27 September 2019
The synagogues of Dublin:
1, Crane Lane, Dame Street
As I reminisced about the synagogues I have visited in about a dozen countries over the past decade I so, I realised that in this blog I had not paid similar attention to the synagogues and former synagogues in Dublin.
In the coming weeks, leading up to and including the Jewish high holy days (Yamim Noraim) – Rosh HaShana (30 September 2019) and Yom Kippur (9 October 2019) – I hope to look at the synagogues of Dublin.
Over the past 350 years or so, there has been a dozen and a half or more synagogues in Dublin, from small congregations meeting in rented, upstairs rooms, to the elegant synagogue that stood for over a century on Adelaide Road, and the modern synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Terenure.
I was born only doors away from the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, and in my childhood and teens knew many of the synagogues off Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road, in an area of Dublin that was known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’
In A Short History of the Jews of Ireland (1945), Bernard Shillman traces the first Jews to moved to Ireland back to 1232. However, Jews were expelled from both Ireland and England in 1290.
In the centuries that followed, there are records of individual Jews and a number of Conversos or Marranos who lived in Ireland, including William Annyas, who was Mayor of Youghal, Co Cork, in 1555, and Francis Anes was mayor in 1569, 1576 and 1581.
Jews were first free to settle in Ireland under Cromwellian edicts issued in 1656. A Jewish community soon gathered in Dublin. Around 1660, a small group of Conversos or Jews from Spain and Portugal whose families had been forcibly converted to Christianity, arrived in Dublin. They had secretly continued to practice their Judaism.
Three or four families of Spanish or Portuguese descent and two or three of Polish or German origin had settled in Dublin by 1660.
Tradition says the Spanish and Portuguese Jews formed a small congregation in rooms in Crane Lane, leading from Dame Street down to Wellington Quay. Some historians describe this as one of the oldest Jewish communities formally formed on these islands.
Initially, the congregation followed Sephardi rituals and practices. But the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim worshipped together. Later, the congregation became increasingly Ashkenazi, although it retained certain Sephardi customs.
The first rabbi attracted to this small community in Dublin, Aaron be Moses (ca 1635-ca 1715), was born at Novogrodek in Poland around 1635. He had worked in Lemna and in Vilna, and was living to London by 1695. He moved to Dublin in the first decades of the 18th century, and there he combined the roles of rabbi, teacher, marriage-broker and scribe, before returning to England.
This community maintained close links with the Bevis Marks Synagogue or Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London, and founded the first Jewish cemetery in Dublin, at Ballybough.
The community split in 1753, and a rival congregation was formed. But peace was restored and the small congregation continued to worship in the Crane Lane premises until it moved to new premises in a former glassworks in Marlborough Green, off Marlborough Street, close to the present Abbey Theatre and on the other side of the River Liffey.
Various dates have been given for this move, between 1746 and 1762, but Louis Hyams, in his The Jews of Ireland (1972), prefers the latter date.
In his introduction to Jewish Dublin, the late Asher Benson pointed out that until recently the precise location of the upstairs synagogue in Crane Lane was a matter of pure conjecture.
However, when Stan Mason and Mason Technology bought the former synagogue at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road, he helped, in an amazing coincidence, to pinpoint the location of the Crane Lane Synagogue.
He realised this was the second time Mason Technology had moved into a former synagogue in Dublin. The company had previously worked from premises on Crane Lane, which retained the women’s gallery from the former synagogue.
Sadly, what remained of the Crane Lane Synagogue was later destroyed in a fire in the building.
Tomorrow: Ballybough Cemetery.