Record of Jews in Ireland finds permanent home in Jerusalem

Definitive history of Irish Jews presented to the National Library of Israel

Thirty years of research that led to the creation of a 22-volume genealogical history of the Jews in Ireland has been presented to the National Library of Israel at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Monday, attended by Ireland’s ambassador to Israel, Kyle O’Sullivan.

The compiler of the archive, Stuart Rosenblatt, president of the Irish Jewish Genealogical Society, explained that a phone call from his sister launched the three decades’ long labour of love to create the definitive history of Irish Jews.

In the call, his sister informed him that she had found the naturalisation and birth certificates of their father which showed his mother was not the grandmother they knew, causing a controversy in the family.

Over the years, his work grew to trace no fewer than 72,000 names of Jews who have lived in Ireland, their ancestors and descendants from all over the world. Now, anyone with an Irish Jewish connection can quickly trawl through generations in seconds.


The first permanent settlement of Jews in Ireland was established in 1497 following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal, but most of the Jews in Ireland came from Lithuania, Poland and Russia at the end of the 19th century, fleeing pogroms and poverty.

Many believed they were going to the United States but were tricked by unscrupulous ship captains. One immigrant unable to speak English who landed in Limerick took two weeks to realise that he was in Ireland.

Most stayed and flourished, enjoying the relative tolerance absent elsewhere. By 1904 the total Jewish population had reached an estimated 4,800. In the 1950s, there were 4,500 Jews in Dublin, and another 1,000 elsewhere with 400 or so in Belfast.

“The Jews arrived and brought up their families in Ireland, contributing greatly to the benefit and welfare of the State. They became model citizens,” Mr Rosenblatt explained. “They were law abiding with very few incidents of crime.”

Michael Collins escaped into a Jewish home off Dublin’s South Circular Road one night, the archives record, and was aided by the local rabbi who disguised him as an elderly Jew and took him to Friday night prayers at the synagogue, passing undetected through a roadblock.

In the middle of the service the elderly Jew stood up and announced: “Thanks lads, I’ll call for my bike later,” said Mr Rosenblatt, who donated his own personal copy of the 22-volume genealogical history.

Three other copies exist in Ireland’s National Museum, the Irish National Archives, the Genealogical Society and Ireland’s Jewish museum. The decision to transfer a copy to Jerusalem was the brainchild of Malcolm Gafson, chairman of the Israel-Ireland Friendship League.

“I heard Stuart was looking for a home for his personal collection and felt there was no better home than the National Library of Israel,” Mr Gafson told the gathering, who praised the support offered by the Irish Embassy in Israel.

Ambassador O’Sullivan said it made sense to bring the collection to Jerusalem: “It tells a good story, a story many of us didn’t know. The Irish Jews who have moved here have been great for us. They have explained our country very well to their compatriots here.”

In a message of support, president Yitzhak Herzog, whose father Haim was born in Ireland and also served as Israel’s president, said: “Needless to say, I feel a strong sense of personal connection and pride as an Israeli Jew with a direct Irish connection.”

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem