The People of the Book on the Emerald Isle.
Persecution and Denial of RightsA Jewish community wasn’t reinstated until late in the 15th century, as refugees from the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal sought a safe haven. There were only a handful of Jews living in Ireland for the next three 300 years, most of whom emigrated due to persecution in other parts of Europe. For the most part Jews lived (and still live) in and around Dublin, but there was a congregation in Cork from 1725 to 1796, and another that was established around 1860. These communities were mostly populated by people in the import business, specifically wine.
Catholic missionaries had some success converting the Jews, and by the end of the 1700s the synagogue in Dublin was forced to close. Contributing to the closure may have been the government's refusal to grant citizenship to Jews, despite other bills that gave citizenship to other foreign nationals.
In 1822 a small group of Jews arrived from Germany, Poland, and England and began to actively build the Jewish community. The Jewish population grew from 453 in 1881 to almost 4,000 in 1901. Small communities emerged in Limerick, Waterford, Belfast and Londonderry. As the community gained momentum, Irish clergy became wary. One priest in particular, Father John Creagh of Limerick, felt threatened by the Jews, and made several inflammatory sermons encouraging Catholics to boycott Jewish traders and in some cases to act violently.
It is thought that he may have been influenced by the Dreyfus Affair while he was on a trip to France. Whatever his motivation, Creagh was fairly successful in driving Jews out of Limerick. With boycotts stifling their livelihood and physical and verbal abuse threatening their safety, most Jews from Limerick fled the country. However, after a few years Creagh was moved to Belfast by his superiors, and the Limerick community reinstated itself during World War I.
Irish Jews and Irish IndependenceAlthough the Irish Jewish Community has never officially taken sides regarding the Irish-British conflict, it is generally known to be sympathetic to the Irish nationalist cause. The Easter rebellion of 1915 saw many Jewish homes sheltering rebels, and Robert Briscoe, Dublin’s first Jewish mayor, was himself a member of the Irish Republican Army. Former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Dr. Isaac Herzog, was a friend of Taoiseach (Irish for President) Eamon de Valera. Additionally, a Jewish lawyer, Michael Noyk, defended members of the Irish Republican Sinn Fein Party and was friends with Michael Collins, the Irish Republican nationalist. The Irish constitution of 1937 recognized Judaism as a minority faith and Jews were assured freedom from discrimination.
Effects of the Holocaust in IrelandThe Jews of Ireland were involved in anti-Nazi activism as early as 1933, when Chief Rabbi Herzog organized protests against the Third Reich. Robert Briscoe, a prominent and well-respected member of the Fianna Fáil party, and himself a Jew, continuously spoke out against anti-Semitism. But Herzog and Briscoe’s efforts were to no avail in 1938 at the international conference at Evian-Les-Bains. It was in Evian that world leaders came together to discuss the European refugee problem, and Ireland effectively closed its doors to all refugees.
Frank T. Cremins, the Irish representative, insisted that Ireland was having a hard enough time sustaining its native population, and would not be able to withstand an influx of immigration. The Department of Justice issued a memorandum that specifically cited the Jews as a problem, saying “As Jews do not become assimilated with the native population, like other immigrants, there is a danger than any big increase in their numbers might create a social problem.”
WWII was a troublesome time for Jews around the world, but the Irish Jewish community was relatively safe. Ireland was considered a neutral country, but some anti-British sympathy led to limited support of Germany, mostly in the spirit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Nazi records from the Wannsee Conference in 1942 mark 4,000 Irish Jews for death, under the assumption that Ireland would eventually fall under the control of the Third Reich. The Nazis were nowhere near successful in this venture. There is only one known Irish Jewish casualty of the Holocaust.
Amazingly, the Irish Jewish community helped save hundreds of Jewish children from Vienna. The children escaped the Nazis via a Kindertransport train, and were taken to a farm in County Down, Northern Ireland. The farm was leased by the Belfast Jewish Community in 1938 with assistance and support from Jews in the Republic.
Once the war was over, Taoiseach Eamon de Valera allowed more than 100 orphans from Czechoslovakia to stay in Clonyn Castle in Delvin, Co. Westmeath for about 15 months before they emigrated to the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.