Ireland and the Jewish Traveller

The Practicalities of an Irish Vacation for Jews

Confusion - in Northern Irish iconography, the Israeli flag may often be combined with the old one of Northern Ireland - do not expect any Jews to live in this house, a staunch Presbyterian would be a better bet
••• Confusion - in Northern Irish iconography, the Israeli flag may often be combined with the old one of Northern Ireland - do not expect any Jews to live in this house, a staunch Presbyterian would be a better bet. © Bernd Biege 2017

You are Jewish and want to travel to Ireland - and why wouldn't you? Never mind your specific reason to head for the “Emerald Isle”, it could be business, the pure pleasure of sightseeing, or even a visit with family and friends. Generally speaking, you will not encounter any major problems on your way. Naturally, the practicalities of getting permission to land depend on what passport you are holding, you will have to meet the immigration and visa criteria, regardless of race or religion.

And let us be honest - if your actual ethnicity (or way of dressing) is obviously different, you will be immediately recognized as a stranger ("non-Irish national" or tourist, whatever you prefer). Then again this will apply to almost everybody almost everywhere, so why blow a simple fact of life out of all proportion?

Here we shall be practical, and to the point, and ask only one question initially - is it problematic, or can it even be recommended at all, to travel to and in Ireland as a Jew?

Travelling as a Jew in Ireland - a Synopsis

One thing has to be clearly stated - simply being a Jew should in no way influence any practical aspect of a vacation in Ireland. Unless you yourself choose to let your beliefs influence your travels. Being a Jew per se will not single you out in a crowd. It only ever is your ethnicity, your style of clothing, or in some cases your hairstyle that will get noticed, if at all.

Again it goes without saying that this is the same with everybody deviating from the current norm. When the outer shell blends in well, nobody actually gives a thought about the inner self of another person.

In Irish law, no discrimination against any ethnic or religious group is permitted, so in dealing with the authorities being a Jew should not be a factor at all.

You will not, in general, be treated differently from Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or those following Richard Dawkins.

But one question has to be asked - is it likely that you will have to face prejudice and aggressive behavior? You might, maybe on a lesser scale than in many other countries, but what you will soon realize is that people in general do not know a lot about Jews and the Jewish faith. A basic, rather sketchy concept might be floating about, but true knowledge is rare. There is also a tendency to quickly equate the Jewish faith, Zionism, and the state of Israel. In short, when Irish folk talk about “the Jews”, you can never be sure what they actually mean.

Summing up: should you visit Ireland as a Jew? Yes, if you need or want to. And if one is being honest, there might be a lot of countries less desirable to travel to. So go ... and enjoy your visit.

Irish Accommodation from a Jewish Perspective

Apart from a few recommended accommodation providers featured on the pages of the Irish Jewish Community, all near the Dublin shul, you will be left to your own devices. And your choice will largely depend on your personal needs and budget. Booking rooms via the internet is easy, but they might not be that good once you see them.

If you are worried about any aspect, it might be a good idea to ask other Jews for advice ... though the odds are slightly stacked against you the more specific your questions become, due to the relatively low numbers of Jews living in or visiting Ireland.

You may want to be aware that the open display of Christian religious symbols is common - especially in private accommodation, where any number of crosses might adorn the walls. If that poses a major problem for you, Ireland in general might not be the place to visit.

The most important problem you might run into, however, is booking accommodation with breakfast included ...

Irish Food - Is This Really Kosher?

In general – no! If you want to start the Irish day off in a (stereo-) typical Irish way, you might rethink that idea quickly as a Jewish traveler.

Tucking into a hearty Irish breakfast is definitely not recommended, as it will more than likely include pork sausages and bacon rashers. And even if you get offered vegetarian alternatives, you might not be sure about what fat they are fried in ... kosher is not really a word used in Irish cuisine, let alone a concept understood.

Rule 1 - never order a cooked breakfast off the shelf. Talk to the landlord or the chef. You might be offered real alternatives in the form of cereals, fresh fruit, fish. But explain the basics of kashrut ... or you might find shrimps added to your fish as a special treat.

As to kosher food in Ireland in general - here is the bad news: you will not really find food outlets offering kosher products, except in Dublin (the SuperValu near the synagogue stocks some kosher food). To help Jewish travellers and immigrants, a basic list of kosher foods is also available from the Irish Jewish Community website. There also is some information on kosherireland.com, who also provide a glatt kosher catering service.

Some "ethnic" or "speciality" foodstores may also stock the odd item of kosher products, usually imported from the UK. Though it might simply be not worth the time hunting those down during your vacation, sticking to fruit and vegetables instead. One other alternative are halal food stores that cater for the Muslim community in Ireland (a basic lists of shops can be found on zabihah.com). And finally there is always one alternative - go vegetarian during your holidays.

Worshipping as a Jew in Ireland

Unless you are invited into a private house or similar, you will be stuck - currently only Dublin and Belfast have fully functional synagogues. See the websites for the Belfast Jewish Community and the Irish Jewisch Community for more details.

Attitudes Towards Jews in Ireland

It might be a very rough generalization ... but most Irish people would never have (at least consciously) met a Jew and many would be ignorant that there is a (very small) Jewish community in Ireland. Yes, they all have heard about the shoah (known exclusively as the holocaust), but that would be about it. Except for that old story that "the Jews killed Christ". And as late as 1904 the Limerick Pogrom was started by a Catholic priest rehashing the old blood libel.

Different to other European countries? Not really, though a Jewish visitor might find it amusing (or aggravating) how the Irish hijack Jewish history at times (starting with the invention of the "Irish Diaspora" and ending in very unfortunate comparisons between the situation of Catholics in Northern Ireland and the situation of the Jews during the holocaust). And (not only) as a Jew you might at times start to choke at prejudices that could come straight from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", or an occasional admiration of Hitler that even extends to the shoah.

Is There Anti-Semitism in Ireland?

Yes - as there is anti-Semitism in almost any part of the world, to a varying degree and not necessarily as a dominating influence. Casual anti-Semitism by (generally speaking) uneducated people can be encountered. More educated persons may present a more refined, not really tangible anti-Semitism. The overwhelming majority of the Irish population will, however, not be "anti-Semitic" as such. Thoughtless at times, but not by malicious intent.

Now this all depends on how you define anti-Semitism.

As said before, there is a tendency to lump everything together - the state of Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish faith are at times seen as interchangeable. Not only by gentiles, but also by Jews themselves. As a Jewish visitor, you might come across very vocal supporters of a Palestinian state, and very loud criticism of Israeli politics. Is this anti-Semitic in itself? Strictly speaking it isn't, as there is a need to differentiate between criticism of a nation state and the general non-acceptance of a religion (let’s not discuss the fact that not all Semites are Jews here).

Those Israeli and Palestinian Flags in Northern Ireland ...

Should you travel to Northern Ireland and happen to come upon the more sectarian quarters ... don't be too alarmed when you suddenly see Palestinian or Israeli flags adorning lampposts.

This isn't some sort of weird peace initiative (the flags are never shown together anyway), this is a very desperate attempt to equate the problems of the Middle East with the problems of Northern Ireland. Or an attempt at international solidarity. Or mindless posturing. To cut a long story short - Republicans occasionally fly the Palestinian flag out of solidarity and to show that they are as oppressed as them. Loyalists then, in a knee-jerk reflex, fly the Israeli flag out of pure opposition, and maybe to imply that they are denied their promised land and are God's chosen people after all.

Ignore it ... I have long since given up trying to make sense out of the more exotic aspects of the conflict in Northern Ireland myself.

A Short History of Ireland and the Jews

The earliest reference to Jews in Ireland can be found dated to the year 1079 - annals record that "five Jews came" to the King of Munster, only to record immediately that "they were sent back again over sea". About a century later, the Anglo-Norman Strongbow proceeded to "aid" an Irish king, effectively conquering large parts of Ireland. According to some sources, the adventurer received financial assistance from "Josce Jew of Gloucester" in this affair. Soon after, further evidence of Jewish involvement in the conquest is sketchy, individuals such as "Joseph the Doctor" are named, but that is really all.

By 1232 there seems to have been a Jewish community in Ireland - a grant by King Henry III explicitly mentions "the custody of the King’s Judaism in Ireland". Again, further evidence is sketchy to non-existent.

Only in the late 15th century was a permanent Jewish settlement established - Jews expelled from Portugal settled on the Irish south coast, with a certain William Annyas later even elected as Mayor of Youghal (1555). The one thriving community was, however, Dublin - in the time of William III it was certainly active. In the first half of the 18th century about 200 Jews resided in Dublin, a cemetery was established and smaller communities (often just resident families, truth be told, were established outside Dublin).

By 1871 the Jewish population of Ireland was counted as 258, rising to to 453 with in ten years - mainly due to immigration from England or Germany. Later, immigration from Eastern Europe increased (mainly due to Russian anti-Semitic policy), in 1901 the number of Jews in Ireland was estimated to be 3,771, by 1904 already 4,800.

An anti-Semitic boycott in Limerick was part of the backlash at this time - it became known as the Limerick Pogrom, the flames of which were fanned by the fundamentalist Father John Creagh of the Redemptorist Order. Anti-Jewish sentiment was low-key most of the time, with several Jews achieving success in becoming part of the established order in Ireland. Names like the shipbuilder Wolff in Belfast, the politician (and IRA volunteer) Briscoe and Cork's Lord Mayor Goldberg come to mind.

During the Second World War and the shoah, Ireland (with the exception of the North, obviously) sat firmly on the fence - occasionally leaning dangerously to one side. Only about thirty Jewish refugees were accepted in Ireland. And even those were not totally secure, as a notorious speech by TD Oliver J. Flanagan in 1953 showed - he was all for "routing the Jews out of the country".

After the Second World War, the Jewish population of Ireland peaked at around 5,500, then went into a decline again (many emigrated to the UK or Israel). Only during the Celtic Tiger years was a new influx of Jews noticeable.

More Information for Jewish Travellers to Ireland

Jewish travellers heading for Ireland may find most information by contacting the Jewish Community directly: