An Irish Jewish community has been present on the Emerald Isle for at least 1,000 years. However, unless you’re descended from a member of this small enclave, you might not be aware of their presence in Ireland. Even if you ARE a descendant of a Jewish person from Ireland, you might not know it. If you have Jewish ancestry, however, and know or suspect your ancestors spent time in North-western Europe, you just might finally break down a long-standing brick wall by looking at Irish Resources.
The earliest mention of Jewish people in Ireland is from the year 1079, when local records mentioned that five Jews came to Munster in Ireland with gifts for the king. It is believed these Jewish travelers were merchants from Normandy. After this early introduction and brief stay in Ireland, there is no further mention of Jewish people or an Irish Jewish community until about 100 years later, when Henry II was on the throne in England. At that time, it was recorded that a Jewish person assisted an English noble in financing an expedition to Ireland in defiance of the king’s orders. This demonstrates the strong likelihood that a Jewish community existed in or near Ireland at that time, though no direct evidence of it is existent.
Yet, by 1232, there IS evidence of an established Irish Jewish community, as a grant from King Henry II from that year bestows upon Peter de Rivel the office of the Treasurer and Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer and the custody of the King’s Judaism in Ireland. Peter’s post as Jewish custodian in Ireland meant that he acted as the official go-between for the Jewish community there and any dealings they had with the king. Most of the Jewish population in Ireland at that time is thought to have resided in Dublin.
By 1286, the Jewish community was once again gone from Ireland, as its expulsion from England at that time applied to the Emerald Isle as well. The community wasn’t gone long. By the late 15th century it was back in Ireland, settling on the south coast of the island. This time, the Jewish population was more readily accepted into Irish life and rapidly integrated into the fabric of the nation. By the mid 16th century, a local Jewish person named William Annyas was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork, and Francis Annyas was subsequently elected mayor of Youghal 3 times–once in 1569, once in 1576, and again in 1581. The first Jewish synagogue was built in Dublin in 1660 and the first Jewish cemetery in Ireland was established in the early 1700’s in the Fairview district of Dublin.
As time progressed, the Irish Jewish community became an established part of the overall Irish nation. Jews in Ireland were city dwellers who were, by and large, merchants and business owners. They helped tremendously with aid and relief during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century. In fact, a large influx of Jewish immigrants to Ireland (usually from places like England and Germany) took place in the later part of the 19th century, nearly doubling its numbers over a decade from 258 in 1871 to 453 in 1881.
Today, around 2,000 people are members of the modern Irish Jewish community. That’s down from a high of 5,500 in the 1940’s, at which time many of Ireland’s Jews went to the United States or the newly established nation of Israel. There are now 4 synagogues in the Republic of Ireland, and one in Northern Ireland. The Jewish population continues to be an active and integral part of Irish life today. Though its numbers are small, its influence is felt throughout the country. If you have (or suspect you have) ancestors who were part of the Jewish community in Ireland, the following websites can help you explore these ancestors further: 1) JewishEncyclopedia.com, 2) The Jews of Ireland Genealogy Page, and 3) JewishIreland.org.