There have been Jews in Ireland since at least 1079, when the Annals of Innisfallen records the arrival of five, probably merchants from Rouen, on the island. As recently as the late 1940s there were over 5,000 Jews living in Ireland, but that number has dropped steadily since then and the Jewish population is now slightly more than a 1,000. Yet Ireland’s Jews have been, for the most part, a welcome part of their communities, successful in business and, above all, in politics; Jews have served repeatedly as Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork.
Given the “good news-bad news” nature of Jewish-Irish history, it should come as no surprise that “Shalom Ireland,” a 2004 documentary on that community that will be screened on Tuesday, Nov. 13, is at once both lighthearted and depressing. Of course, both the Jews and the Irish have a tradition of laughing through their tears, so it figures. As the film notes, there has been plenty of cause for both laughter and lament.
The fine Jewish-Irish novelist David Marcus famously asked, “Are there Jews in Dublin?” Valerie Lapin Ganley, the director of “Shalom Ireland,” would answer in a hearty affirmative, but the Dublin Jewish community has been withering for some time, a phenomenon that the film attributes largely to the ongoing emigration to Liverpool, London and America. At the end of the film, she records the deconsecration of the Adelaide Road Synagogue, a fine old building with a dying congregation.
But Ganley’s interviewees are a sprightly lot with an infectious blend of Irish charm and Jewish wit and, despite its ultimately sad conclusion, “Shalom Ireland” is good fun. It is aided immeasurably by a delightful soundtrack that mixes Irish and Jewish music adroitly.
And one cannot help wondering if the future of the Jewish-Irish community may reverse itself. After all, since Ireland became the “Celtic tiger,” possessor of a burgeoning economy that is providing jobs for locals and stemming the tide of emigration, the old joke that “Ireland’s biggest export is the Irish,” is no longer true. But that is a question only time will answer.
“Shalom Ireland” will be co-presented by the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Irish Arts Center on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Irish Arts Center (553 W. 51st St., between 10th and 11th avenues). For information, call (212) 757-3318 or visit www.irishartscenter.org.