, Bernard. A Short History of the Jews in Ireland. 1945.

Mary E. Daly

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