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A look at the Dublin story of ‘Joe Edelstein’s Alarm’ in Little Jerusalem.

Back in September, I paid a visit to the Irish Jewish Museum in Portobello, a pretty incredible gem covering everyone from the fictional (Leopold, I’m talking to you…) to the very real Jewish characters in Dublin history.

One of the characters touched upon was Joe Edelstein. Joe’s name would have been very well-known in the area that became Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’. He was a businessman and writer of some importance in the Jewish part of the city. The Irish Times of September 11 1908 noted for example that he spoke at a meeting of the Judaeo-Irish Home Rule Association at the Mansion House in Dublin and proposed that “….this great meeting of Jews resolve to support such measures as will tend to secure for the people of Ireland a full grant of self-government.”

Edelstein wrote a most controversial work, The Money Lender, which was not well received in the Jewish community of the capital. A copy of it can be seen in the museum today. It was felt by some that the book re-inforced negative stereotypes about the community. It was published in 1908. Despite objections to the work, Joe remained an influential figure in the Jewish community, and newspaper archives show he continued to speak at many public events, continuing to champion the Home Rule movement.

Sadly, Edelstein, once an influential figure in his community, was to fall on hard times and turn to drink. The Irish Independent of November 11, 1939 noted that he was fined a sum of 40s for an offence arising out of being drunk. On one occasion Edelstein was fined by damaging works in the National Library.

Manus O’Riordan has done some excellent research on the Jewish community in Dublin, and noted that:

Edelstein was a man with a serious drink problem, and was subject to frequent psychiatric breakdowns, with resulting periods of hospitalisation. In fact, one such commitment to the Richmond mental hospital for a whole nine months stretch stemmed from the scandal of his 1911 conviction for the crime of indecent assault….

… Edelstein lived on New Street, the central venue for James Connolly’s outdoor public meetings during his 1902 Wood Quay election campaign, and a straight continuation of Clanbrassil Street, the principal thoroughfare of Dublin’s “Little Jerusalem”.

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Below are some scans from the Annual Report of the Dublin Fire Department, as the service was known, in 1913. It details the work carried out by the fire service in 1913. The scans below offer some interesting insight into what was going on in the city at the time.

The report is signed off Thomas P. Purcell, Chief Officer. It was concluded on March 6th at Central Station,Tara Street.

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This article aims to provide a brief overview of the Pearse Street Fire of 1936. It is by no means a complete overview of events and I recommend anyone seeking more information on the incident consult ‘A Triple Tragedy in Dublin, The Pearse Street Fire, 1936’, by A.P Behan. That paper was published in the Dublin Historical Record (ISSN 0012-6861, Spring 1997). I have relied on it, and newspapers of the period, for much of the information below.

Men fight the blaze, image taken from Independent. This image was taken moments before an explosion in the premises.

Writing in the Irish Independent in the immediate aftermath of the event , Anthony Flynn wrote of the risks men in the Dublin Fire Brigade faced in the line of work.

The fireman himself thinks only of duty. That duty is clear and defined. And our Dublin firemen do not hesitate. In Pearse Street, as on countless other occasions, these men faced death. Three of them died, displaying a courage equal, if indeed, it does not transcend, that of the battlefield.

The premises of Exide Batteries, at 164 Pearse Street, had been the site of a horrific blaze on the night of Monday October 5th. Due to the proximity of Tara Street Fire Station, it took less than two minutes for the men to arrive on scene. The fire had been detected by the tenants above Exide Batteries at 10.50 p.m. In the definitive history of the Dublin Fire Brigade (The Dublin Fire Brigade: A History of the Brigade, the Fires and the Emergencies, by Trevor Whitehead and Tom Geraghty)they note that

Number 163 housed a barber’s shop at ground level and a private hotel occupying the upper floors. Number 164 had a retail shop belonging to Exide Batteries Ltd. on the front ground floor, vacant offices on the first floor and a family of seven living on the top floor. The basements, although not connected,were the location of a factory in which Exide batteries were assembled….

The fire was fought in terrible conditions. The water supply in the area was nowhere near adequate, for example. A.P Behan stated in his paper ‘A Triple Tragedy in Dublin, The Pearse Street Fire, 1936’ that

There was practically no volume of water and no pressure. Onlookers were incensed at the firemen having to fight such fire in these conditions, and the absence of adequate water supply had the result that the firemen had to get so close to the fire that their uniforms were scorched

Two explosions ripped the premises apart. Initially, two firemen were thought missing in the premises, but quickly it became apparent a third was missing. It was not until about 10 in the morning the next day that the third body was found. The three Dublin firefighters killed in the line of duty were:

Fireman Robert Malone– a veteran of the 1916 Rising who had served as a Lieutenant with “D” Company 3rd Battalion at Bolands Mills Garrison, under Eamon de Valera. He left a wife and child behind.

Fireman Thomas Nugent– who was engaged to be married.

Fireman Peter McArdle– who left a wife and seven children (His funeral mass card is shown below)

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I love this photo. Taken in 1900, it shows two tug-of-war sides. On the left, and boasting some quality custom ‘DMP’ shirts, we have the Dublin Metropolitan Police. On the right, and winning the war of the mustaches, the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Tug-of-war was a hugely popular sportstime in the early twentieth century, and The Irish Times of October 17th, 1908 noted that the Dublin Metropolitan Police team became the “World Champions” of the sport by overcoming the Liverpool Police at Ballsbridge during the August Bank Holiday.

In 1924, the Dublin Metropolitan Police team returned home from England with the ‘City of Hull Tramways Challenge Cup’ and, The Irish Times noted, were recevied by a large crowd which included Mr. Kevin O’ Higgins, Minister for Home Affairs.

Another 1924 report indiciates that along with the DMP, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Royal Ulster Constabulary among others had strong tug-of-war sides.

While I don’t know the outcome of the 1900 encounter between the DMP and the Dublin firemen, the track record of the DMP in the sport means it doesn’t look good for the firemen. I’d love to hear from you if anyone knows more of their encounters!

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“Willie Bermingham described graphically the awful scene he encountered in that chalet on that bitter cold February day. A frail, old man, blind in one eye, lying dead on a wet bed with an old blanket gripped in his left hand, two cold rooms in that timber chalet, no fuel for the fire and no food in the press and he half naked, stiff in his death sentence, alone and in misery”

This piece is taken from the fantastic The Dublin Fire Brigade: A histoy of the Brigade, the Fires and the Emergencies by Tom Geraghty and Trevor Whitehead, recounting the time Willie was sent into a residence in 1977 as a routine part of his job. The residence was located at Charlemont Street.

Below the picture of Willie I have posted a wonderful and quite witty piece he wrote on himself, which always brings a smile to my face when I read that last line. I think it only right to allow characters of such magnitude to speak for themselves.

Don’t just think of him when a fire engine goes roaring past you on the street, but rather when you encounter an elderly neighbour in need of aid of any sort, including company.

Willie will be twenty years gone from us this Friday.
ALONE continues to work on behalf of the elderly people of Dublin.

“Willie Bermingham landed at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin 29th March, five years before the big snow of 1942.

One of a family of seven with a father -a farmer, merchant, dealer, turf cutter, scrap man or just a hard worker, and a mother- a great woman to milk cows, feed pigs, cut turf or feed the nation.

Educated at Goldenbridge, St Michael’s Inchicore, on the streets, in the bog and at the university of life itself. Married with 5 children from 17-5 years. Hobbies include hoarding junk and curios and foreign travel.

Joined the Dublin Fire Brigade in 1964 and spent a long time pushing for the pension. Favourite food, good old irish stew and lots of fish. For breakfast several mugs of tea at work. Also loves to eat lots of red tape to teach the bureaucrats a little manners.”

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Front page article End Army Scabbery reproduced in full below introduction.

A nice find this, a copy of Class Struggle (the paper of the Irish Workers Group) from 1988, during the Dublin Fire Brigade strike. Up top there is an ad for a public meeting on the subject of ‘Gorbachev and the Irish Left’ and those wishing to subscribe to the paper are told to address their envelopes to a certain ‘J.Larkin’. The paper also features a lengthy piece on the situation in Palestine at the time.

The Irish Workers Group (Workers Power) emerged out of the Socialist Workers Movement in the 1970s.

” It was formed as a separate organisation after being expelled from that group in 1976. It affiliated to the League for the Fifth International (L5I). By the 2000s, it had ceased producing Class Struggle, its publication, instead distributing the publications of the Workers Power group in Britain. The group was active in several places in Ireland, notably Dublin, Derry and Galway, and, amongst others, published a book on James Connolly”
(sourced from Wikipedia)

This newspaper was handed to my father on route to a Union meeting in Liberty Hall during the dispute. I’ve always been intrigued by the strike for a variety of reasons. While troubles raged in the North for example, firemen from Derry stood outside Dublin firestations with signs proclaiming ‘Londonderry FBU Support Dublin Firefighters’. Despite media smear campaigns, the workers managed to hold some degree of popular support, and perhaps nothing was more poignant than the sight of relatives of Stardust fire victims supporting the Brigades workforce.

(Article from front page, on Fire Brigade strike)

End Army Scabbery!

Union officialdom gave lavish notice to the state before the fire strike to enable them to organise a complete alternative service for the capital. Hundreds of soldiers driving Civil Defence tenders and ambulances are now engaged in the most systematic military scabbing operation since the lengthy bus strike of five years ago.

Union officialdom in fact relies on the state to do precisely this so as to take the cutting edge off the workers’ own direct action, exhausting the strikes and making sellouts and compromises eaiser for them to engineer in their private negotiations. But the issue is too important to be left at this. Every time the state is let get away with army strike-breaking, a nail is hammered into the coffin for the organised working class.

The savage attacks of the ruling class that lie ahead in the increasingly unstabble conditions of capitalism demand that we begin to act now with the sharpest possible response to neutralise the strike breaking capacity of the state whose ultimate logic can carry it into armed assaults and internment of workers in severe cases.

Resolutions and public statements must be issued from every level of the trade union movement, attacking the army action and demanding all out union action to stop it. Anti working class actions of the kind by the bosses state have a significance vastly greater than the breaking of one particular strike. They add up to a question of life and death in the long run for the fighting ability of our class against capitalism, and they demand a militant class wide fight up to the level of indefinite general strike if neccessary.

Victory to the Firefighters!

For A National Firefighters Strike!

All Local Authority Workers Out Now In Support!

For National Trade Union Action To Break The Army Scabbery!

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