Gerald Goldberg

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Gerald Yael Goldberg
Gerald Goldberg at his home, "Ben Truda", in Cork
Lord Mayor of Cork
In office
Preceded bySeán French
Succeeded byBrian C. Sloane
Personal details
Born12 April 1912
Cork, Ireland
Died31 December 2003(2003-12-31) (aged 91)
Cork, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Spouse(s)Sheila Goldberg

Gerald Yael Goldberg[1] (12 April 1912 – 31 December 2003) was an Irish lawyer and politician who in 1977 became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork. Goldberg was the son of Lithuanian Jewish refugees; his father was put ashore in Cork with other Jews and told that "Cork was the gateway to America."[2]

Early life[edit]

Goldberg was born in Cork, the 11th of 12 children to Lithuanian Jewish emigrants Louis and Rachel (née Sandler) Goldberg. His parents were both born in the small village of Akmenė (Yiddish: Akmian or אוקמיאַן) and were part of a wave of immigrants who fled antisemitism in the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century. In 1882, 14-year-old Louis set out from Riga for the United States, but was unaware how far the journey was and went ashore when the boat arrived in Cobh. At the docks he encountered Isaac Marcus, who regularly met boats to see if any other Jews arrived needing help. In Cork, Louis was invited to stay with the Sandler family, coincidentally also from Akmian, where he met Rachel. They were married nine years later.[3]

The Jewish population in southern Ireland was growing steadily. In 1862, there was one Jew in Limerick, 35 in 1888 and 130 in 1890. By 1900, there were 25 families from Lithuania who had settled in Limerick. Louis Goldberg was very well-educated, speaking multiple languages, but worked as a street peddler in Ireland, walking on foot all over the island, before eventually opening a drapery store. He was able to bring his mother and two brothers over. However, he was beaten during the 1904 Limerick pogrom[4] and his store boycotted, leading him to move his growing family to Cork.[3]

Gerald Goldberg grew up in a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox home. The family were active Irish Republicans, dangerous due to raids by the Black and Tans. His father hung the wedding photo of Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) on the wall, which satisfied a British officer they were loyal to the crown. It was a similar trick they had used in Russia, when hanging photos of the Tsar to avoid harassment by Cossacks. During the First World War, his father worked as a jam-jar supplier.[3]

Goldberg was interested in politics from a young age. He saw the bodies of both Lord Mayors of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney lying in state, which had a profound effect on him, as did the four times he saw Michael Collins speak.[3]

Gerald was educated at the Model School, before being sent with his brothers to a Jewish boarding school in Sussex, England, for a few years. The brothers eventually ran into trouble when they refused to take part in Armistice Day events on account of the deaths of Mac Curtain and MacSwiney, and were given three lashes in punishment. This incensed their father, who ordered them to return to Cork.[3]

Goldberg continued his education at Presentation Brothers College in Cork and University College Cork, serving as President of the University Law Society. Earlier he was refused permission to speak at the UCC Philosophical Society, one of UCC's two debating societies (the other being the Law Society) because of his Jewish background. He received a Master of Arts degree from the University in 1968 and an honorary doctorate in Laws in 1993.

After qualifying as a solicitor in 1934, Goldberg had a career in Criminal Law practice in Cork for 63 years, once representing the noted Cork writer Frank O'Connor.[5] He was the first Jewish President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.[6]

During the Second World War he set up a committee to assist Jews fleeing Nazism, but encountered resistance from various arms of the government, which had discouraged Jewish immigration to Ireland during "The Emergency".

Political life[edit]

He was elected an Alderman to Cork Corporation as an Independent in 1967, and unsuccessfully sought the mayoralty in 1970. He accused Patrick Cooney, then Justice Minister, of condoning torture of those (mostly Irish republicans and other advocates of political violence) held under the Offences Against the State Act, 1939 in 1974.

Goldberg was among those who condemned the speech in 1970 by the then-Mayor of Limerick, Steve Coughlan, who made justifying references to the 1904 Limerick Pogrom, which had forced Goldberg's family to flee Limerick for Cork, and had clashed with a previous Limerick Mayor on the same matter in 1951.[7] Goldberg previously attended a symposium on the Limerick Pogrom in 1965, which had also attracted local opposition,[8] which faded during the reading of the first sermon of Father Creagh, who along with other members of the clergy, including the local bishop, had motivated his Roman Catholic parishioners to carry out the 1904 pogrom, for which one teenager, John Raleigh, was arrested.[citation needed]

Lord Mayor[edit]

Goldberg joined Fianna Fáil in 1970, and the Corporation elected him Lord Mayor in 1977. He toured the United States as Lord Mayor where he was given the freedom of several cities including Philadelphia, New York and Dallas.

As Lord Mayor of Cork he was styled "The Rt. Worshipful, Lord Mayor Gerald Yael Goldberg of Cork". During his term of office he opened the Trinity pedestrian bridge. Named after an adjacent church, local wags nicknamed it "the Passover".[9] The bridge is also close to the local synagogue on South Terrace, where he had been president, and is approximately a mile from Shalom Park, near the traditionally Jewish area of the city (Monarea Terrace).[citation needed]


Goldberg had an interest in history, especially local history of Cork, and published a number of books including The Adventurers of Cork; A History of the Jews of Cork and Johnathan Swift and contemporary Cork. He contributed the article on the Jews of Ireland in the Encyclopedia of Ireland and a chapter on Cork to the History of the Jews in Ireland.[citation needed]

Later life[edit]

Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he received death threats[10] and the Cork synagogue was firebombed, the motivation of which he ascribed to unbalanced reporting in the media. He considered leaving Ireland, but chose to remain.[4]

In 1986, after his retirement from active politics, Goldberg was one of the early defectors from Fianna Fáil to the Progressive Democrats.[11]

In 1998, he defended the extent of the Vatican apology for the Holocaust issued by Pope John Paul II,[12] in contrast to the disappointment expressed by many prominent Jews such as Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. Goldberg noted Pope Pius XII's stated fear of the consequences of excommunicating Nazis for their persecution of Europe's Jews, saying "These things must be brought to an end, we must put them behind us. Could the man have said more?" Goldberg's life was featured in an RTÉ documentary, An Irishman, a Corkman and a Jew.[citation needed]

He married his wife Sheila (who predeceased her husband) in Belfast in 1937 and they lived their married lives at "Ben Truda" on Cork's Rochestown Road.[13] He collected antiques, and the extent of the collection was highlighted in an auction in 2004 that included pictures, bronzes, antique furniture, silver, porcelain and glass.[14]

Goldberg had served on the Board of Governors of the National Gallery of Ireland and reportedly had one of the largest private Jewish libraries in Ireland. As a patron of the arts he was involved with the Cork Orchestral Society, Irish Theatre Ballet and Irish National Ballet and the lunchtime concerts in the Crawford College of Art and Design. He was said to have been delighted at the announcement that Cork had become the European Capital of Culture in 2005.[citation needed]


In his latter years he tutored students of Irish-Jewish history from University College Cork in his home. He died at the age of 91 at Cork's Marymount Hospice, receiving a Civic Funeral on 4 January 2004. His sons John, Theo and David survived him.[4]


  1. ^ Gerald Yael or Gerald Yoel Goldberg. He was originally named Yoel and his sisters gave him the anglicised name Gerald as a baby.
  2. ^ Biography on cover of Jonathan Swift and Contemporary Cork, GY Goldberg, Mercier, 1967
  3. ^ a b c d e Keogh, Dermot; Whelan, Diarmuid (2008). Gerald Goldberg: A Tribute. Mercier Press Ltd. pp. 49–56. ISBN 9781856355810. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Death of former Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork". The Irish Times. 2 January 2004. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Cork's oldest Jew Reflects in Sadness (From the Irish Times Tuesday, February 17, 1998)". (republished from Irish Times). Archived from the original on 26 February 2000.
  6. ^ "UCC Famous Alumni: Public Service". University College Cork. Archived from the original on 3 September 2009.
  7. ^ "1970s" from the Limerick Leader, 1 January 2000
  8. ^ Robert Tracy (Summer 1999). "The Jews of Ireland". Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought.
  9. ^ Marlena Thompson. "Cork's Jewish Community – Small in Size, Grand in Spirit". InterfaithFamily.[dead link]
  10. ^ "Antisemitism and Racism: Republic of Ireland". Stephen Ross Institute. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011.
  11. ^ "FF loses two more members as O'Malley defections rise". The Irish Times. 7 January 1986. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
  12. ^ Áilin Quinlan (16 March 1998). "Leading Irish Jew defends Vatican". Cork Examiner. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012.
  13. ^ Tommy Barker (22 May 2004). "Distinguished address". Cork Examiner. Archived from the original on 30 March 2006.
  14. ^ Ros Drinkwater (3 October 2004). "500 lots in sale of Goldberg family collection". Sunday Business Post. Archived from the original on 13 May 2005.
Civic offices
Preceded by
Seán French
Lord Mayor of Cork
Succeeded by
Brian C. Sloane