10 October 2019

The Synagogues of Dublin:
12, Greenville Hall,
South Circular Road

The synagogue at Greenville Hall, opened in 1925, was designed by the Dublin architect Aubrey Vincent O’Rourke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

When the Dublin Hebrew Congregation moved from Saint Mary’s Abbey and opened its new synagogue on Adelaide Road in 1892, it failed to attract support of the members of the smaller hebroth founded by the Lithuanian, Polish and Russian immigrants in the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area between the South Circular Road and Portobello.

A group of men representing four of these smaller synagogues met at 42 Longwood Avenue on 10 October 1909, and agreed to form the Dublin United Hebrew Congregation.

A new building fund was set up in the hope of building a new synagogue on the South Circular Road. House-to-house penny collections were taken up in ‘Little Jerusalem’ over the next four years. Greenville House, between Leonard’s Corner and Dolphin’s Barn, was bought in 1913 for £625, and a community appeal for £5,000 was launched in 1914.

World War I interrupted the building plans, and for some years the upstairs rooms of Greenville House were used for prayers and the downstairs room for social events.

A new synagogue was built on site of Greenville Hall in 1924-1925. It opened in 1925 and was designed by the Dublin architect, Aubrey Vincent O’Rourke (1885-1928).

O’Rourke was born at 6 Saint Mary’s Villas, Drumcondra, on 22 May 1885, a son of Francis Patrick O’Rourke, accountant, and his wife Martha (Rafferty).

He had become the assistant of James Purcell Wrenn by 1909, and he opened his own office in 1914 at Prudential Chambers, College Green. His other works included two cinemas on O’Connell Street, the Metropole Cinema and the Pillar Picture House, and cinemas in Phibsborough and Mary Street.

O’Rourke died at his home on Wellington Road on 4 March 1928 at the age of 43. His elder brother Horace Tennyson O’Rourke was also an architect.

The Greenville Hall synagogue had 198 seat-holders or subscribing members at the outbreak of World War II. It was badly damaged by a German air raid on 3 January 1941.

There were 280 seat-holders in 1944, but this had been reduced to 198 in 1953, and fallen to 120 in 1962.

Despite the original desire for a united synagogue, the synagogues at Saint Kevin’s Parade, Lombard Street West and Lennox Street had remained opened in ‘Little Jerusalem,’ and a new synagogue opened in Walworth Road in the 1930s. They continued as autonomous synagogues alongside Adelaide Road, even after Greenville Hall was opened for many years.

At a meeting in 1936, Simon Eppel pointed out the ‘urgency of setting up a place of worship conveniently situated for Jewish residents in Rathmines, Rathgar and Terenure.’ The amalgamation of Dublin synagogues continued to be debated throughout the 1940s, with little effect, and the proposals were abandoned in 1947.

In the 1980s, as the last remaining smaller synagogues in the area, at Lennox Street and Walworth Road, closed, the changing social profile of ‘Little Jerusalem’ and financial realities increased the pressures to close Greenville Hall Synagogue.

The Chief Rabbi, Dr David Rosen, who was one of my lecturers on the module on Judaism at the Irish School of Ecumenics in 1982-1984, spoke of an ‘over-indulgent nostalgia’ that triumphed ‘over religious priorities and the wise use of resources.’ But when he left Ireland in 1984, Greenville Hall Synagogue was still open.

It was kept open long after it could muster a minyan or quorum of 10 adult Jewish men for worship. It finally closed that year, however, and many of its members joined the Machzikei Hadass synagogue, which had moved from Saint Kevin’s Parade to 77 Terenure Road North in 1968.

The Muslim community expressed interest in buying the synagogue to open a mosque. Instead, they bought the former Donore Presbyterian Church across the street on the South Circular Road, and Greenville Hall became a light machinery factory.

In a curious twist of history, when Stan Mason and Mason Technology bought Greenville Hall, he helped to pinpoint the location of the first synagogue in Dublin at Crane Lane, off Dame Street.

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.

The synagogue at Greenville Hall finally closed in 1984 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tomorrow: 13, Walworth Road Synagogue

Yesterday: 11, Lombard Street West Synagogue

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