Story of Ireland's Jews: A Chat With Valerie Lapin Ganley

The following is a transcript of the LIVE members' chat hosted here at on Monday with Producer and Director Valerie Lapin Ganley.  Some editing has been applied for clarity.

The Wild Geese: Céad Míle Fáilte, a chairde! So glad to see each one of you who have stopped by for the live community chat with filmmaker, Valerie Lapin Ganley. Valerie may be best known in Irish circles for her documentary, “Shalom Ireland,” which focuses on the Jewish community in Ireland.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Thank you. I'm reaching for my little bit of Irish, but I know I'll misspell it.

The Wild Geese: My name is Ryan O’Rourke, and I’ll be the moderator for this evening’s chat.  Let's now turn it over for the next 40-45 minutes to Valerie who is coming to us live from California. Welcome, Valerie!

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Thank you for hosting this chat. I’m delighted to be here. Before we get started, I want to thank you, Ryan, Gerry, Doug Chandler and the entire The Wild Geese team for being such terrific "Shalom Ireland" boosters, and for your dedication and all your hard work. You provide a valuable service to our community, and want to tell you how much I appreciate that.

Jennifer Willis: It's my first time here. Thanks for hosting this chat!

C S: Hi! Sorry I'm a little late.

Gerry Regan: CS, better late than never with a subject as fascinating as this. Failte!

Valerie Lapin Ganley: I am so impressed with The New Wild Geese website! I love its lively, interactive nature and that you are constantly providing new content -- and always high quality content. It makes we want to check it often.

The Wild Geese: Glad to have you, Valerie -- and everyone, for that matter.  Who has our first question for Valerie?

Belinda Evangelista: The Limerick Pogrom in 1904. Can you tell us about it?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: There was a Jewish community of about 10-12 families. A Redemptorist priest by the name of Father Creagh started to preach the blood libel against the Jews ... that Jews killed Christians.  As a result of the sermon, some members of the congregation attacked the homes of some Jewish families. Then there was a boycott of Jewish business.  The boycott destroyed the businesses. The community of 250-300 left Limerick.

Bit Devine: Those who fled ended up in Cork, did they not?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Yes, they went to Cork.

Jennifer Willis: Do you have an estimate on the number of Jews living in Ireland today?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Today, around 2,000, mostly in Dublin.

John G. Molloy: So the numbers are increasing in very recent years?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: My figures are a little dated. The 2002 census showed 1,790, a slight increase.

Jennifer Willis: When I visited the Irish Jewish Museum in 2011, the curator there told me that the numbers were going down. There'd been an aberration in the census, where a plane load of Israeli tourists had accidentally been counted as Irish citizens.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Really, I'd never heard that.

Jennifer Willis: I'd have to check the more recent census figures (from 2011-2012) to see.

Bit Devine: If I remember correctly, most settled in Belfast, Cork and Dublin ... Why do you suppose these cities and not so much Galway?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Good question. My guess from observing migration in general is that people go where they have family and friends to assist them in their resettlement.

C S: When I visited Dublin in the '90s, the Jewish Museum was closed that day and there was one 'kind of' kosher bakery. Is it still there?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: The museum is only open a few days a week. Yes, there was a kosher bakery when I shot the film. It may have closed. I'm not sure.

Gerry Regan: Valerie, when you can, tell us about the experience of being both Jewish and Irish, sharing those identities, as relayed to you during your interviews for the film.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: I grew up in a Jewish family in Los Angeles. My husband, Michael, is a staunch Irish American. It wasn’t until after my first visit to Ireland when I was in my mid-30s that I learned of my family’s roots in Ireland. I didn’t even know that there were any Jews in Ireland.  Michael found Dublin’s Irish Jewish Museum in a travel guide. Of course, we were curious, so off we went. I was fascinated by the community’s rich history and how this small population had produced so many leaders in so many different fields.  I was very interested in the role Irish Jews played in Ireland’s fight for freedom and the founding of the State of Israel. And especially Robert Briscoe.

Soon after that trip, I received a document from a cousin indicating that my great-grandparents were married in Waterford. I wrote to the Museum seeking information about my Irish roots. One morning, I got a phone call from Joe Morrison, a Museum volunteer.  The curator gave him my letter because his mother was a Lappin and he thought that we could be related.

Bit Devine: Though Briscoe is often hailed as the first Jewish mayor in Ireland ... mid-1950s ... wasn't there another ... in the way back time?

John G. Molloy: What facts were you able to verify about how Robert Briscoe was recruited during the War of Independence?

Jim Curley: What was the reaction of the Jewish community in Dublin to the elevation of Robert Briscoe and later his son, Benjamin, as Lord Mayors of Dublin. Was this seen as a singular achievement for the Jewish community in Ireland?

The Wild Geese: Three questions about Briscoe in rapid fire!  Let's combine those all into one, Valerie.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: There was a Jewish lord mayor of Youghal. Not sure if I'm spelling that right. And one in Belfast. And, of course, Robert's son Ben followed and later became a lord mayor of Dublin, too.  Briscoe wrote an autobiography called "For The Life Of Me" that documents his involvement with the IRA.  He ran guns and ammo and reported to Michael Collins.

No, Briscoe's ascent wasn't a singular achievement. There have been other Jewish TDs in the Dail, and ministers.

C S: Wow. Ya know, I found out several years ago that a relative through marriage was related to Briscoe. Small world.

Bit Devine: Ellen Cuffe ... I did a paper on her in college...served in the Irish Senate ... was an advocate for the Irish language and a member of the Gaelic League ... very inspiring woman.  Yet so little is said of her ...

Ryan O'Rourke: Valerie ... do you have any insight about how Jews in Ireland feel about the strong pro-Palestine / anti-Israel stance of so many Irish men and women in modern times?

C S: Is there really a deep anti-Israel sentiment in the Irish community today? I live in New York and there's a large Jewish population in the Irish music scene, including me.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: There is great concern among Irish Jews and Irish Jews living in Israel about anti-Jewish / anti-Israel sentiments among some sectors of Irish society.

Ryan O'Rourke: And well there should be, Valerie. Some of what I hear is downright frightening. This is in Ireland itself.  Many people here identify with the Palestinians for whatever reason, but I don't understand why the seething hatred for the Jews has to accompany that (and for the record, I do not have any Jewish blood in me).

Bit Devine: It is in pockets, C S ... but from what I hear ... and from what Ryan is saying, those pockets are growing.

Gerry Regan: Someone mentioned the strange Palestinian / Israel divide that has come to characterize Ulster's sectarian allegiances. There was a time when loyalists in Belfast would fly the Israeli flag, while republicans would flaunt the Palestinian flag -- each identified with their particular circumstances.  The republicans identified with the dispossessed Palestinians, while the loyalists felt, like the Israelis, that they 'built' their homeland and wouldn't have it taken from them.

Ryan O'Rourke: I'm actually in Belfast right now, and yes, quite a bit of wall murals about the Israel / Palestine divide.
I find it quite strange.

Jennifer Willis: I was in Dublin in 2011 on a journalism fellowship (reporting on religious diversity). I had difficulty getting anyone on the record about Judaism in Ireland. I found the community to be very insular, which I understand. Even as a Jew myself, I was treated as an outsider. Was your experience similar?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: My experience was mixed. Some were incredibly welcoming, like the Briscoes, the Morrisons and another family, the Nelkins who are in the film. I was there at a very sensitive time for the community, when the oldest synagogue was closing.  I was an outsider and some people were concerned about how the community would be portrayed.  Ryan, glad you differentiate between Jews and the policies of the country Israel.

Gerry Regan: Important to point out, I believe, that many Jews aren't Zionists, even some in Israel, believe it or not. But not to get too far afield with our focus ...

Marian Elizabeth Hill: There is a lot of false propaganda in the media today about the "Palestinian"/Israeli conflict. Even having a true historical understanding of the conflict exposes much of the propaganda.  I also tag onto that it helps to tell the wonderful stories and history of the Jewish people, like Valerie has accomplished, to help people have a greater acceptance of the Jewish people.

The Wild Geese: Thanks for your candor with all that, Valerie.

Jennifer Willis: Valerie, what surprised you most about Judaism (and Jews) in Ireland while you were making "Shalom Ireland"?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Most of the Jews in Ireland are Orthodox. There's a small congregation, the Dublin Progressive Congregation, that caters to people of mixed marriages. But the customs are universal. What surprised me was how similar a ceremony is in Ireland to. say, one in Australia or anywhere else for that matter.  I was surprised to hear Jewish people speaking with Irish accents. It was surreal when I first heard it. I had to ask myself where I was!

Gerry Regan: Did your interview subjects feel they were Irish Jews or Jewish-Irish or Jews living in Ireland or what?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Good question, Ger!  I asked myself that question all the time. And kept asking Irish Jews that question. But I would get a blank stare. I realized it would be like someone asking me what it's like to be an American Jew. Irish Jews have a strong identity for both being Irish and Jewish.

C S: Must catch a train. Valerie, thank you for kindly taking our questions. Cheers and talk to you soon! Bye all!

The Wild Geese: Thanks for joining us, CS!

Jennifer Willis: So I'm guessing the Dublin Progressive Congregation would be more Reform / Conservative?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: I say slightly more like Conservative. I think Reform is an American invention.

Belinda Evangelista: Do you think the Jewish community feels more at home now that Ireland is more culturally diverse.

Jennifer Willis: Excellent question, Belinda!

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Good question, Belinda. I shot the film 14 years ago. Yes, Dublin has become a lot more diverse. My hope is that with greater diversity comes greater understanding.

Gerry Regan: A quick joke related to the topic: A visitor to one of the many sectarian neighborhoods in Belfast drew the attention of some local ruffians, who accosted him, demanding to know if he was a Protestant or Catholic. The nervous visitor, apparently aware of the stakes of an incorrect response, paused ... "I'm Jewish." The toughs, stymied for a moment, came back. "OK, then, would you be a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?"

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Love that story. Glad you told. There's a similar real-life story like that in "Shalom Ireland."

Gerry Regan: Oldie but goodie!

Jennifer Willis: Gerry, I used that same joke (but skewed toward Islam) as the opening for my fellowship proposal!

George Gast Stradtman, Jr.: I've been trying to find out more about Jewish ancestors of Portuguese origin who settled in Virginia sometime between 1650 and 1770 after a couple of generations born and raised in either Ireland or England.
As long ago as that was and with no written records available within the family, it's uncertain whether just where their intermediate stay was.  Is there any record source that would give details about Jews in Ireland before 1770?

Valerie Lapin Ganley: It's hard to find records going back that far. Stuart Rosenblatt has created a database of Irish Jews. He may be your best bet. His contact info is on the website under Irish Jewish genealogy.

The Wild Geese: On that note, we'll bring what has been a great discussion to a close.  We thank Valerie for her time tonight.

Jennifer Willis: Thanks, Valerie!

George Gast Stradtman, Jr.: Thank you, Valerie.

Marian Elizabeth Hill: Thank you.

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Thank you so much for hosting this. I love you, The Wild Geese!

Tiffany Silverberg: Thanks, Valerie!

The Wild Geese: Of course, if you have any further questions for Valerie, you can always send her a private message via  Be sure to check out "Shalom Ireland," everyone.  Three lucky folks from tonight's chat will receive a free copy.  But even if you don't win one of those, tonight's discussion has provided ample reason to acquire a copy of your own.

Gerry Regan: From the film's website: "Shalom Ireland is a documentary about Ireland's remarkable, yet little known Jewish community. The one hour film chronicles the history of Irish Jewry while celebrating the unique culture created by blending Irish and Jewish traditions. From gun running for the Irish Republican Army during Ireland's War of Independence to smuggling fellow Jews escaping from the Holocaust into Palestine, Shalom Ireland tells the untold story of how Irish Jews participated in the creation and development of both Ireland and Israel."

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Thanks for the plug! :-)

The Wild Geese: Oiche mhaith, gach duine!

Marian Elizabeth Hill: Slan!

Valerie Lapin Ganley: Slan.


Views: 1451

Tags: Faith, History of Ireland, Jewish, Jews, Living History, Shalom Ireland

Comment by Tiffany Silverberg on August 8, 2013 at 3:09pm

Great chat! Thanks again, Valerie, for talking with us. 

Comment by Rose Maurer on August 9, 2013 at 7:09am

Thak you so much for providing a transcript, Tiff. Really appreciated, because quite often 11pm SA time means I'm ready for bed, book, two miniature Dachsies - and of course, my long suffering husband!

Founding Member
Comment by Valerie Lapin Ganley on August 9, 2013 at 1:28pm

It was my pleasure! Thank you!

Comment by Edward Hart on August 11, 2013 at 10:37am
I don't understand why the Irish side with the Palestinians over the Israelis. It is the Palestinians(Muslims), not the Israelis, that someday may be a threat to Ireland. Wake up Ireland.
Comment by mickey mcadden on August 11, 2013 at 11:48am

About Moslem influence in Ireland. As you probably already know, Ireland produces 'hal al' food for export to Moslem communities. Also some Moslems have settled in Ireland, and there is one family in the Gaelteacht, 'Elsafty'. A female of this family is a Gaelic speaking Sean Nos singer. Other than those there are a few more on the S Coast.

Their sympathy for the likes of Hizbollah etc would not be news to anybody familiar with modern Moslem communities, nor indeed the attention that they get from Irish people that they have contact with.

At one point while there were Irish protestors against George Bush and Americans at Shannon, these same protestors where waving the Moslem banner, many of them employed at Dell Computers.

Needless to say none had any love of Israel. Pity that they did not bother to learn more about Michael Dell. So not long afterwards Dell moved a hunk of it's operation to Poland.

The next hump in the road for Islamic Ireland is the Margaret Hassan incident. In this case the mad Moslems of Iraq murdered this woman for being an outsider even-though she is married to one of their own. As well, they had cut off her head and butchered her body.

I can find no case where a Jewish person has ever done to anything bad to Ireland or said anything against Ireland.

Why then do Irish people have the insane idea that Jews are bad for Ireland?

I have many a time asked this about people all over the world. Best I can come up with is in Torah or the OT of the Bible. That is there has always been an Amalek against Israel and the Jewish people because that is how the creator made the universe.

As to education of the Irish population, what can I say?

First and foremost we must be informed about the most ancient links between Ireland and the Hebrews in the settlement of Danites to Ireland even before the arrival of the Gaelic language and culture to it. Evidence can be found in names and stone carvings on the island. The coiled snake being an emblem of the tribe of Dan, and the long circle / coil dances, STILL practiced in eastern Europe today, that form the basis of the old Irish Rinca Fodha ( spelling is wrong, sorry can't remember it right now ). Another approach to this is etymology of Gaelic and Cwmraig words that have Hebrew roots!

So I guess it is not so much the Palestinian sympathy of the Amalek in Ireland that bothers me as the utter ignorance of our ancient ties to our cousins, the nation of Israel.

In Torah, or the OT of the Bible, it is laid out that the descendants of Avraham shall be as many as the stars in the heavens... so

For those interested in the study of the tribe of Dan in Europe I would suggest beginning in Morroco, then the Iberian peninsula, and so on until you reach Scandinavia. Fascinating stuff with Denmark along the way! 

The Irish  then need to awaken to another reality far outside the uptopia that Dr Hyde imagined for them, and not the nightmare that Dev unintentionally created; that is the spread of Judaism among the native Irish as a way of life! The kosher way instead of the Commandment breaking half hearted Xtian ideology that now holds sway.


Comment by Gary S. Cohen on August 18, 2013 at 2:23pm

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the transcript and apprpeciate all of the information, some of which was new to me.  Thanks Valerie!


Comment by frank farbenbloom on August 22, 2013 at 11:09am

As a Dublin born Jew I have mixed reactions to the interview and comments.

Growing up in Ireland I never felt anti-Semitism (I claim to be the only Jew who went to 1st. & 2nd. grade in Clonmel though most of my life was in Dublin).

I do not see anti-Israeli policies as being synonymous with anti-Semitism. Obviously there are those who use the cover of the Palestinian/Israel conflict to legitimize their dislike of Jews in general. But the majority legitimately disagree with our policies.  Personally I am one of them.

But I blame both leaderships for the failure to reach a just solution. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are angels but neither are they devils. It only takes the action of one fanatical suicide bomber or one fanatical Israeli settler to undo all the efforts of those who seek genuine peace.

My real concern is for what I consider the unjustified and unthinking dislike of anything connected with Israel. The reporting is atrocious. If anything it just adds fuel to the fire.

It saddens me as an Irishman to read the one-sided commentary that appears in the Irish media from observers who should know better. The facts of the Palestinian/Israel conflict are well-known for all intelligent journalists and politicians.  Yet they are consistently denied.

Instead Israel is painted as some kind of Nazi-like monstrosity and the Arabs are painted as if they are a resurrection of Gandhi.

Ignored is the fact that the only free Arab press in the Middle East is in Israel. Or that Israeli Arabs have full rights to freely vote. No mention is made of Arabs in Israel who are members of parliament or who have attained high office.  Instead we are called an "Apartheid" state (which is an insult to those who really did suffer in South Africa).

Totally ignored is the fact that a few miles south of where I am living the Hamas, in Gaza, have the declared aim of  wiping my family, and all other Israelis, of the face of the earth.  Totally ignored is that fact that Hamas deliberately use their own population as weapons of diplomacy. The more their people suffer the better for their aims in the world press.

Thousands of words are written vilifying the sea blockade of Gaza while no one writes about the fact that there is no land blockade of essential goods and supplies brought in by land through Israel. Any thinking person realizes that the real issue is to be able to inspect the convoys for arms and explosives. 

Palestinians do not enjoy the fruits of a free democratic state for many reasons. But none disagree that their situation is far better that the which is happening in Syria. To be an honest broker here is difficult, the issues are many, the claims of both sides are justified. What is needed is give and take, flexibility, willingness to comprise.

The last thing we need is unthinking, sloganizing criticism from those who do not live our reality.

Knowing our Irish history, I would hope that there would be more understanding and sensitivity for the issues involved. 







Comment by Gerry Regan on August 22, 2013 at 12:27pm

Delighted to have your thoughtful perspective here, Frank. When did you move to Israel? What expressions of Irish culture have you discovered in Israel in your time there? And have you seen (perhaps appeared in?) Valerie's film?

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on April 24, 2016 at 9:54am
  • The Jewish people were to discrimination in the mid 1800/1900 in Ireland and long before that  …  Read excerpts from … ‘That’s’ Just How It Was ‘  below


“It was Daniel O’Connel a great statesman and a powerful stalwart  [mid 1800]  who supported and aide  the Jewish Community to repeal the British Law of’ De Judaismo’, which meant that Jews would have to wear clothes that would mark them as different.” 


He told the Jewish community in a statement: ‘Ireland has claims on your ancient race and its rich industrious past that has contributed to a very real force for good on this Island of Ireland.’ 


The roots of the Jewish community can, in fact, be traced back to 1170. Historians have identified a tenuous link between Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke, commonly known as Strongbow, who wanted to organise an invasion into Ireland in defiance of Henry II. In 1170, however, Strongbow had no means by which to pay for this invasion. It was thought, therefore, that it had been completely financed by his very close Jewish friend, Josce of Gloucester, who coordinated his men, ships, and the armoury (see Appendix 4).”


In fact, Temple Bar, which is in quite close proximity to Trinity College, owes its name to the Jewish community. The first temple of worship for the Jewish community was built close by. The Catholic people, who ought to have known better, seeing as how they had been discriminated against for hundreds of years by the British Crown establishment, then put a ‘bar’ on Jewish people; they were not to enter any of the adjoining commercial premises, hence the term ‘temple bar’. For a nation of people who had a name for being generous and welcoming, they did not show any of these traits to the Jewish people, who had only ever shown the Catholics generosity throughout the ages. As Bridget would say, ‘They have short-term memories, some people!’ 


Then to add insult to injury “When Father John Creagh a Redemptories Priest gave a sermon January 1904 in Limerick, fiercely attacking the Jews, Arthur Griffiths Griffiths founder of Sinn Fein, not only defended this sermon, but added insult to injury by defending the anti- Semitic rioters.

 Cannot offer an opinion on Israel or Palestine , but I woudl support the opinion of, Frank Farbenbloom above , and I quote  ........................... "But I blame both leaderships for the failure to reach a just solution. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are angels but neither are they devils. It only takes the action of one fanatical suicide bomber or one fanatical Israeli settler to undo all the efforts of those who seek genuine peace." ..... Negotiations for peace must be a priority ...


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