11 March 2022

Jew’s Bridge or Stonebridge
and the hidden stories
of Jewish life in Wexford

The site of Stonebridge in Wexford … known as Jew’s Bridge in 1764 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In every city I visit, I seek out the synagogues and the former Jewish quarters and ghettoes. In Malta recently, I went in search of the Jews’ Gate in Valletta, a reminder of the restrictions placed on Jewish merchants by the Knights of Saint John, and in search of the lost synagogue and Jewish quarter in the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina, the mediaeval capital of Mala before it came into the hands of the Order of Saint John.

But, apart from a story about a Jewish photographer and a murder in 1910 that may have inspired the creation by James Joyce of some of the characters in Ulysses, until this week I have known of no possible historical Jewish associations with Wexford.

So, I was surprised to learn on my return to Wexford earlier this week that Stonebridge – the oldest though no longer surviving bridge in the town – was once known as Jews’ Bridge.

Stonebridge was known as Jews’ Bridge in 1764. Perhaps it was given this name because a Jewish merchant of possible Sephardic descent, had moved to Wexford in the 1750 or 1760s, and who lived at this end of the Main Street, close to the Quays and Stonebridge Castle.

The lane running from Stonebridge to Paul’s Quay marks the boundary between the mediaeval parishes of Saint Doologe’s and Saint Mary’s in Wexford town.

The name Stonebridge recalls the location of the oldest bridge in the town. The original bridge was built over the Bishopswater River, and probably marked the northern gate of the earliest Norse or Viking settlement at Wexford.

A fading plaque on the shopfront of of a former picture framing business recalls that the Bishopswater Bridge at the head of the street dated back to the Norse period. Later, the bridge was built in stone, and became the Bridge of Wexford.

Norse and mediaeval fishing fleets berthed in the estuary below the bridge. It is recorded that in 1172, King Henry II paid £45 for Wexford fish.

The first recorded murder or manslaughter in Wexford town took place at Stonebridge in mid-afternoon 25 February 1560. A quarrel broke out between Thomas Walsh a shoemaker, and Geoffrey Brian, a mariner. The insults led to blows being exchanged, before Brian stabbed Walsh below the chest.

Walsh died of his wounds and Brian was convicted of his killing, although the records do not say how he was punished.

Stonebridge Castle was also known as Staffford’s Castle, and was owned by James Stafford, the man blamed in tradition for betraying Wexford to Cromwell.

At one time, Stonebridge was known as Wexford Bridge. But, for some unknown, perhaps even inexplicable, reason, it was known as Jew’s Bridge in 1764.

Meanwhile, Stonebridge Castle, which became a gaol in 1665, was used to hold prisoners during the 1798 Rising. A new gaol was built at Spawell Road in 1812, and Stonebridge Castle became a ‘Lunatic Asylum’ and a ‘house of industry’ for vagrants and prostitutes, where the inmates were used to clean the streets of the town.

Stonebridge Castle was eventually demolished in 1866 to provide land for development along the quays.

The lane running from Stonebridge to Paul’s Quay marks the boundary between the mediaeval parishes of Saint Doologe’s and Saint Mary’s in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The lane at Stonebridge is also known as Sinnott’s Place and Larkin Lane. For generations, The large stone buildings in this area once housed malt stores, coal depots and timber yards. This lane at Stonebridge leads from the corner with South Main Street to Paul’s Quay, between the Talbot Stonebridge Apartments and the Talbot Hotel.

The Stonebridge apartments on Paul’s Quay were built originally in 2008 as a lavish, 73-apartment complex. But the economic crash struck, the building never opened for use, and the apartments lay vacant for eight years until they were bought for redevelopment by the Talbot Hotel group, and are now known as the Talbot Suites at Stonebridge.

I can find no documentary evidence of even a small Jewish community in Wexford in the mid-18th century, and certainly no evidence of a synagogue in the town. However, the violent feud between Thomas Walsh and Geoffrey Brian in 1560 brought me to recall this Friday evening a murder in Wexford 450 years later, on 7 May 1910.

The tragic story of Simon Bloom, who was jilted and vainly planned an apparent double suicide in his photographer’s shop in Wexford is told in Louis Hyman’s The Jews of Ireland, and was retold in part more recently on the Wexford Hub website.

Mary Anne Wildes, an 18-year-old Wexford woman, was found with her throat cut at an apartment in The Bullring, Wexford. The apartment, above a bar called The Cape of Good Hope, was being rented at the time by Simon Bloom (29), whose family lived in the Clanbrassil Street or ‘Little Jerusalem’ area of Dublin and Armstrong Street in Harold’s Cross.

Simon Bloom was a self-described artist who was known throughout Wexford for selling picture frames and photo enlargements.

When police entered Bloom’s apartment, they found him sitting in a chair with a wound to his throat and a letter in his hand – an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. He told the police that Mary Anne and he had agreed to die together, and he kept repeating and spelling the word ‘love.’ In his hands he held a rambling, bloodstained and unsigned letter, addressed ‘To those who would judge the scales of humanity and justice.’

In his letter, Bloom asked: ‘Are we cowards? We are not afraid; by love is conquered the fear of death. Are we insane? Is not the heart wiser, more godly, than the mind? Are we lawless? Are we not the slaves of our emotions and swayed by them like a cork in the ocean and as powerless to resist?

‘Judge us by them all – those who understand and know the power of the feeling of love, jealousy, circumstances, and desperation. We are to be buried side by side, and it will not be well for those who disobey this our last, and dying wish. May God have mercy on all lost souls.’

Bloom was found guilty and spent a few years in the Dundrum Lunatic Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Dublin. After his release, Bloom moved to Chicago, where, it is said, he changed his name and became ‘a genial Jewish patriarch’ in the suburbs.

Cormac Ó Gráda says that because the murder took place in a photographer’s studio in Wexford in 1910, Ellmann presumes this is ‘presumably’ is how Milly Bloom, Leopold Bloomʼs daughter, came to work in a similar establishment in Mullingar.

Louis Hyman also wonders whether Leopold Bloom is also, in part, modelled on Simon Bloom’s brother, Benny Bloom, who was still living in Dublin in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, on this Friday evening, and during this Ulysses centenary year, the former Jew’s Bridge in Wexford remains a reminder of the diversity of Jewish life in Ireland throughout the centuries, and that the story of Jewish communities remains untold in many parts of Ireland.

Shabbat Shalom

The Stonebridge apartments on Paul’s Quay have been redeveloped the Talbot Hotel group (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
11 March 2022 (Psalms 28, 29, 30)

‘Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength’ (Psalm 29: 1) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands towards your most holy sanctuary’ (Psalm 28: 2) … inside the Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás, one of two surviving small churches in the Fortezza in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 28:

Psalm 28 (numbered in some versions as Psalm 27) may be dated to the reign of King Jehoiakim, in the late Babylonian period shortly before the exile in the year 587 or 586 BCE.

This psalm could be described as a prayer asking God whether he has abandoned his people in peril of death, and crying aloud for help, with hands uplifted towards the holy shrine (verses 1-2).

The psalm calls on God to discriminate between the people and their enemies, and to visit those enemies with retribution for their deeds (verses 3-4).

The psalm then blesses God, the strength and shield of the people, and rejoices in God as the refuge for king and people (verses 6-8).

Verse 8 says: ‘The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.’ The Jerusalem Bible suggests that the word ‘anointed’ here refers to the people of God consecrated to his service, and not the king or the high priest.

Verses 5 and 9 may be glosses that give a reason for the imprecation upon enemies (verse 5) and a liturgical petition for salvation (verse 9).

‘The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’ (Psalm 29: 3) … the waves on the beach at Skerries, Co Dublin, last weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 29:

In Psalm 29, all powers are invited to acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord God and to give the glory to him.

Some Jewish commentators also see Psalm 29 as a poetic description of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 4: 3) relates the seven mentions of the word kol (‘voice’) in this psalm to the seven blessings of the Shabbat Amidah.

The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood, like a king on his throne for evermore. He gives strength and peace to his people as his blessings to them.

This psalm expresses God’s supremacy and universal rule and invites all powers to acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord God and to give the glory to him.

The voice of the Lord is heard in the thunder claps, the storms in the waters and in the skies, in the waves and in the thunder claps, as the storm approaches and sweeps across the land, breaking the tall trees as it moves.

The Word of God is indeed mighty. The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood, like a king on his throne for evermore. He gives strength and peace to his people as his blessings to them.

All acknowledge God’s supremacy as they cry ‘Glory be to the Lord!’

The last word of the psalm is ‘Peace.’ The former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, observes, ‘So will the storm of human history one day be transfigured into peace. Redemption stands to history as does Shabbat to the six days of creation.’

Psalm 30 is also considered the psalm for the day of Hanukkah … the Hanukkah menorah in Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 30:

Psalm 30 (Psalm 29 in some versions) begins in the King James Version: ‘I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up.’ In Latin, it is known as Exaltabo te Domine.

In Hebrew, the opening inscription says, מזמר שיר חנכת הבית (Mizmor Shir Ḥănukkāt HaBayit), ‘A Psalm, a song for the Dedication of a House’ or ‘A psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple.’

This is a psalm of thanksgiving, traditionally ascribed to David upon the building of his own royal palace. King David dedicated his life work to be completed by his son, who built the ‘Hallowed House,’ בית המקדש (Beit HaMiqdash), Solomon’s Temple. According to the French mediaeval rabbi and commentator Rashi, David wrote this psalm to be sung at the inauguration of his temple, although he knew that this would only take place in the lifetime of his son Solomon.

In later sources, Solomon and his descendants, and not the building, are called the House of David.

Psalm 30 is a hymn of thanksgiving for recovery from a grave illness. The writer relies on a series of contrasting images to express the grace of God, which turns despair into hope.

The psalmist praises God for his recovery from grave illness, and for being rescued from ‘Sheol,’ from ‘the Pit,’ and being restored to life.

The psalmist invites all who hear him to join in giving thanks and praising God. When things were going well for him in the past and he was prosperous, he felt secure and healthy. But when he fell ill, he felt he had fallen from God’s favour. He felt he was near death and cried out to God.

God hears his prayer and restores him to health and favour. His sorrow turns to joy, his mourning turns into dancing, and he will praise God for the rest of his life.

The word חינוך (Chinuch), from the same root as Hanukkah, is the name for Jewish education, emphasising ethical training and discipline. So Psalm 30 is also considered the psalm for the day of Hanukkah, and some Jewish communities recite it in addition to, or instead of, the regular Psalm of the day.

The connecting theme in this psalm is the restoration of life as a reason for giving praise to God. The psalmist recalls a crisis when his life, once secure, is suddenly in danger. It is then that he prayed to God: ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you?’ (verse 9).

So we, walking in the life of a new day, can express our sense of joy in the morning ‘so that my soul may praise you and not be silent’ (verse 12).

Psalm 28 (NRSVA):

Of David.

1 To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, do not refuse to hear me,
for if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
2 Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
towards your most holy sanctuary.

3 Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who are workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbours,
while mischief is in their hearts.
4 Repay them according to their work,
and according to the evil of their deeds;
repay them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
or the work of his hands,
he will break them down and build them up no more.

6 Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

8 The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 O save your people, and bless your heritage;
be their shepherd, and carry them for ever.

Psalm 29 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of David.

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 30 (NRSVA):

A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
‘I shall never be moved.’
7 By your favour, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

8 To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
9 ‘What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be my helper!’

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (11 March 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Zambia Anglican Council’s Outreach Programmes. May they serve Christ by serving their communities.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘You have turned my mourning into dancing’ (Psalm 30: 11) … a folk dance in Cappadocia in Central Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org