14 February 2020
The Ashkenazi Jewish community that grew up in Cork in the late 19th century formed the Cork Hebrew Congregation in the 1880s. After meeting for some years in Eastville and then from 1884 in a temporary shul in rented rooms in Marlboro Street, the community eventually moved into a synagogue at No 10 South Terrace.
The synagogue was rebuilt in 1913-1915, to designs by the Cork-born architect Arthur Hill (1846-1921) and opened in 1915.
But there was a second synagogue on South Terrace, known as the Remnant of Israel.
This congregation was formed in the early 1880s, and eventually moved into premises at 24 South Terrace, which had been the address of the Cork Hebrew Congregation briefly before it moved to 9-10 South Terrace, on the other side of the street.
The Remnant of Israel was served by Rabbi Abraham Sheftel Birzansky (1851-1908), from Akmene in northern Lithuania. It is said that most of the Lithuanian Jews who arrived in Ireland in the last quarter of the 19th century, fleeing pogroms and persecution in Tsarist Russia, were from Akmene.
The family names from Akmene in Ireland included Mirrelson, Samuels, Abrahamson, Clein and Eppel. Indeed, it was sometimes said in Jewish circles in Dublin that ‘if you weren’t from Akmene then you weren’t in the club.’
Statistics in the Jewish Year Book show that in the first decade of the 20th century the Remnant of Israel had 35 paying members or seat holders. But soon after Rabbi Abraham Sheftel Birzansky died on 1 August 1907, the Remnant of Israel congregation merged with the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace, probably by 1910.
By 1915, there was a breakaway congregation, also calling itself the Cork Hebrew Congregation around the corner in premises at 15 Union Quay, and claiming it was the spiritual and legitimate heir to the Remnant of Israel.
However, it too appears to have closed after a short period, and there is no sign today at either 24 South Terrace or 15 Union Quay of the Remnant of Israel or the alternative Cork Hebrew Congregation that claimed its legacy.
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While Cork’s main synagogue for a century or more was the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace, an apparently breakaway group, also calling itself the Cork Hebrew Congregation, existed around the corner at 15 Union Quay.
The congregation on Union Quay appears to have split from the main Cork Hebrew Congregation but claimed to be the successor to the Remnant of Israel Synagogue, a small shul that had been at 24 South Terrace in the 1890s.
The Union Quay shul advertised in the Jewish Chronicle in September 1915 for a ‘competent Melamed with a fair knowledge of the English language, who shall be able to act as Shochet of fowls and as Bal Koreh; salary 30/- per week.’ The advertisement was placed by S Criger of 2 Great George’s Street, Cork.’
Simon Spiro, President of the South Terrace synagogue, wrote to the Jewish Chronicle a week later, pointing out that the synagogue had ‘already two qualified chazonim and chochetim and three teachers of Hebrew and religion, which is quite ample for our present requirements. There can be no further appointments in the Cork Congregation unless and until one of the existing offices becomes vacant.’
The exchange of correspondence continued for weeks.
The Jewish Chronicle reported a meeting of the Congregation at 15 Union Quay in mid-October when AH Goldfoot, SM Creiger, and a Mr Cliffe, were elected President, Treasurer, and Secretary, and the Revd MD Herschman was elected chazan, shochet and teacher. The report added, ‘The President presented the congregation with a Scroll of the Law.’
However, the bitter exchange of corresponded was soon discontinued, perhaps at the initiative of the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and ‘the remnant of the remnant’ appear to have been reconciled with the members of the South Terrace synagogue.
As for the site of the shul at 15 Union Quay, it has long since disappeared, and it has been absorbed into a development that includes a multi-storey car park and a row of small shops, including a café.
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Next: Remnant of Israel, 24 South Terrace.