Can a Jew Be Irish? by Brighid O’Sullivan

When we think of the Irish people, we can’t help but think of Catholics and Protestants.  But Judaism? I certainly didn’t think of a Jew as being Irish until recently and its cleared up a huge misconception in my own personal ancestry which had always confused me.  It confused my father as well. I’ll tell you why.

The name I was born with is Kaplan, my father’s name, naturally. My father was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage. His grandparents were both straight from County Kerry, Ireland with the names Sullivan and Geoghegan. But was the Kaplan name Irish? He explained to me the Irish pronunciation with the little mark over the second ‘a’ and swore up and down to everyone Kaplan was an Irish name. My mother said it was Polish. When I looked it up I found that in German it means monk. When my father would introduce himself people would say to him, “Oh, you’re Jewish huh?” That remark would  burn his britches since we were also very Catholic.

Then I learned that 19th and 20th century Dublin had an influx of Jews who escaped anti-Jew Russian pogroms in Poland, It started to make sense. I also had a great uncle who was Russian.

Judaism is not  foreign to Ireland although they didn’t always reside in the greatest numbers in the census. The Annals of Innis, 11th century,  mention Jewish traders, and there is  evidence that Strongbow’s Norman invasion of Ireland 1169 was financed by Jews. Several mayors have been Jewish, including most recently., Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ben Briscoe who is working on reviving a Jewish museum in Dublin.  Irish American magazine, (Aug/Sept. 12 issue)See article ‘In Dublin’s Little Jerusalem’. And get this! Some of Ireland’s road signs will soon be in Polish. According to the 2011 census, there are more than 120,000 Polish citizens who have moved to Ireland to live and work since the European Union of 2004

But why do we care where we came from? People define themselves, in part, by their lineage. It’s why so many people delve into their genealogies and travel thousands of miles to see where their grandparents were born. In my novel, The Sun Palace, a sixteen year old girl travels across 6th century Ireland to meet the father she never knew. My father never visited Ireland but I’m sure it would have been a dream come true if he had. Perhaps the dream lives in me as I will be traveling to Ireland soon for the second time. I wonder how many more Irish Americans have Jewish roots? For more Irish history tidbits go to the Home page to subscribe.

Christ Cathedral, Dublin

44 thoughts on “Can a Jew Be Irish? by Brighid O’Sullivan

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