29 May 2020
In the short space of about half a century, immediate members of one branch of the Comerford family had addresses in at least 15 houses in Lower and Upper Clanbrassil Street, the heart of Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem.’
Many more members of this branch of the family lived at different times in that era in houses in the warren of streets off Clanbrassil Street, in Little Jerusalem, in Portobello and around Charlemont Street. If I add to them their in-laws, their cousins and their nieces and nephews, it must have been impossible for any of them to walk along Clanbrassil Street any time of night or day without meeting and greeting another member of the Comerford family.
Little did I realise in the late 1950s and early 1960s that I was walking in their shadows, and in recent years I have tried to track the many houses they lived in and to photograph them.
In all those endeavours, two houses stood out as being impossible to photograph: No 76 and No 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street, and while I had a photograph of No 76 in ruins before it was demolished in the 1970s, I had no photograph of either house in their full standing.
That was until earlier this week when I was contacted by Manus O’Riordan, who grew up in Victoria Street in ‘Little Jerusalem’ and who shares my interest in this part of Dublin, including the stories of the Jewish community and the synagogues that once made this area the heart of Jewish Dublin until the mid-20th century.
Although the heart has been ripped out of Lower Clanbrassil Street by road widening and demolition in the 1970s, in the first half of the 20th century this was the heart of the Jewish community. The boundaries of ‘Little Jerusalem’ – if they were ever delineated – might be said to stretch from Clanbrassil Street to Donore Avene on the west, Windsor Terrace along the banks of the Grand Canal to the South, to the west side of Richmond Street and Kelly’s Corner, from there east to the junction with Charlemont Street, north behind the west front of Harcourt Street, then back through Pleasant Street, heading west towards the junction with Clanbrassil Street.
The area along Lower Clanbrassil Street and throughout ‘Little Jerusalem’ included Jewish shops and businesses, kosher butchers, a kosher bakery in Lennox Street, and a ritual slaughterhouse in Vincent Street. There was a women’s dispensary and a Jewish school in Bloomfield Avenue, with the Chief Rabbi’s home and office nearby. There were large synagogues on the South Circular Road and Adelaide Road, and were smaller synagogues in Walworth Road (now the Irish Jewish Museum), Saint Kevin’s Parade, and many of the other small side streets, including Saint Kevin’s Parade, Oakfield Place, Lennox Street, Lombard Street West, and on Camden Street.
I had a photograph of the remains of Goldwater’s shop and the blocked-up ground floor at 76 Lower Clanbrassil Street, shortly before it was demolished. But, until Manus O’Riordan posted a photograph of it earlier week, I had no photograph of the full house as it once stood.
My grandfather’s first cousin, Robert Comerford (1855-1925), a nephew of my great-grandfather, was living at this house when he died in 1925. Robert was born in Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, and moved to Dublin with his brother Richard and his sister Mary after the death of their father, also Robert Comerford, in 1864.
Robert was a founding member of the Regular Stucco Plasterers’ Trade Union in 1893 with my grandfather and great-grandfather. He was living at 9 New Bride Street in 1881, when he married Margaret Walsh of 37 Cuffe Street in Saint Kevin’s Church. Her sister of Elizabeth Walsh, first wife of another cousin, also called James Comerford.
Robert Comerford lived at 9 New Bride Street (1881), 37 Cuffe Street (1882), 36 Cuffe Street (1889), 140 Rialto Cottages (1901), 17 Martin Street (1905), 15 Williams Place South (1911) and 76 Lower Clanbrassil Street (1925). When Robert died on 1 May 1925, aged 67, he was living at 76 Lower Clanbrassil Street. His widow Margaret died in 1937.
The shop at the ground floor of No 76 was R Rosenovsky’s drapery shop in 1911-1912. It was Goldwater’s butcher shop from the 1930s until it finally closed in 1977.
Manus O’Riordan also posted a photograph this week of No 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street. For a short time, No 82 was also the marital home of grandfather’s god-daughter Catherine Comerford, when she married Michael O’Brien.
My grandfather’s eldest brother, James Comerford and his wife Lena (Donovan) were the parents of three sons and two daughters, many of whom lived in the Clanbrassil Street or ‘Little Jerusalem’ area. Their second child, Catherine Mary, my father’s first cousin, was born on 21 April 1890, and when she was baptised in Saint Kevin’s on 25 April 1890 her godfather was my grandfather, Stephen Comerford. She married Michael O’Brien of 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street in Saint Kevin’s on 23 November 1931.
No 82 Lower Clanbrassil Street was Rubinstein’s butcher shop, opened in 1905 by Myer Rubinstein. His son, Philly Rubinstein, who continued the business, is credited by Ray Rivlin in Jewish Ireland, a social history with finding the site for Edmondstown Golf Club in the 1940s. The shop closed in 1979.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Clanbrassil Street was Dublin’s main Jewish shopping street. In 1943, 23 kosher shops were trading here, and there were 16 by the end of the 1950s. But the number had dropped to nine by the end of the 1960s, only five were open by the end of the 1970s, and two in the 1980s.
After World War II, many Jews from ‘Little Jerusalem’ moved to Manchester, London, New York and Israel. Due to increasing prosperity and the decline of Clanbrassil Street, those who remained in Dublin moved to areas like Terenure, Rathfarnham and Churchtown. There was only one surviving kosher shop on Lower Clanbrassil Street in the 1990s. The last to close was Ehrlich’s butcher shop at No 35, which opened in 1952 and finally closed in May 2001.
In a similar fashion, as members of the Comerford family found new prosperity in 20th century Dublin, the families of stuccodores and plasterers became surveyors and architects, and moved out to suburbs like Ranelagh, Rathmines, Rathgar, Harold’s Cross, Terenure and Rathfarnham.
These days, whenever I return to Clanbrassil Street, I bump into no Comerfords and no members of the Jewish community. But as I sip my coffee in one of the cafés along the street, I dream of how the children and the grandchildren of Muslims in this area are going to be integrated into Irish society over the next century or century and a half.
We are in the final week of the season of Easter this year, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost.
I am continuing to use the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections throughout this Season of Easter. USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.
Throughout this week (24 to 30 May 2020), the theme of the USPG Prayer Diary is ‘Change is Possible.’ Rebecca Boardman, USPG Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe, introduced this theme in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning.
Friday 29 May 2020 (International Day of UN peacekeepers):
Prince of Peace, we give thanks for all those who have dedicated their lives to helping resolve conflicts in our world.
Acts 25: 13-21; Psalm 103: 1-2, 11-12; John 21: 15-19.
The Collect of the Day:
O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.