08 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
10, Adelaide Road Synagogue

The Adelaide Road Synagogue of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation opened in 1892 and closed in 1999 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

For most of the 19th century, the Mary’s Abbey Synagogue off Capel Street remained the principal synagogue in Dublin, having opened in 1836 as the successor to the Stafford Street (1822-1836).

In the 1880s and 1890s, a number of smaller synagogues opened in the area between the South Circular Road and Portobello that became known as ‘Little Jerusalem,’ and by 1890 communal relations were strained in Dublin.

By the late Victorian period, social conditions in the area around the Mary’s Abbey Synagogue were deteriorating, and centre of gravity of the Jewish population of Dublin was shifting towards the southern rims of the city at the South Circular Road and beyond, putting the synagogue beyond a sabbath’s walk distance of an increasing number of families.

The council of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation decided to buy a site at 37 Adelaide Road and build a new synagogue. The building committee included Martinus de Groot, then president of the Mary’s Abbey Synagogue.

This was the first purpose-built synagogue in Ireland and cost over £5,000 to build. Donations for the new building came from Jews in Britain, including the Rothschilds, and from Jews and Gentiles throughout Ireland, and the balance of £3,000 was raised through a mortgage.

The synagogue was designed in a vaguely Byzantine style, with seating for a congregation of 300 in the main body, and for another 150 in the galleries, by the Dublin-based architect John Joseph O’Callaghan (ca 1838-1905).

O’Callaghan was born in Co Cork and received his earliest architectural training in the office of Sir John Benson. He then moved to Dublin to join the office of Deane and Woodward.

After working on the Museum Building in Trinity College Dublin, O’Callaghan was sent to Oxford in 1856 to act as clerk of works for the erection of the Oxford Union Society debating room, which was completed the following year. In Oxford, he took advantage of the opportunity to study mediaeval architecture.

He continued to work with the Deanes for another 12 years before setting up his own office in Merrion Row around 1871. He later worked from Harcourt Street and Nassau Street.

O’Callaghan practised without a partner for over 30 years. He was an unwavering advocate of the Gothic style until the end of his life. Although he never designed a cathedral, most of his work was designing churches and church buildings, owing much to the school of William Burges (1827-1881).

His other works include the Lafayette Building, Westmoreland Street, Dublin; Saint Raphael’s College, Loughrea, Co Galway; Saint Joseph’s Church, Mountmellick, Co Laois; Saint Brigid’s Church, Clara, Co Offaly; the O’Brien Institute, Marino, Dublin; Dolphin House, Essex Street, Dublin; Saint Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, Dublin; and the Glimmer Man, a public house in Stoneybatter, Dublin.

O’Callaghan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI) in 1869. He was a founding member of the Architectural Association of Ireland in 1872, and was elected its first president. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (FRSAI) in 1873.

He died on 2 November 1905 at the age of 67. His children included the architects Lucius O’Callaghan and Bernard O’Callaghan.

A Torah Scroll mantle from the former Adelaide Road synagogue in the Irish Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The final service in Mary’s Abbey Synagogue was held on 3 December 1892, with a closing sermon by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Hermann Adler. The new synagogue on Adelaide Road opened the following day. The ceremony of consecration began with a procession led by Dr Adler, who said in his sermon: ‘Ireland is the only country in the world which cannot be charged with persecuting the Jews.’

The new synagogue was soon dubbed ‘the English shul’ by the Eastern European Jewish families in ‘Little Jerusalem’ because of its tendency to follow the style and custom of synagogues in Britain.

Caldeck and Dunlop supervised the erection of Mikva and baths at the synagogue in 1915 to designs by Benjamin Septimus Jacobs of Hull. The building was materially enlarged in 1925, when it was extended to provide school facilities for Jewish children.

The synagogue had 120 seat-holders or subscribing members in 1895, and this number continued to climb steadily throughout the first half of the 20th century, reaching 365 in 1944. However, as the Jewish community continued to move out to the southern suburbs, including Terenure, Rathfarnham and Churchtown, numbers declined from the 1960s on.

The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 1992, but by the 1990s, the numbers attending on a Saturday morning usually stood at 40 to 50.

The last wedding took place in the synagogue in 1999 when Taryn Enoch and Andrew Barling were married. The Dublin Hebrew Congregation voted to close the synagogue on Adelaide Road and amalgamate with the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Terenure. The president of the synagogue, Mark Simmons, said it was an almost unanimous vote. The building was sold, most of it was demolished, apart from the fa├žade, and the site was redeveloped as offices.

The Dublin Hebrew Congregation formally merged with the Terenure Hebrew Congregation in 2004 and the new merged congregation assumed the name Dublin Hebrew Congregation.

Adelaide Road Synagogue was designed by the Dublin-based architect John Joseph O’Callaghan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tomorrow, 11, Chevrah Tehillim Synagogue, Lombard Street

Yesterday, 9, Camden Street Synagogue

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