In an article titled ‘What Irish Republicans Stand For’, published in Forward (Glasgow) in 1923, Constance Markieviciz spoke of the election of representatives to the Republican Courts in her own constituency, following her election in 1918.
Among those she lists as being called to provide representatives, were “…all the Trade Unions and Labour organisations” and individuals “..from the clergy and from the Jews”. The Jewish people were a cornerstone of Dublin life at the time, based mainly in the area around the South Circular Road and Portobello which became known as ‘Little Jerusalem’.
On the day I visited the Museum, I got lucky. I end up deep in discussion with a man himself raised in this old section of Dublin, and when I mention the story of Joe Edelstein and the Fire Brigade he is on the ball, informing me his parents had told him the story themselves. Edelstein was a local business man who fell on hard times and would pull the local fire alarm to draw the attention of the Dublin Fire Brigade, who in turn would drop him off at a police station to sleep the night. Thus, the term ‘Joe’s Alarm’ came into being among firefighters. Joes grave isn’t too far from a fire station today, at the Jewish cemetery in Dolphins Barn. His simple grave notes that “Many Were His Good Deeds”
Joe wrote ‘The Money-Lender’ a most controversial work in its day. A copy is on display in the museum here. It is easy to understand why the work created such tension within the Jewish community at the time.
There are many great oddities in this Museum, though the display of anti-semitic material is particularly interesting. While Fine Gael T.D Oliver J. Flanagan’s infamous outburst regarding the Jewish people in the Dail is well-known (and includes the line “Until we rout the Jews out of this country it
does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make.”) , it is clear that public anti-semitic displays do not begin or end on that 1943 day in our parliament. Below is just one example of an Irish company making it perfectly clear they were not involved in the hiring of Jewish labour, an ad predating Flanagan’s outburst by over three decades. Such ads frequently featured in Sinn Féin publications.
Images of anti-semitic attacks on synagogues also feature, like the image below from the Evening Press in December 1960.
A particularly nasty piece of work comes from September 1956, a leaflet which begins with a large ‘WARNING!’ to the reader that the Jewish people were responsible for the second world war.
Coming more than ten years after the fall of European fascism, the claim that ‘Hitler was right’ stands out and the venom in the work is clear.
The history of the Jewish community in Dublin is a long and varied one however, and for the horrific stories of anti-Semitism there are far more stories of an integrated, popular and proud community. The museum gives pride of place to information on perhaps our most famous (yet fictional) Dublin Jew, Leopold Bloom himself. As well as this, those of us keen on Labour history will have our eyes dragged towards this copy of The Irish Worker, edited by Big Jim Larkin himself in 1924 and featuring the Irish Citizen Army roll of honour for Easter Week on its front page. It includes a mention to “A. Weeks”, a “..Jewish comrade who joined on Easter Monday and died in action”.
Among the more unusual items on display, one finds Guinness bottle-labels from stores in the area, as well as items relating to the opening of the Terenure Synagogue in 1953. The ceremonial key features here, marking a definitive moment in the history of the Jewish community in Dublin, where much of the community move from this great corner of the city to Terenure.
A small, touching plaque features upstairs in the restored synagogue to Ettie Steinberg. Herself and her son were to become the only Irish citizens to perish in the Holocaust. Raised in Raymond Terrace, she was born and reared in this corner of the city. The horrific figure of six million can be difficult to comprehend, but when the story of one individual is brought to life, not least a Dubliner born only a short walk from the Museum, the horror of those years becomes clearer.
Those with an interest in this community would of course do well to visit this wonderful hidden gem of a museum. Dublin’s Little Jerusalem, that excellent book from Nick Harris, is also a fascinating insight into this corner of the city. The Bretzl Bakery and this museum remain as a reminder of what was once a thriving Jewish community. A community with a history of struggle, but also a history of culture and joy. Their story is one we should all know.