James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom — the atheistic Everyman of Ulysses, son of a Hungarian Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother — may have turned the world’s literary eyes on Dublin, but those who look to him for history should think again. He could hardly have been a product of the city’s bona fide Jewish community, where intermarriage with outsiders was rare and piety was pronounced. In Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce, a leading economic historian tells the real story of how Jewish Ireland — and Dublin’s Little Jerusalem in particular — made ends meet from the 1870s, when the first Lithuanian Jewish immigrants landed in Dublin, to the late 1940s, just before the community began its dramatic decline.
In 1866 — the year Bloom was born — Dublin’s Jewish population hardly existed, and on the eve of World War I it numbered barely three thousand. But this small group of people quickly found an economic niche in an era of depression, and developed a surprisingly vibrant web of institutions.
In a richly detailed, elegantly written blend of historical, economic, and demographic analysis, Cormac Ó Gráda examines the challenges this community faced. He asks how its patterns of child rearing, schooling, and cultural and religious behavior influenced its marital, fertility, and infant-mortality rates. He argues that the community’s small size shaped its occupational profile and influenced its acculturation; it also compromised its viability in the long run.
Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce presents a fascinating portrait of a group of people in an unlikely location who, though small in number, comprised Ireland’s most resilient immigrant community until the Celtic Tiger’s immigration surge of the 1990s.
Awards and Recognition
- Co-Winner of the 2006 James S. Donnelly, Sr. Prize, American Conference for Irish Studies