16 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
17, Rathfarnham Road

Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road dates from a meeting in 1936 and first opened in 1953 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When I was born on Rathfarnham Road, I was born in a house opposite the then Classic Cinema and between the old Terenure Laundry and the new site for Terenure Synagogue.

The synagogue at 32a Rathfarnham Road, Dublin 6, dates back to a meeting held on 26 September 1936 to set up a synagogue in the Rathmines, Rathgar or Terenure area to cater for the young families now living in these suburbs and who found it was too far to walk on Saturdays and Festivals to the synagogues on Adelaide Road and at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road.

The shul started in rented rooms at No 6 Grosvenor Place, Rathmines, until No 52 Grosvenor Road was bought in April 1940.

On Rosh Hashanah, 4 October 1948, the congregation moved from Rathmines to a Nissen hut in the grounds of ‘Leoville’ on Rathfarnham Road, Terenure. The house had been bought some years earlier on behalf of the congregation by the late Woulfe Freedman and Erwin Goldwater for £1,490.

Building work on the new Terenure Synagogue began in August 1952, and it was completed and dedicated on 30 August 1953.

Stars of David in Terenure Synagogue face onto Rathfarnham Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some sources say the synagogue was designed in 1950 by the Dublin architect, John Joseph Gerard Devaney. However, Sharman Kadish, in Jewish Heritage in England (2006), agrees with most authorities that it was designed by Wilfrid Cantwell in 1952-1955.

Wilfrid Cantwell (1921-2000) graduated from the School of Architecture, UCD, with his BArch degree in 1944, and was elected a member of the RIAI in 1946. He was President of RIAI in 1966 and 1967. He worked with Michael Scott, alongside Kevin Roche, Kevin Fox and Robin Walker, and worked on Bus ArĂºs. He later worked with JN Kidney before setting up his own practice (1947-1975), where he attained distinction in the area of church architecture, particularly in years immediately after Vatican II.

His two major religious buildings are the Synagogue in Terenure and the Church of the Holy Spirit, Ballycullane, Co Wexford in 1971. His favourite church project was the renovation of the Pugin Chapel in Ushaw College, Durham. In 1985, he was the co-author with Richard Hurley of Contemporary Irish Church Architecture.

From 1976, he specialised as a consultant in church design and in the legal aspects of building. He retired in 1993 and died on 26 December 2000.

Cantwell said his new synagogue in Terenure met the committee’s specifications for a building that would ‘cost less than half the normal place, look as if it cost the full amount and be an example of good modern design.’ It was praised for its ‘original, modern, commanding and attractive design.’

A stained glass window in the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road

The ‘master builder’ of the synagogue was the Dublin timber merchant Sam Noyek, who worked tirelessly for the synagogue all his life. The synagogue was built with a capacity for 600 people.

Nick Harris, in his Dublin’s Little Jerusalem, says most families linked with Terenure Synagogue associate it with the Revd Solly Bernstein and his wife Bertha, affectionately known as Belke; he was born in Dublin, and she was born in Yashenovska, Poland. He taught many bar mitzvah boys their portion of the Law in what was known as BBC – Bernstein’s Bar Mitzvah Class.

The shul was set on fire on Wednesday 9 February 1966. Several Siffrei Torah were destroyed, and the shul itself was very badly damaged. The Nissen hut that had been turned into a function hall was quickly converted back into a shul, and no Shabbat services were missed.

The newly refurbished synagogue was rededicated on Sunday 26 May 1968. Its features include the striking stained-glass windows on the north and south walls by Stanley Tomlin, who began his career in the Harry Clarke Studios in 1932.

The Samuel Taca Hall, endowed by Mrs Fanny Taca in memory of her husband, opened behind the synagogue in the 1980s.

Rabbi Zalman Lent with the Aron haKodesh and Torah scrolls in Terenure Synagogue

At extraordinary meetings of the Terenure and Adelaide Road congregations in January 1999, the two congregations agreed to merge. It was agreed that the Adelaide Road Synagogue would be sold, and that some of the proceeds of the sale would be used to build a new synagogue complex, including a new mikveh and a community centre, on the grounds at Rathfarnham Road.

From then, the Terenure Synagogue hosted the members of the former synagogue on Adelaide Road. This arrangement continued until 15 December 2004, when both congregations held simultaneous extraordinary general meetings and agreed to merge as the new Dublin Hebrew Congregation.

The first council meeting of the new Dublin Hebrew Congregation was held in Terenure on 25 January 2005.

The agreed new synagogue was never built, and Terenure Synagogue remains the last major orthodox synagogue in the Republic of Ireland.

A recent Church of Ireland Interfaith Conference visiting Terenure Synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Dublin

Tomorrow: 18, Machzikei Hadass, Rathmore Villas, Terenure.

Yesterday: 16, The Progressive Synagogue, Leicester Avenue, Rathgar.

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