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The South Terrace synagogue, the only remaining synagogue in Cork, Ireland -- has closed and been deconsecrated, due to the dwindling number of Jews in the city.

The Cork Hebrew Congregation held its final Shabbat service there Saturday.The Evening Echo news site said that because of demographic decline and emigration, only three Jewish men were now left in town, and a rabbi and 14 men traveled to Cork from Dublin for the final service.

A small, two-storey building with a flat front marked by a triple-arched, ground-floor portal and narrow upper windows flanking a half-moon central window over the entrance, the synagogue was consecrated in 1905 when the Jewish community had as many as 400 or more members.

The building is listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage -- it is believed that it was sold for possible use as a church.

Photo: Cork Hebrew Congregation
Photo: Cork Hebrew Congregation

The Jewish community was founded mainly in the late 19th century by immigrants from Lithuania who may or may not have actually been heading for New York. Gerald Goldberg, the son of immigrants, was born in Cork in 1912 and served as the city's Lord Mayor in 1977-78. (He was also a president of the synagogue.)

The synagogue stands in what was historically Cork's Jewish neighborhood, known in the city as "Jewtown." A collection of poems called "Jewtown" by the Irish poet Simon Lewis evokes the history of the district and will be published in May.

The collection "charts the early story of the Jewish Community in Cork," Lewis told JHE. "However, it is not a work of non-fiction - I have used a huge amount of poetic licence! My aim was to create my interpretation of the sense of feeling a group of immigrants might have felt coming to a country with no money, no possessions, and none of the language. Yes - they survived and thrived."

In recent decades, however, most members of the Jewish community had left the city for many parts of the world.

“We are down in numbers. We couldn’t support a rabbi, a Hebrew school, a synagogue," Fred Rosehill, chairman of the trustees of the Cork Hebrew Congregation told the Evening Echo. "We tried everything. It has come to the stage that there is no money left. If someone gave us money in the morning it wouldn’t matter — we don’t have the members to sustain it,”

The decline had been going on for decades. The Irish poet Thomas McCarthy already wrote about the demise of the synagogue and its community in his 1987 poem, The Dying Synagogue at South Terrace.

...more than time has abandoned this, 
God’s abandonment, God’s synagogue, 
that rose out of the ocean 
one hundred years from here


...To have been through everything, 
to have suffered everything and left 
a peeling door.


(In the poem, McCarthy also references a pro-Palestinian fire-bombing of the synagogue in 1982.)

Dr. Paul Colton, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, issued a statement saying that he learned of the closure of the synagogue "with immense sadness and a heavy heart."

"Growing up in Cork, I remember well Jewish neighbors and school friends in Cork Grammar School, and how living and learning alongside them taught and enriched me and my contemporaries," he said.

"The change in circumstances – demographics and practical realities – which bring about the closure of the Synagogue are sad not least because the closure represents a diminution of the religious pluralism in Cork at a very time when, in Ireland as a whole, greater religious diversity than ever before is a mark of our nation."



4 comments on “Ireland: Only Synagogue in Cork has Closed

  1. I am so sorry to hear that the community in and around Cork can not sustain a synagogue. I live in California and 2 years ago when I visited Ireland I was so pleased that I was able to find the synagogue in Cork and take a few photos. I was hoping when I return to Ireland this summer I would finally be able to obtain contact with members of the synagogue. I don’t usually visit Dublin when I go to Ireland but that is where I believe the only 2 synagogues in Ireland are. I wish the members well as they move forward in life.

  2. I am a Catholic originally from Tipperary. My wife and I were saddened today to hear of the closure of this lovely Synagogue in Cork. Mankind badly needs all members of society to support each other. Have we all failed on this occasion?

  3. I am so sorry to learn of the closing. My family was transferred to Cork in 1990 for 2 years from the US. The small but mighty Jewish community embraced us. Holiday parties were arranged and Jews attended who lived outside the city. We had joyful celebrations for Purim and Chanukah. A minyan for High Holiday Days comprised of the few locals, lads from Dublin, business travelers and tourists passing through continued our traditions, including a Kol Nidre appeal for contributions for Israel. I treasure those memories and will never forget the kindness of the Goldbergs and Fred Rosehill. We began as strangers in a strange land but quickly became part of the Jewish family of Cork.

    • We will be in Cork for Passover this spring and I was so thrilled that there was a synagogue where we might join a seder, and sadly, now I read that the synagogue has been deconsecrated and is now closed. It is good to read how in the early 90’s Phyllis was able to celebrate holidays with the people at the synagogue. If there are any Goldbergs or Rosehills left in Cork this Passover, let’s get together and make our own Passover seder. Two of my California friends and I are joining up with a sabra and we are staying at Shanagarry, Ballycotton Bay, near the cookery school. Let us know how to contact you. God bless your dispersed congregation.

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