Columns - 2012

    Eire Today, Gaon Tomorrow

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    Yes, Virginia, there are Jews in Ireland.

    Most people expect the history of Jews in Ireland to be even less substantial than the leaflet on famous Jewish sports legends in "Airplane!"

    But just as there are actually many Jews in the histories of football, baseball, basketball, and even boxing, there have been more Jews in Ireland over the centuries than there were in synagogues last December 24th.

    Hard to believe there's any Jewish connection to Ireland? What are latkes made of? (The third ingredient, after grease and burnt edges.) Easier question: What's potato kugel made of? And what's more Irish than a potato?

    Perhaps a football player at Notre Dame is more Irish. But does that mean he's not Jewish? Just ask former NFL offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal (Notre Dame '99). Or Marchmont Schwartz, one of two halfbacks who led the Irish to championships in 1929 and 1930. Or Schwartz's freshman backup in 1930, Ben Kane. And many others, but back across the pond...

    Jews set foot in Ireland as early as 1079, when "five Jews came from over sea with gifts to the king of Munster, and they were sent back again over sea." Nobody is certain why they were sent back, but historians speculate that either they had asked to see the kosher menu, or the gifts were their mothers' brisket.

    There was a Jewish community near Dublin by 1232, because Peter de Rivel was granted "custody of the King's Judaism in Ireland." Jews were expelled from England in 1290, but it would not have been beyond the pale for Jews to remain in Ireland, as long as they avoided the English settlement there by moving beyond the Pale.

    Speaking of expulsions -- because it's physiologically impossible to speak of Jewish history without them -- some Marrano Jews expelled from Portugal in 1496 settled in Ireland's south coast. This led to a consistent presence in Ireland, the perfect land to sit together to discuss Talmud and Eire their grievances.

    While the United States didn't elect a Catholic president until 1960, Jewish mayors were elected in Ireland in the 1500's. The first Irish synagogue opened in 1660, and the first Jewish cemetery broke ground within the next century. Apparently Irish Jews lived a very long time.

    While there's no confirmed date for the first kosher deli in Ireland, the 1700's saw numerous laws in the Irish House of Commons regarding the Jewish community. Only some of them were detrimental. (Some of the laws, not some of the Jews.)

    Parallel to the Catholic Emancipation was a Jewish emancipation in 1846 that, among other things, lifted the dress code for all Jews. They were now allowed to blend in with Irish society, free to wear black hats and long black coats over "kiss me I'm Oyrish" t-shirts.

    In the early 20th Century, the Jewish Irish population had increased from a few hundred to nearly five thousand, thanks to Russia's new after-school pogroms. Due to another event that encouraged Jewish relocation in the 1940's, the Oyrish population peaked around 5,500 Jews, a significant majority in or near Dublin.

    The one notable exception to a relatively peaceful coexistence between Jews and the Irish was the Limerick Pogrom in the early 1900's, which went like this:

    There once was a priest, Father Creagh,
    Whose sermons went not the Jews' way,
    They led to a riot and two years of boycott,
    But was called a pogrom anyway.

    Today there are nearly two thousand Jews in Ireland. The most famous Irish Jew might be Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce's "Ulysses," later played by Gene Wilder and Matthew Broderick in the film and stage versions of "The Producers."

    On the non-fiction shelf, former Israeli president Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast. Bridging the gap is a real person on the fiction shelf. Religious School students might be just slightly more acquainted with a magical bloke who counts as Jewish from his mother and Irish from his father: Daniel Radcliffe.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who is currently directing the definitive Irish musical, "Finian's Rainbow" -- written by three New York Jews in the 1940's. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.