Reimagining the Jews of Ireland

Historiography, Identity and Representation

by Zuleika Rodgers (Volume editor) Natalie Wynn (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection X, 298 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 121


«This collection marks the coming of age of Irish Jewish Studies. Beautifully curated by Zuleika Rodgers and Natalie Wynn, it brings together the best of recent scholarship, covering history, politics, literature and everyday life. Taken together these essays show the complexity of both the Irish Jewish experience and responses to them.»
(Tony Kushner, James Parkes Professor of Jewish/non-Jewish relations, University of Southampton)
«A refreshingly nuanced exploration of perceptions and self-perceptions of Irish Jews. The authors interrogate political, religious, economic, social and cultural discourses from the eighteenth century to contemporary times to unravel less-familiar expressions of antisemitism, alongside occasional philosemitism, and offer critical insights on the many reimaginations of Christian Ireland’s long-standing migrant Other minority.»
(Guy Beiner, Sullivan Chair of Irish Studies, Boston College)
Discourse, both scholarly and popular, around the Jews of Ireland has increased in recent years and this volume of essays takes up the challenge of placing it within the framework of Jewish historiography and the study of Jewish history and culture. The focus of the volume is to provide a critical re-evaluation of the study of Irish Jews looking at key areas such as Irish Jewish historiography, communal traditions, antisemitism, nationalism (Jewish and Irish) and representations in popular media. Underlying the contributions is the desire to reassess the ways in which traditional scholarship and representation of Irish Jews have been shaped by uninterrogated narratives and a lack of understanding and sensitivity to the context of Jewish history and the Jewish experience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1 Jews in Ireland and Multiple Invisibilities: Some Reflections on Historiography, Identity and Representation
  • 2 Christian Restorationism in Ireland in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries and the Image of the Jew in the Irish Imagination
  • 3 Two Irish Zionists and Their Antisemitism: Michael Davitt (1846–1906) and Arthur Griffith (1871–1922)
  • 4 ‘They Thought It Was New York’: Deconstructing the Communal Narrative of the Cork Jewish Community
  • 5 Portrayals of Jews in Irish Folk Narrative
  • 6 Jews as the ‘Economic Other’: Negotiating Modernity, Identity and Industrial Change in the Irish Free State Commission on Vocational Organisation, 1939–1944
  • 7 ‘Where Are the Radical Irish Jews?’: Leslie Daiken and Michael Sayers, Negotiating Irish Jewish Leftist Identities in the 1930s and 1940s
  • 8 ‘The Old Sinister Enemies Have found a New Ally’: The Judaeo-Bolshevik Myth in Mid-twentieth-century Irish Catholic Culture
  • 9 Nine Folds Make a Paper Jew: The Representation, Identity and Legacy of Irish Jews as Reflected in the Popular Media
  • 10 Young Turks: An Afterword
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

Figures and Tables


This volume is based on the papers presented – and the lively discussion that took place – at a conference held at the Trinity Long Room Hub in June 2017. It was generously supported by the Trinity Long Room Hub and the Herzog Centre for Jewish and Near Eastern Religions and Culture at Trinity College Dublin. We are grateful to all the contributors for their essays and their patience! Many thanks to Dr David O’Kane for his work on the manuscript and to Raymond J. Davidson Jr for his indexing work. This essential part of the editorial process was made possible by the financial assistance provided by Trinity College Dublin Trust.

The editors would like to note that this volume was in the production stage when they heard the sad news of Professor Dermot Keogh’s passing. Professor Keogh made a significant contribution to the study of the Jews of Ireland in his time.

This volume is dedicated to Roz Zuger z"l who was a generous supporter of Jewish Studies and the Herzog Centre at Trinity College Dublin.

Zuleika Rodgers and Natalie Wynn


This volume presents a selection of essays based on an academic workshop of the same name, held at Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub in June 2017. The conference was convened in recognition of the growing scholarly interest in the critical study of the cultural, social and economic history of the Jews of Ireland, incomers who arrived as subjects of the British Empire and became citizens of an independent republic. Scholars came together from a wide range of relevant backgrounds with the aim of establishing the existing academic conversation on Irish Jewish culture, history and historiography on a firmer footing, with particular reference to Jewish Studies and its critical methodologies. Participants were invited to submit papers that would critically re-evaluate key areas of Irish Jewish history and historiography such as antisemitism, nationalism (Jewish and Irish) and identity, and their interplay with related issues in broader Jewish historiography; the study of individuals and groups who identify – and are identified by the wider population – as Jewish but who have fallen outside communal and popular narratives; and perceptions and representations of Jews in Ireland in public, theological and literary discourse.

The small size of Ireland’s Jewish community and its peripherality to the main centres of Jewish intellectual, cultural and political life have led to the assumption that it has little to offer as a subject for research. Existing studies are often regarded as exhaustive, as opposed to marking a starting point for further study and debate. Their flaws and inadequacies have gone unchallenged, notably their over-reliance on ‘insider’ communal perspectives and interests, and their lack of Jewish historical and cultural context. The Jewish experience in Ireland has been examined neither within the context of Jewish history nor from the perspective of Jewish Studies and remains largely misunderstood, decontextualised and misrepresented. This has resulted in the banal stereotyping of Irish Jewry, the framing of myth and anecdote as history, and the failure to recognise, acknowledge and engage with most of the important research questions relating to communal identity, history and historiography. Although the most immediate context and heritage of the Irish community is the British ‘provincial’ network, Irish Jewish history and historiography have yet to be integrated into the ongoing study of British Jewry, especially that of its so-called ‘Celtic’ communities in Scotland and Wales. Influential works written from the Irish Studies perspective have provided insights into the national context for the study of Ireland’s Jewish community, while overlooking issues specific to European Jewish historiography and Jewish Studies, and their theoretical questions and methodology.

Many aspects of Jewish history and experience in Ireland remain under- or unexplored and under- or unrepresented. Communal narratives of migration and settlement in Ireland have not been duly interrogated and remain as accepted historical record in popular, communal and, often, scholarly perceptions. The labelling of the community as exclusively Litvak obscures a significantly more diverse reality and ignores the important historical contribution of the pre-existing community of Central and West European origin who supported the expansion and development of the community and its infrastructure at the time of mass migration. The overstatement of Jewish support for Irish nationalism has eclipsed a significant communal commitment to Jewish nationalism and the variety of complex and shifting relationships with Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities. The study of perceptions, conceptions and representations of Jews in Ireland – from Jewish and non-Jewish perspectives – has tended to focus on overt antisemitism, overlooking the multifaceted, complicated and ever-shifting attitudes towards Jews in Ireland, and alternative ways of assessing Jewish/non-Jewish relations in the local setting.

The volume opens with a snapshot of the current state of the discipline of Irish Jewish Studies which emphasises that many of the most challenging questions in Irish Jewish Studies have yet to be adequately addressed. Zuleika Rodgers, Natalie Wynn and Katrina Goldstone highlight the flaws and lacunae that are inherent in traditional approaches to the study of the Jews of Ireland, whether conducted by amateur or professional historians, and indicate how these might be addressed in the future through the introduction of more rigorous contextualisation and greater balance so that alternative and innovative ways can be found of understanding and assessing the Jewish experience in Ireland past, present and future. The authors note the benefits to be gained from insights in areas such as minority studies; theoretical approaches to the study of Jewish identities and Jewish identity politics related to assimilation and legal status; and methodological reflections on Jewish history.

Philip Alexander assesses whether attitudes towards Jews and Israel in Ireland have been influenced by Restorationist views regarding the return of Jews to statehood at the end of time. He traces the development of Irish Restorationism from the middle of the eighteenth century whereby by the nineteenth-century Dublin ‘was a hotbed of Restorationist thinking’. He highlights the Dispensationalism of John Nelson Darby, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, which became the main trajectory of what we know as Christian Zionism in the United States with its impact on foreign policy towards Israel. Influence can be further found in British approaches to the ‘Eastern Question’ and Zionism in the early twentieth century. However, it would seem that it plays no role in the majority worldview of Irish Protestants (except for the small community of Plymouth Brethren) and where Unionist support for Israel is found, it is not based on a Restorationist or Dispensationalist worldview.

Colum Kenny’s chapter investigates Irish attitudes towards Jews and Jewish nationalism through a survey of two leading figures in the Irish nationalist movement, Michael Davitt and Arthur Griffith. Davitt is lauded in Irish Jewish narrative as a champion of Jewish causes due to his reporting of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 and his intervention on behalf of Limerick’s Jewish traders during the boycott of 1904. Griffith is portrayed as Davitt’s polar opposite: an inveterate antisemite who published a slew of anti-Jewish articles as editor of the United Irishman newspaper. Kenny queries this binary assessment of Davitt and Griffith by locating their respective views on Jews and ‘Jewish questions’ within the broader Irish political landscape and its Semitic discourses. Davitt’s use of Jewish economic stereotypes is counterbalanced with a positive evolution in Griffith’s attitude towards Jews, as Kenny invites us to reconsider whether the two were indeed so radically different in outlook. He also notes British antisemitism.

Peter Garry’s contribution supplements a growing body of material on Jewish migration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in particular the work that interrogates and re-evaluates the tales of accidental arrival and settlement that are found in many of the former British ‘provincial’ communities. Garry uses census and migration data to re-examine Jewish migration to Cork and interrogate claims that Jewish settlement in Ireland was the result of accident, trickery or circumstance. By placing Jewish migration to Ireland within its broader national and international context of mass migration, Garry finds that this was entirely intentional and points to a possible source for the accidental arrival myths that are commonly related in connection with Cork’s Jewish community.

In her essay, Barbara Hillers introduces a new and valuable perspective to the study of Jews in Ireland by investigating how Jews are perceived and represented in Irish folk tradition. Hillers examines previously unexplored, informal Irish narratives on Jews and Judaism and places them within their broader European setting. This allows for the identification of elements that are distinctive to the Irish context, and therefore have something to reveal about real and imagined encounters between Jews and non-Jews in rural Ireland. Hillers argues that the apparent naivety of folk narrative conceals a strong potential for reflecting and reinforcing popular stereotypes and prejudice, demonstrating its relevance as a hitherto untapped source for the analysis of non-Jewish representations of Jews in the Irish context.

Economic stereotypes have been found by Hillers and Mícheál Mac Gréil1 to be a persistent element in popular non-Jewish constructs of ‘Jews’ in Irish society. Trisha Oakley Kessler’s chapter examines how these functioned in the more formal setting of the Irish Free State Commission on Vocational Organisation. In this forum, Jewish businessmen were portrayed as having introduced undesirable, ‘un-Irish’ methods of trading and manufacturing into the Irish economic milieu. This projection of conservative Catholic fears regarding industrialisation and economic modernisation contributed to the ‘othering’ of Jewish businessmen as exploiters of Irish workers and consumers alike, portraying them as a threat to state efforts to construct a communitarian Catholic society in newly independent Ireland.

Katrina Goldstone’s essay addresses the invisibility within Irish Jewish historiography and narrative of unconventional forms of identity or political affiliation. She offers an alternative perspective through the lives and careers of two Irish Jewish left-wing radicals, Leslie Daiken and Michael Sayers. Most of Daiken’s and Sayers’s literary output is best considered within its international political context. Yet both also reflected on their early lives at different points in their literary careers, foreshadowing subsequent scholarly debates on Irish Jewish identity and hybridity. As Goldstone contends, these works are deserving of far greater attention within the Irish Jewish historical record than hitherto, as a form of alternative ‘witness’.

In his chapter, Seán Gannon argues that the Judaeo-Bolshevik myth was significantly more mainstream to Irish Catholic thought than has yet been acknowledged. This is evident through the level of episcopal sanction for the writings of its main proponents, Frs Edward Cahill and Denis Fahey, and their wide dissemination through Catholic journals, the mainstream press and the popular Catholic Action groups that were founded by Cahill and Fahey. Gannon demonstrates that this discourse had discernible socio-political consequences, in fuelling wartime anti-Jewish sentiment and informing official attitudes on Jewish immigration and the nascent Israeli state, to the extent that ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ became a matter of significant concern at Irish Jewish communal level.

The collection concludes with Natalie Wynn’s examination of representations of Jewish identity and community in Ireland in the popular press at a time of particular significance: the years 2016–17. During this period, Irish Jews received an exceptional amount of attention from the media owing to the publication of two Irish- Jewish-themed literary works; the release of the 2016 census data; and the publication of a controversial opinion piece by the journalist Kevin Myers employing classic anti-Jewish tropes. Wynn uses the press coverage of these three events as a starting point for a consideration of representations of Irish Jews, past and present; the future direction of the community; and the legacy of its current Litvak remnant.

Irish Jewish Studies is still in its infancy as a discipline. As a specialist area, its relevance has yet to be recognised in terms of the study of small Jewish communities internationally, and its potential to contribute to the wider discipline of Jewish history and historiography. We trust that this collection will provide a starting point for further research and development of Irish Jewish Studies; for the opening and enrichment of new debates and conversations on Irish Jewish topics; and for the closer integration of Irish Jewish Studies into its Jewish and Irish cognates.

1 Mícheál Mac Gréil, Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland (Kildare: Leinster Leader, 1977), 333–6, 344, 346; Mac Gréil, Prejudice in Ireland Revisited (Kildare: Leinster Leader, 1996), 210–11, 213.

Zuleika Rodgers, Natalie Wynn and Katrina Goldstone

1 Jews in Ireland and Multiple Invisibilities: Some Reflections on Historiography, Identity and Representation

Every year as 17 March and 16 June approach, the authors of this essay prepare themselves for a proliferation of Irish Jewish kitsch, perhaps best summed up in the internet image of the ‘Leprecohen’, an obviously Jewish leprechaun that is sometimes depicted cavorting in a pot of gold. Ireland’s national holiday offers an opportunity for the international Jewish media to produce cosy, essentialising articles about Ireland’s curious and vanishing Litvak minority; or to foster a misleading but comfortable impression of Irish Jewish symbiosis with feelgood tales of Jewish support for Irish nationalism. Bloomsday offers Irish Jews another rare moment of visibility through a perilously distorting lens where real people’s lives and histories are reduced to representation through a fictional creation.1 Notwithstanding the complexity of the character of Leopold Bloom and the place of Ulysses in the canon of modernism as well as within Irish cultural history, the blurring of literary representation with historical interpretation and the conflation of myth with reality symbolise the general lack of critical approaches to the study of the Jews in Ireland. Indeed, the mythologisation within communal and popular narratives remains undeconstructed and holds an undue influence on scholarship. Is it cultural appropriation, co-option or ignorance which ensures so little questioning of these issues?

Widely held assumptions regarding the perceived irrelevance of Ireland’s Jewish community lie at the heart of the matter, owing to its small numbers, peripheral geographical position at the western extremity of Europe and lack of significant contribution to the international Jewish intellectual, cultural, economic and political scene. This equates to a free licence for anyone who wishes to declare themselves an expert on Irish Jewry and be considered better qualified to talk or write on the subject than a scholar who may actually be specialised in, or familiar with, the study of the Jews of Ireland. For example, the respected website My Jewish Learning has left a historically inaccurate, stereotypically titled piece on Irish Jewish history by someone whose expertise lies not in Jewish Studies but in fiction writing to stand largely unchallenged in spite of the concerns raised by all three authors of this chapter regarding the content and authorship of the piece.2 Closer to home, communal or amateur (‘insider’) historians engage creatively and energetically with their heritage by repeating various versions of communal, as well as externally composed, narratives. While stories communities tell themselves are important, these communal representatives become the conduits or interpreters of uncritical and often distorted versions of the history of the Jews of Ireland to the majority (‘outsider’) researchers who have collaborated, intentionally or otherwise, in these misrepresentations.3 This has perpetuated the anecdotalisation of Irish Jewish history, with its repetitions of communal mythology and representations of Irish Jewish relations painting community history in an almost exclusively positive light, often in the hope of fulfilling the expectations of the larger community. The work of Natalie Wynn, Katrina Goldstone and Trisha Oakley Kessler in different ways challenges the previous picture of Irish tolerance in the political, cultural and economic spheres.

The very marginality of Ireland’s Jewish community makes it, paradoxically, ripe for commodification, not only by random ‘experts’, but also by those seeking to profit economically from its novelty value. At the time of writing, this includes two estate agents; three tour operators; and Cork’s ‘New York Meatpacking’ style bar, Goldberg’s.4 The authentic history and experience of Irish Jews is buried ever deeper under accumulating layers of conscious and unconscious caricature, stereotyping and substandard, often lazy scholarship. Scholars, non-professional community historians and individual members of the community have all collaborated in the construction of a quaint, unthreatening, sometimes comical image of the Irish Jew.5


X, 298
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (November)
Modern Jewish history and historiography Irish Jewish Reimagining the Jews of Ireland Historiography, Identity and Representation Zuleika Rodgers Natalie Wynn Eamon Maher Reimagining Ireland
Oxford, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, 2023. X, 298 pp., 3 fig. col., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Zuleika Rodgers (Volume editor) Natalie Wynn (Volume editor)

Zuleika Rodgers is Associate Professor in Jewish Studies in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies and Director of the Herzog Centre for Jewish and Near Eastern Religions and Culture at Trinity College Dublin. Natalie Wynn is a Research Associate at the Herzog Centre for Jewish and Near Eastern Religions and Culture, Trinity College Dublin.


Title: Reimagining the Jews of Ireland