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Jewish Waterford, 1893-1940

Cormac Ó’Gráda’s book Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce, was a ground-breaking work for looking at religious and ethnic minorities in Ireland historically. I recently heard Ó’Gráda speaking as part of the UCC Historical Society’s History Week. Ó’Gráda spoke about the potential of the 1901 and 1911 census, especially in relation to the study of minorities in Irish life from that period. With that in mind, and following on from some tentative work which I had done for my PhD thesis, I’ve decided to sketch a portrait of Waterford’s Jewish community from the end of nineteenth century up to the beginning of the Second World War.

The Beginnings of the Jewish Community in Waterford

According to Louis Hyman, in his history of Irish Jewry up to 1910, ‘At the close of the seventeenth century, the Council of the Waterford Corporation encouraged the settlement of foreign merchants.’ One man who applied to trade freely in the city was Jacob Nunes who was given the freedom of the city to conduct trade in 1701.[1] Thus Nunes has a fair claim to being Waterford’s first Jewish settler. Again, Hyman notes that ‘individual Jews resided in Waterford in the eighteenth century, and some were there in 1805, one of them, surely Josias Jacob, registered with the Dublin Goldsmith’s Company in 1809. About the middle of the nineteenth century, the grandparents of the late Professor James Desmond Bernal settled in the town.’[2] According to the census of 1871, there was still only a solitary Jew in Waterford, however that was all about to change. With the introduction of what are popularly known as the May Laws, many Jews in Tsarist Russia made their way to Britain and Ireland. As Hyman notes, this movement of Jews from what was sometimes called Russian Poland, and Lithuania, had the effect ultimately of strengthening the communities of Jewish settlers in places other than in Dublin and Belfast.[3]

One of the earliest mentions of the new Jewish community in Waterford comes from 1893 with the death of Joseph Diamond at the age of 68, who lived on 8 Manor Street in the city centre, a street in Waterford that would in time form a central part of the Jewish community in the city.[4] Many of the Jews then settled in Waterford were Welsh, and were part of the Jewish community in Britain that were middle-class emigrants from Central Europe, what were known in Ireland as “English Jews”. The lives of these Jewish people were in stark contrast to those who would come to make up the bulk of Britain, Ireland, and Waterford’s Jewish communities in time, those fleeing pogroms and persecution in Russia.

Shortly after the death notice of Joseph Diamond, the Jewish Chronicle noted that a congregation had been established in the city, with Mr R Smullian as president, and so prayers were held for the  Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, for probably the first time in Waterford’s history.[5] A year later, the Jewish Chronicle again mentioned the new congregation noting that:

Mr and Mrs Goldring presented a Scroll of the Law to the newly-established congregation. In the evening they gave a party to which every Jewish resident of Waterford was invited. Mr M. Simon presided  and great satisfaction was expressed by the Chairman, Mr Hanasan[sic], President of the congregation, Mr R. Smullian, Mr Levy, Mr Diamond and others at the formation of the congregation.[6]

With the congregation up and running in Waterford city, the Jewish community there could do perform rites of their faith in their new home, rather than travelling to other cities in Ireland with synagogues. The development of the congregation breathed life into the city’s Jewish community and it wasn’t long before the city saw its first Jewish wedding, something which attracted a great deal of interest from Waterford people generally:

On Wednesday 14th inst the first Jewish wedding that has been solemnised in Waterford took place in the synagogue 88 the Manor. The couple were Miss Fanny Diamond and Mr Jack Lappin. The ceremony was performed by Rev J. E. Myers of Cork assisted by the local minister Rev Simon Aarons. The wedding created a great deal of interest  in Waterford and the synagogue was filled with Christians. Rev J. E. Myers  preached on Sabbath morning and also at a special service on Sunday evening, the latter attended by several Christians. Mr Goldring, President, and his wife have made handsome presents to the synagogue. Mr Robinson is Treasurer and Mr J. Levy is Hon Sec.[7]

The development of the community was of interest in particular to JE Myers, who ministered to the Cork congregation, and who visited Waterford on a number of occasions.[8] The community was growing in strength and in no time, there was a plan to open a Hebrew School in the city.[9] As the Jewish community grew and developed, children were born into families in Waterford, like the Sherowitz family. The progress of the community in Waterford was followed closely by the Jewish Chronicle, and many notices, no matter how small, relating to the city’s community, appeared throughout its pages. And so we know that some of the members of Waterford’s Jewish community got involved in politics, like Harris Sherowitz who sent a letter to John Redmond MP on the Aliens Act in 1905, signed by many, in the hopes that he would seek amendments to it. There was a significant difference between the size of the community in 1901 and by 1911. The interwar period was the peak of the Jewish community in Waterford, built as it was by the community that had developed and was captured in the census of 1911. Waterford’s Jewish community was at its most numerous in the city then: there were around 62 Jewish people in Waterford at that date. It was never bigger, before or since. While these numbers obviously pale in their significance when placed next to the Jewish communities of Dublin, Cork or Limerick, nevertheless the Jewish community in Waterford left their mark on the city. These maps show where Waterford’s Jewish community settled in the city (click images to enlarge them):

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

Fig. 1: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1901

As you can see from Fig. 1 above, the very small community that existed in 1901, was centred in the main around John Street and Manor Street. This concentration would remain in 1911, as you can see from Fig.2, below:

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

Fig. 2: Jewish Settlement in Waterford, 1911

To get the full effect, Fig.3 below shows both the 1901 and 1911 settlements overlaid on each other:

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

Fig.3: 1901 and 1911 Jewish Settlement in Waterford, overlaid on each other.

These few streets then, encompassed Waterford’s Jewish community until the beginning of the Second World War.

The Figure of the ‘Jewman’ in Popular Imagination and Memory in Waterford

Once the community strengthened, and became a more visible presence in the city, centred as it was around John Street and Manor Street, the figure of the ‘Jewman’, in that peculiar Irish turn of phrase, was a figure of curiosity and later, folk memory. In Waterford a song was sung called ‘The Jewman’, and according to Dermot Power was popular at one time with workers in Denny’s Bacon curing factory back in the late 1920s and 1930s, when the community was at its height. If as Hyman’s history of the Jews in Ireland has it ‘they knew no trade but peddling’, a fact contested in Ó’Gráda’s work, then this aspect of Irish Jewry is well summed up in the opening verses of ‘The Jewman’:

 At the top of town, Anne Street, a lady does dwell,

Her name I won’t mention, I dare not tell,

One cold winter’s morning the Jewman did call,

And unslung his bag outside of the hall.

He knocked at the door with his usual grin,

Saying good morning, missus, is your husband within

Says she no he’s not I want nothing today,

Ah take something said the Jewman don’t send me away.[10]

In the song, the woman takes some blankets on the promise of payment the following week, and duly the following week no payment is forthcoming, so the Jewman makes a grab for his goods, is hit over the head with a can by the woman before both are brought before a court, the song finishing with the testimony of ‘a big red nosed Bobby’ and a suitably amdmonished Jewman:

Said the Jew oh your Worship my poor head is sore,

And I’ll never go look for me wool anymore.[11]

As Cormac Ó’Gráda notes of such songs, and this particular one seems to have existed in a variety of versions Dublin as well, were indicative of views among Irish people that were ‘more xenophobic than strictly Anti-Semitic.’ Indeed, he contends that ‘the outlook of most Irish people of all persuasions was blinkered, parochial, and prejudiced by today’s standards.’[12] Such was the power over the local imagination of this figure, the ‘Jewman’, that one of Waterford’s lanes, Kneeff’s Lane, was popularly known as ‘Jewman’s Lane’. Indeed, the popular folk memory of the ‘Jewman’ and ‘Jewman’s Lane’ were revisited in a recent documentary about the Barrack Street area in the heart of Waterford city (the relevant segment is from 36:00 to 38:45):

As we’ve seen, the first Jewish marriages and other occasions were of deep interest to many locals, and something of this interest first present in the 1890s remained in the 1930s, as when the Munster Express carried a small notice relating to the Jewish Day of Atonement in September 1931.[13] Members of Waterford’s Jewish community found themselves in court on occasion, and in a rare display of anti-Semitism, a local District Court judge told a member of the family that he should count himself lucky, given what was happening to his people in Hitler’s Germany, though many rushed to defend the judge saying his comments were not meant in such a way.[14] There was also this joke which appeared in the pages of the Munster Express:

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Munster Express, June 26 1936

Still, whether this properly reflects the relationship between the Jewish community and their hosts is difficult to ascertain for certain, perhaps like the figure of the ‘Jewman’ this was more parochial than anti-Semitic. One of the more unusual stories involving Ireland’s Jewish community and Waterford comes from the late 1930s as well. Frank Edwards, a member of the Communist Party of Ireland and rugby player with Waterford City RFC and teacher in Mount Sion, took a leave of absence from his teaching duties in the school to join the International Brigade  to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. Upon returning, Edwards was refused his old job and barred from teaching in any Catholic school. Rev. Herzog, the Chief Rabbi in Ireland, gave Edwards a job teaching in Zion Schools, recently established on Bloomfield Avenue in Dublin, where Edwards would work for the next thirty years.[15]

The legacy of Waterford’s Jewish Community

Ray Rivlin’s Jewish Ireland: A Social History, contains a chapter on sport and entertainment.[16] The chapter opens with the story of Maurice Woolfson, a Jewish Waterford man who led local club Evergreen, when they achieved great victory on the field in the 1930s. The Woolfson name is an important one in the early history of Waterford soccer. Isaac Woolfson, was in the 1930s, chairman of the Waterford and District Association Football League and a key figure in establishing the first Employer’s League in 1931, forerunner to the factory leagues. Like many of the figures explored in Anthony Clavane’s Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?, men like Isaac, Maurice and later ‘Duffy’ Woolfson, emigrant Jews from the poor edges of Russia, who were not of the middle-class “English Jew” origins of earlier Jews in Waterford, used sport, and soccer in particular as a means of integration and acceptance. Cormac Ó’Gráda, discussing the wide variety of sporting and other bodies established by Ireland’s Jewish community noted that success in the sporting arena ‘fostered communal pride’ but he also noted that it wasn’t long before many Irish Jews, and the membership of their sports clubs, moved beyond the community itself. [17]In 1938, with Maurice Woolfson as chairman, Evergreen won the FAI Minor Cup, beating Sligo United 2-1 in a game held at Kilcohan Park in the city. On his leaving for Dublin 1940, the loss was lamented by all involved in the club.

The Woolfson family dispersed from Waterford but returned in 1971 for the inauguration of the Maurice Woolfson Perpetual Challenge Trophy for the local Schoolboy League at half time during a League of Ireland game between Waterford and Finn Harps. However, as was noted by a journalist at the time, the contribution of the Woolfson family to Waterford soccer amounted to a lot more than just a silver trophy, ‘no matter how magnificent’.[18] The same might be said of the entire Jewish community, who breathed life into the streets on which they lived in Waterford, leaving a long lasting impression on the city and its people.


[1] Hyman, Louis, The Jews of Ireland: From Earliest Times to the year 1910, Shannon: Irish University Press 1972, p.22

[2] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p.79

[3] Hyman, The Jews of Ireland, p156 and 161

[4] Jewish Chronicle, 1 September 1893

[5] Jewish Chronicle, 22 September 1893

[6] Jewish Chronicle, 20 October 1894

[7] Jewish Chronicle, 23 November 1894

[8] Jewish Chronicle, 27 March; 17 July 1896

[9] Jewish Chronicle, 6 November 1896

[10] Power, Dermot, The Ballads and Songs of Waterford from 1487, Waterford: Munster Express 1992, pp.10-11

[11] Power, Ballads and Songs of Waterford, p.11

[12] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Socio-economic history, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2006, p.180

[13] Munster Express, September 25 1931

[14] Munster Express, Septembr 27 1935

[15] Rivlin, Ray, Ireland: A Social History, Dublin: The History Press Ireland, 2011, p.110

[16] Rivlin, Ray, Jewish Ireland, pp.209-210

[17] Ó’Gráda, Jewish Ireland, pp.186-187

[18] Munster Express, April 23 1971

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Filed under Irish History, Memory, Nineteenth Century, Social History, Spanish Civil War, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Those Pesky Kids! Football on the Street

This post is driven by the same impulses as those that produced my piece on fish ‘n’ chips in Ireland, which you can check out here.

The part of Cork I live in is reasonably old, with most of the houses dating from around the 1880s. The oldest houses are in terraced rows. There are plenty of children in the area, and in the good weather they can be seen out and about, playing. One particular gable end is a favoured spot of some boys to either kick a ball or hurl a sliotar at. The importance of having a gable end that can operate as a goal, or as someone to pass the ball back to you tends to be underestimated. This particular gable end is in a wide open spot near the major road artery that brings you around to all of the streets in the area. This is usually only used by maybe one or two kids at a time and rarely are full-blown matches played here.

richardmaynefootballThe iconic image to the left, taken by British photographer Roger Mayne in 1956, captures the essence of playing on the street. There was a time, before the mass provision of outdoor and indoor facilities for sport in Ireland by the local club, the local government, or private leisure companies – the field of dreams for many was the street. Often narrow, usually packed, dirty, noisy, and always hard, they saw sporting triumph and tragedy to match any of the great pantheons of modern sport. For many kids, being out on the street playing was a necessity – small, cramped housing in many of Ireland’s towns and cities invariably meant that children were more likely to be found on the relatively spacious streets as opposed to their small homes.

Not surprisingly, much of this play was not looked on too kindly by some adults, and certainly not by the police. The antagonism between ball-playing youngsters and either local residents or police, has a long established tradition in Ireland. In Dublin Tenement Life, Kevin Kearns’ excellent oral history of inner-city, working-class Dublin, a huge array of stories abound on this subject. Take for instance the testimony of Senan Finucan, a Clare native who was a policeman in the Liberties in the 1930s:

Children all in the streets playing football and handball. They shouldn’t have been but they’d just give a signal that the police are coming and they’d run. And children swinging on the lamp-posts, that was dangerous with the lorries coming along. And scutting that was highly dangerous. We always tried to prevent that.

Throughout the book there are stories from people playing in the streets, in pitch ‘n’ toss schools, keeping sketch for policemen that might be coming. Such things weren’t restricted to Dublin’s inner-city though. Way back in 1875, in Nenagh, north Tipperary, football was already popular with young boys in the area with many being brought before the Petty Sessions in order to be fined either for playing football on the street or trespassing in farmer’s fields to play games with a football.

On one occasion a total of more than thirty young boys were summoned by the court in Waterford to pay one shilling for the “nuisance” they had caused with their ball playing. He said that it was a pity there weren’t more playing pitches in the city, and thought it a good thing that the boys should be playing football, calling it a “natural” thing. The previous day he had fined two boys five shillings and warned those in front of him that future fines would be two shillings six pence.

Similar incidences happened elsewhere throughout the country, even in the county towns. In Bantry, to take another example, one boy was brought before court for kicking a football off the bonnet of a Ford car during a game in which fifteen or sixteen boys took part according to a report in the Southern Star in September 1930, while many years earlier boys near Borrisoleigh in north Tipperary were summoned to court for trespassing on a farmer’s land to play football, according to court reports in the Nenagh Guardian during August of 1909 – following in the footsteps of boys nearby back in 1875.

In 1905, a tiny notice appeared in the Limerick Leader, informing us that at the Petty Sessions recently two boys were each fined a shilling for playing football on Market Alley. And, in Derry in April 1925, a boy of 16 was fined the remarkable sum of five shillings for playing football in the street, with the magistrate quoted as complaining that it was ‘almost impossible to get walking on the footpath in some districts.’ It’s unlikely the surly magistrate had the sunny south-east in mind, but around the same time in Waterford there was much he would have recognised.  Between 1927 and 1930 especially there was a good number of cases appeared before the district court relating to young boys who had been apprehended for playing football in the street, often with broken windows becoming a problem from stray footballs.

For one journalist, this was the thin end of the wedge, writing in the Irish Independent in July 1933 that kids who are fined for playing football in the streets come ‘to treat as no more serious [the laws forbidding] street football the laws forbidding truancy and petty stealing.’ Moralistic alarmism this may well have been but remarkably, the same newspaper records an incident in Belfast where a woman, Matilda Kernaghan, 74 years of age died in hospital from shock and exhaustion. This was  following a fractured leg sustained after being knocked over by a boy during a game of football on the street in April 1937.

street footie 1

Irish Press, 19 January 1934

Only three years previously, the Irish Press reported of a near fatal game which saw two boys involved in a game brought before the circuit criminal court in Dublin, when one boy caused sever bodily harm to another he was playing against in January 1934.

In July of that same year, the Irish Press ran the story of a Dublin dressmaker who had collected some 400 footballs that had been put through her window by boys playing in the street, which a Garda cited in the case of 17 year old boy four shillings for playing football in Denmark Street. These were extreme and unusual cases, but were apt to cause panic and dismay.

street footie 2

Irish Press, 6 July 1934

Part of the problem of course was that where previously road traffic had been minimal in Ireland, it was increasingly the case that cars were on the roads. By 1940 things had reached such a pitch over this issue of playing on the streets, and the accidents it was causing that the ‘Safety First’ Association published a handbook Safety First for Children. The publication was the subject of an Irish Times article in May 1940, which threw scorn upon those parents whose children played on the streets.  Although the article acknowledges the dearth of playing spaces, nevertheless the blame lies squarely with the parents who don’t teach their children how best to behave on the roads.In Waterford, the problem had become such by the 1940s that the newspapers nonchalantly ended court reports with the topic in a careworn fashion:

The usual fines were imposed on a number of city youths charged with ball playing on the street

Highlighting a significant gap between those for whom streets were fields of play and those for whom they were to be patrolled, these stories bear out the gap between desired and actual behaviour at a time when it was deemed right and proper that children should be seen and not heard!

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Filed under Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century