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 O Grada 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.