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The Fighting Irish Jews - Ireland's Jewish Community's Rich History

1901 wedding of Miss Esther Levin of John Street in Waterford to Mr Myer Stein of Dublin (Photo: National Library of Ireland on The Commons)

The Jewish community of Ireland is dwindling, writes Haaretz's Danna Harman. However, Harman's excellent piece this St. Patrick's Day takes a long look at the rich history of Irish Jewry, from Israel's sixth president to one of the writer James Joyce's most famous characters:

After 120 years, the only synagogue in Cork — a city that welcomed some of the first Jews in Ireland — closed last month.

A handful of old-timers who had moved away over the years, or married out and drifted away, returned to attend one last service, along with a delegation from Dublin. And then, the prayer books were packed up, the chairs folded and the synagogue was shuttered.

“I am not going to say it was not sad. It was terrible sad,” says Rosehill. “It’s the end of something that was pretty special.”

While references to Jews in Ireland date to 1079, the first permanent settlement was established in the late 15th century by Marrano Jews expelled from Portugal. William Moses Annyas Eanes, whose grandfather had emigrated from Portugal, was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555, becoming the first Jew to hold public office in Ireland.

The Jews were never a massive demographic force here. For centuries, the community numbered in the hundreds. Even at its height, in the early 1940s, there were only an estimated 5,500 Jews on the entire island. The majority arrived from Lithuania in the late 19th century, escaping persecution and disembarking in Cork — either because they sensed the upcoming warm embrace, as some would have it, or because they mistakenly believed they had reached New York...

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