The image on the right is Shalom Park, a small park, which stands beside the area that is known as Jewtown. The area consisted of a number of small streets around the Hibernian Buildings in Cork City. In the late 1800s, Lithuanian Jews escaped the pogroms in Russia. It is generally thought they were destined for America but landed in Cork along the way. Most of the Jews came to Cork from Akmajian or Kovno and Corkonian Jews are often referred to as Akmajianites.
There is a story that the Jews who landed in Cork thought they were in America when they landed because they mistakenly heard “New York” instead of “Cork” but it’s unlikely that this story is true!
From the late 19th century, a small but thriving community of Jews lived in Jewtown setting up shops, synagogues and other services. Starting off as unskilled peddlers, many of the families quickly became established within the Cork Community. The most famous Jew from Cork was Gerald Goldberg, whose father came from Russia to Cork. Goldberg became the Lord Mayor of Cork in 1973.
Today, there are less than a handful of Jewish people left in Cork city and none in Jewtown itself. The park was founded just beside these houses and it is dedicated to the memory of the Jewish people that lived there.
Simon’s debut poetry collection Jewtown chronicles the experiences of Lithuanian Jews who in the late 1880s-90s settled in an area of Cork city that became known as ‘Jewtown’.
The collection includes the Hennessy Award Winning poems, The Zoo, Creosote and Two Sisters.
You can buy Jewtown directly from Doire Press online or in the following bookshops:
Books Upstairs (Dublin), Kenny’s (Galway), Waterstones (Cork), Stone House Books (Kilkenny), Antonia’s (Trim), Dubray Books (Nationwide), Alan Hannah’s (Dublin).
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this jewel of a poetry book. Jewish life in Cork, the life of just four hundred souls, has already had its chroniclers in David Marcus, Gerald Y. Goldberg and Louis Marcus, but this suite of poems lifts the narrative of that now lost community to a new intensity of poetic thought.
Irish poet, novelist, and critic
History would like to tell us Jewtown no longer exists, but thanks to Simon Lewis’s exquisite collection of poems, it always will. This is a rare delight of a book. Since I read these poems, a part of my mind has been alive with the streets of Jewtown. Lewis’s evocation of a vanished community is rich with emotive details. Tender and humane, it is also shockingly relevant. Lewis isn’t just writing about who we were then, he’s showing us who we are now. It may be painful to stand before the mirror of these poems, but their compelling testament to the challenges of immigration makes them required reading.
Author, Fur (Dedalus)
A vivid and expertly crafted collection which rescues a vitally important component of our shared history from neglect and obscurity and spills over with the light and the life of those it contains. Includes some of the most memorable and affecting poems I have read all year and achieves a very rare and special fusion of the poet's and the storyteller's art - reminding me as much of the tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer as it does of anything in the long tradition of the story-poem. I am just amazed at how Simon managed to fit so much into so little space without a hint of shoehorning; these are small poems with a big impact and I can't recommend them highly enough.
Author, Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains (Salmon)
While none of the poems are factual in Jewtown, all of them are inspired by real people who left their homes in Lithuania during the pogroms and ended up in Cork City. My own family contains members of this community and other Lithuanians who moved to other parts of the world, including the UK, South Africa and America. I use the web site, Ancestry.co.uk for my family tree and you are welcome to follow it, add to it or point out any errors. Who knows: we could be long lost cousins!
Are you related to anyone from Jewtown? I’d love to hear from you. Please use the contact form and get in touch. I’d love to publish some of the connections.