Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Following a virtual
walking tour through
Cork’s Jewish history
During my last visit to Cork in February, I visited a number of sites associated with the Jewish community in the city. They included the site of the former Sephardic burial ground in Kemp Street, the recently-closed synagogue of the Cork Hebrew Congregation on South Terrace, the sites of former synagogues on Union Quay and South Terrace, and a bridge known with affection to all in Cork as the ‘Passover.’
The second phase of this summer’s ‘Road Trip’ – a road trip through southern Ireland as a form of compensation for not being able to get to Greece – began this week. It seemed appropriate to begin this phase of the ‘Road Trip’ by following a newly-produced Virtual Walk through the Jewish heritage and history in Cork.
The Jewish community in Cork was founded mainly in the late 19th century by immigrants from Lithuania, who some say were actually been heading for New York. Gerald Goldberg, the son of immigrants, was born in Cork in 1912 and was the Lord Mayor of Cork in 1977-1978. He was also a president of the synagogue.
As Lord Mayor in 1977, he opened ‘Trinity Bridge,’ a pedestrian bridge close to the sites of Cork’s three former synagogues. It was named ‘Trinity Bridge’ after the nearby Father Mathew Memorial Church or Trinity Church. But Cork wits soon renamed it the ‘Passover.’
The synagogue on South Terrace closed in 2016, due to the dwindling numbers, and is now an Adventist church. A year after the synagogue closed, the Cork Public Museum opened an exhibition on local Jewish history, ‘The Tsar, the Rosehills and the Music Shop.’ At its core is a selection of artefacts from the closed synagogue that were presented to the museum for permanent display.
Meanwhile, a new community, the Munster Jewish Community, has come together in recent years. This is a ‘broad mix of Jews living, working, studying or visiting Munster, the South-West corner of Ireland.’ It describes itself as ‘an eclectic and inclusive mix of all Jews living, or staying in the Munster area, and wishing to take part in Jewish events / festivals.’
The new ‘Virtual Walk’ and its web page were launched in mid-August. This is a project by the performance artist Ruti Lachs, who is active in the Munster Jewish Community. It came about as a follow-on from research for the 2020 musical play, Green Feather Boa, set in the Cork Jewish Community 100 years earlier, and both projects are supported by Cork City Council.
The virtual tour is presented by Ruti Lachs and Marnina Winkler, a PhD candidate and local Jewish historian, and it also includes interviews, stories, and music. Although the tour is accessible as a video on YouTube, it anchors a web page that provides links to further reading and other resources.
I followed the ‘Virtual Walk’ as I visited the following points of interest in Jewish history in Cork (the time in brackets indicates where you can find the summary):
1, Trinity Bridge (01:02)
2, The Mikveh (03:21)
3, The Synagogue (03:43)
4, The Former Cemetery (05:41)
5, Shalom Park (06:48)
6, Jewtown (09:13)
7, Mary Elmes Bridge (12:24)
I was surprised that although there are many markers in Shalom Park giving the name of the park, or saying who opened it in 1989 and who sponsored it, there is no description anywhere of its significance of the name of Shalom Park.
As I strolled around the former ‘Jewtown,’ Cork’s equivalent of the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area between Clanbrassil Street and Portobello in Dublin, I could find no markers on any of the houses indicating which family had lived where.
The plaques in Shalom Park offer no explanation of its name or its significance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)
And so, it was encouraging at the end of the tour to find a full description at Mary Elmes Bridge of the role Cork-born Mary Elmes (1908-2002) played in saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust and her place among the Righteous of the Nations.
The bridge is close to the Metropole Hotel and the bus station. The centrepiece of the bridge is designed to create an impression of a menorah, and the plaque commemorating Mary Elmes was sponsored by the Cork Hebrew Congregation.
The ‘Walking Tour’ page can be found HERE