LivingTravelIreland and the Jewish Traveler

Ireland and the Jewish Traveler

You are Jewish and you want to travel to Ireland, and why not? No matter your specific reason for heading to the ‘Emerald Isle’, it could be business, the sheer pleasure of sightseeing, or even a visit with family and friends. Generally speaking, you won’t find any major problems on your way. Although Ireland has had a turbulent history with some basis in religion, Irish Jews, although small in number, do not tend to face discrimination.

Naturally, the practicalities of obtaining permission to land depend on what passport you have, you will have to meet immigration and visa criteria, regardless of your race or religion.

Here we will be practical, and to the point, and ask only one question initially: is it problematic, or can it even be recommended, to travel to Ireland as a Jew?

Travel as a Jew in Ireland

One thing has to be clearly stated: the mere fact of being Jewish should not influence any practical aspect of a holiday in Ireland. Unless you choose to let your beliefs influence your travels yourself. Being Jewish per se will not distinguish you from the crowd, although everyone who travels to Ireland who is not Irish is generally recognized as foreigners, the Irish people are open and welcoming.

In Irish law, discrimination against any ethnic or religious group is not allowed in any way, so being Jewish and traveling in Ireland means that the authorities are well positioned to protect your rights. In general, you will not be treated differently from Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or anyone who practices any other religion.

But you have to ask a question: are you likely to face prejudice and aggressive behaviors? Actually, what you may find is that general people in Ireland don’t know much about Jews and the Jewish faith. The majority of the populations of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are predominantly Christian, Protestant or Catholic. Neither of you have a large Jewish population and therefore you may face some really curious questions about your life and the role of your religion in it.

Bottom line: should you visit Ireland as a Jew? Yes, if you need or want it. There are no threats or concerns specifically related to people practicing Judiasm, so all you need is a general awareness of basic travel safety.

Irish accommodation from a Jewish perspective

In addition to some recommended hosting providers featured on the Irish Jewish Community pages, all close to the Dublin shul , you will be left on your own devices. And your choice will largely depend on your personal needs and budget. Booking rooms online is easy, but they may not be that great once you see them. If you are concerned about something, it might be a good idea to ask other Jews for advice, although the odds are slightly against you the more specific your questions are, due to the relatively low number of Jews living in or visiting Ireland.

Dublin currently (2016) has a population of about 2,600 Irish Jews, and that’s the largest community on the island.

You may want to note that open display of Christian religious symbols is common, especially in private accommodations, where any number of crosses can adorn the walls. If that poses a major problem for you, Ireland in general might not be the place to visit. It is common to find crosses hanging over beds or Christian religious icons displayed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation because these symbols are very common in private Irish homes.

However, the biggest problem you may run into is booking accommodation with breakfast included if you have specific dietary needs.

Kosher food in Ireland

In general, kosher food is extremely difficult to find without doing your research ahead of time in Ireland. This is due to the relatively low demand for kosher food because the Irish Jewish population is very small.

If you want to start your Irish day off in typical Irish fashion, you can quickly rethink that idea as a Jewish traveler. Eating a hearty Irish breakfast is definitely not recommended if you observe specific dietary practices as it will likely include pork sausage and bacon. And even if they offer you vegetarian alternatives, you may not be sure what fat they are fried in because kosher is not really a word used in Irish cooking, much less an understood concept.

If you are concerned about keeping Kosher in Ireland, never order a ready-off-the-shelf breakfast. Speak directly with the owner or chef and be prepared to explain a bit of the background because they may not be familiar with your needs. You may be offered real alternatives in the form of cereals, fresh fruit, fish, but before you agree, be sure to explain the basics of kashrut, or you may find shrimp added to your fish as a special treat.

As for kosher food in Ireland in general, here’s the bad news: You really won’t find food stores offering kosher products, except in Dublin (the SuperValu near the synagogue stores some kosher food). To assist Jewish travelers and immigrants, a basic list of kosher foods is also available on the Irish Jewish Community website. Information is also available at, which also offers a glatt kosher catering service.

Some ‘ethnic’ or ‘specialty’ food stores may also stock strange kosher products, usually imported from the UK. Although they may simply not be worth hunting them while on vacation, they are limited to fruits and vegetables instead. Another alternative is halal food stores that cater to the Muslim community in Ireland (you can find a basic list of stores at And finally, there is always an alternative: to become a vegetarian during your holidays.

Worshiping as a Jew in Ireland

Unless you are invited to a private house or similar, you will be a bit stuck outside the capital cities because currently only Dublin and Belfast have fully functional synagogues. See the Belfast Jewish Community and Irish Jewish Community websites for details.

Attitudes towards Jews in Ireland

It may be a very rough generalization, but many Irish would never have met (at least consciously) a Jew and many have no idea that there is a (very small) Jewish community in Ireland. Yes, everyone has heard of the Shoah (known exclusively as the Holocaust here), but that would be it.

Does this make Ireland very different from other European countries? Not really, although 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 can sometimes start to choke on prejudices that could come directly from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” or an occasional admiration of Hitler among small fringe groups.

Antisemitism in Ireland

As there is anti-Semitism almost anywhere in the world, it can also be found in Ireland to a varying degree, although it is certainly not mainstream public opinion. You can, unfortunately, encounter casual anti-Semitism on the part of uneducated (in general) people. More educated people may present a more refined anti-Semitism, not really tangible. However, the overwhelming majority of the Irish population will not be ‘anti-Semitic’ as such. Careless at times, but not by malicious intent.

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

There is a tendency among the general public understanding to group everything together: the state of Israel, Zionism and the Jewish faith are sometimes considered interchangeable. Not only by Gentiles but also by some Irish Jews. As a Jewish visitor, you may come across very vocal supporters of a Palestinian state and very strong criticisms of Israeli politics, making it necessary to differentiate between criticism of a nation state and general non-acceptance of a religion.

Israeli and Palestinian flags in Northern Ireland

If you travel to Northern Ireland and come across the most sectarian neighborhoods, don’t be alarmed when you suddenly see Palestinian or Israeli flags adorning streetlights.

This is not some kind of weird peace initiative (the flags are never displayed together anyway), this is a very desperate attempt to equate the problems of the Middle East with the problems of Northern Ireland. Or at least an attempt at international solidarity. To make a long story short: Republicans occasionally fly the Palestinian flag out of solidarity and show they are just as oppressed as they are. The loyalists then, in a knee-jerk reflex, fly the Israeli flag out of sheer opposition, and perhaps to imply that they are denied their promised land and are, after all, God’s chosen people.

The best advice is to ignore these screens. The conflict in Northern Ireland remains a deeply divided issue.

A brief history of Ireland and the Jews

The earliest reference to the Jews in Ireland can be found in the year 1079: the annals record that “five Jews arrived” to the King of Munster, only to immediately record that they “were sent again by sea.” These were probably Normandy merchants.

About a century later, the Anglo-Norman Strongbow proceeded to aid an Irish king, but it did conquer large parts of Ireland. According to some sources, the adventurer received financial assistance from “Josce Jew of Gloucester” in this matter. Soon after, the evidence for Jewish participation in the conquest is incomplete, people like “Joseph the Doctor” are named, but that’s really it.

In 1232 there appears to be a Jewish community in Ireland because a grant from King Henry III explicitly mentions “the custody of the King’s Judaism in Ireland.” Again, the additional evidence is incomplete or non-existent.

Only in the late 15th century was a permanent Jewish settlement established when Jews expelled from Portugal settled on the southern coast of Ireland, with a certain William Annyas even later elected as mayor of Youghal (1555). The only prosperous Jewish community in Ireland, however, was Dublin; in the time of William III, it was undoubtedly active. In the first half of the 18th century, some 200 Jews resided in Dublin, a cemetery was established, and smaller communities were established (often just resident families, outside of Dublin).

By 1871, Ireland’s Jewish population numbered 258, reaching 453 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 and 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 managing to be part of the established order in Ireland. Names like shipbuilder Wolff in Belfast, politician (and IRA volunteer) Briscoe and Lord Mayor of Cork, Goldberg come to mind.

During WWII and the shoah , Ireland (with the exception of the North, obviously) sat firmly on the fence and remained neutral while occasionally leaning dangerously to one side. However, only about thirty Jewish refugees were accepted into Ireland. And even those were not entirely safe, as a notorious speech by TD Oliver J. Flanagan in 1953 demonstrated: he was all about “getting the Jews out of the country.”

After WWII, Ireland’s Jewish population peaked at around 5,500, then declined again (many emigrated to the UK or Israel). Only during the Celtic Tiger years was a new influx of Jews noticed.

More information for Jewish travelers to Ireland

Jewish travelers heading to Ireland can find most of the information by contacting the Jewish Community directly:

  • Irish Jewish Community
  • Belfast Jewish Community (online)
  • Hebrew cork congregation

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