Death of former Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork

 

The death has occurred of Mr Gerald Goldberg, the distinguished criminal lawyer, art collector and first Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork.

The death of Mr Goldberg (91), on New Year's Eve, marks the end of an era for the 300-year-old Jewish community in Cork, which has lost its most prominent member and now numbers only a handful.

After the end of his political career as an independent and then in Fianna Fáil, Mr Goldberg continued to work as a solicitor into his 80s. He also found time to indulge his passions for collecting books and art and his love of literature, particularly Shakespeare and Joyce.

Gerald Yael Goldberg was born in Cork in 1912, of Lithuanian parents. His father had been beaten up in the pogrom against Jews in Limerick in 1904, but Gerald grew up in Cork during the War of Independence with few of these tensions.

He was educated at local Protestant and Catholic schools and boarding school in England before attending UCC. He qualified as a solicitor in Dublin in 1934 and quickly established a reputation as a leading criminal lawyer.

In 1939, he set up a committee to help Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis. However, the reluctance of Ireland to accept Jewish refugees led him to accuse successive governments of acting with coldness and indifference towards Jews and their tragedy.

In 1951, he tangled with a Mayor of Limerick over that city's treatment of the Jews, though in later years he said the city was now "a model of all that is good and gracious". His work as a lawyer also led to skirmishes with the authorities. In 1974, he called on the Minister for Justice, Mr Cooney, to end "physical and psychological methods of torture" allegedly being used on people detained under the Offences against the State Act.

Mr Goldberg was elected as an independent Alderman of Cork Corporation in 1967 and was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 1970. Four years later, he joined the Father Augustine Cumann of Fianna Fáil in Cork.

He later explained this decision thus: "Without political support it was either join a party or leave the corporation. Fianna Fáil is the only honest party in the country, the only progressive one, the only one capable of government. It's not comprised of conflicts and diverse elements. And also there was my special regard for Jack Lynch."

In 1977, at the age of 65, he was elected the first Jewish Lord Mayor in the history of the city.

In 1982, he threatened to leave Ireland after receiving telephoned death threats, which he blamed on unbalanced media reporting of the Israeli army's invasion of the Lebanon and the murder of two Irish peace-keeping soldiers in that country. A synagogue in Cork was fire-bombed at this time. He never did leave Cork.

Another threat he did not carry out was to become a member of the Progressive Democrats, which he promised to join at the time of the party's formation in 1986. By this time, he was 74 and he had no interest in returning to active politics.

The Jewish community in Cork declined throughout the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, it numbered about three hundred people and had its own rabbi. But by the 1970s this number had fallen to 20 and was no longer served by a rabbi. Today, the community, which traces its presence in Cork back to 1690, is thought to number about a handful.

Mr Goldberg and his wife, Sheila Smith, who died seven years ago, had three sons, John, Theo and David. His funeral takes place at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Jewish cemetery in Cork.