02 September 2020

Following a virtual
walking tour through
Cork’s Jewish history

The centrepiece of the Mary Elmes Bridge is designed to create an impression of a menorah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

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 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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.

The pedestrian bridge opened by Gerald Goldberg is known locally as the ‘Passover’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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)

The entrance to the former Mikvah on Father Mathew Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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

A brief afternoon visit to
Lismore, with its colourful
buildings and monuments

Lismore House Hotel, Ireland’s oldest purpose-built hotel, opened as the Devonshire Arms Hotel in 1797 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

This summer’s ‘Road Trip’ inevitably took us through Lismore on our way from Co Kerry to Cappoquin, and I stopped briefly to stroll through a town that I loved in my childhood and that is still colourful and charming.

As well as Lismore Castle and Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, there is a cluster of prominent or landmark buildings at the most important junction in Lismore that includes the Lismore House Hotel, the Red House, the former courthouse, and the Ambrose Power Memorial.

The Lismore House Hotel, where I have stayed in the past, is a protected Georgian building, and boasted in the past that it is Ireland’s oldest purpose-built hotel. Guests in the past have included the 19th century travel writer William Makepeace Thackeray, whose stay is commemorated with a plaque on the fa├žade.

In his Irish Sketch Book, Thackeray was effusive in his praise of Lismore, describing ‘the river and banks as fine as the Rhine and the castle as noble and picturesque as Warwick.’

William Makepeace Thackeray was effusive in his praise of Lismore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The hotel was built by the Duke of Devonshire in 1797, when it was known as the Devonshire Arms Hotel. It was first built to provide accommodation for guests of the Cavendish family at Lismore Castle.

The hotel has 29 bedrooms, conference and banqueting facilities, a bar and a restaurant, and is said to be in almost ‘ready to go’ condition.

The Lismore House Hotel had a significant overhaul and rebranding in 2006, setting up as a four-star boutique hotel with conference and function facilities. It was a popular wedding and function venue, but suffered from licensing issues and noise disturbance complaints when it reopened as Club V about 12 years ago.

In recent years, the hotel was associated with the Nolan family, who have an Irish and European transport and haulage business. Family members recently settled a long-running legal dispute with AIB over hotel investments, including the Lismore House Hotel, and Isaacs Hostel in Dublin, where debts of up to €23 million were in dispute.

Lismore House Hotel has not traded recently, and the latest Tripadvisor comments come from mid-2016, When it closed, Lismore’s Immrama Festival of Travel Writing also lost a venue. It is on the market through Sherry FitzGerald Reynolds. When it first went on the market in November 2017 It had an asking price of €1.5 million.

Lismore had a long association with Fred Astaire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Lismore also had a long association with Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele, and a plaque at who married a Cavendish. A plaque above ‘Summerhouse’ recalls that Fred Astaire was a ‘frequent visitor.’

On a nearby house, another plaque recalls that Timothy Healy (1855-1931), Governor General of Ireland, once lived in Lismore.

The Ambrose Power Memorial … said to retain its internal mechanisms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Beside the hotel, the Ambrose Power Memorial in the Square is a focal point in the town and is one of the first features seen on arriving in Lismore. from the north and was erected in the Gothic-Revival style in to commemorate Archdeacon Ambrose Power of Lismore. His daughter Mary married Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart of Dromana House.

The well-maintained memorial contains fountains, and although they are no longer working they are believed to retain their internal mechanisms.

The Red House Inn is a striking building in the Arts and Crafts style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Facing the hotel, the Red House Inn is a striking corner building in the Arts and Crafts style. It is well maintained and retains important features both outside and inside. These include the decorative veranda balcony, canted oriel window, advanced gable, dormer attic and profiled timber bargeboards. Inside, there is a distinctive serpentine serving counter.

It was built in 1902, and incorporates fabric of from an earlier building, built on the site in 1825.

The classical-style courthouse now serves as a Visitor Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Another prominent landmark in the centre of Lismore is the imposing, classical-style courthouse, now serving as a Visitor Centre. It too was built by the Dukes of Devonshire, and retains its original form and massing, and many original features and materials, as well as its the later clock tower.

I was too late to call into the cathedral this time, but walking through the colourful streets of Lismore, even on a dull afternoon as summer turned to autumn, evoked childhood memories and brought a promise to return.

Lismore is always inviting me back (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)