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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Planned Jewish museum strikes discordant note

Locals say development threatens harmony and will destroy Dublin's 'Little Jerusalem'

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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Local resident Maurice McConnell who lives next door to the Jewish Museum. Picture: Gerry Mooney
The present Jewsih Museum
The proposed new museum in Dublin's Portobello

For generations Portobello was the beating heart of Dublin's Jewish community but where once there was harmony now there is anger and resentment in "Little Jerusalem".

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The leafy Dublin suburb is the home of the Irish Jewish Museum and Ireland's oldest synagogue but now local residents are up in arms as the group of trustees in charge of the museum want to demolish the existing building to make way for a new museum.

The museum was founded and curated by Raphael Siev for 25 years until his death in 2009.

It is located in two adjoining Victorian houses and Ireland's oldest synagogue is located in the upstairs portion of the property, with a display area for artefacts and memorabilia below it.

It is planned to knock down these two buildings and three more neighbouring terraced houses to make way for a museum that is six times the size of the existing one.

The Sunday Independent was granted permission to tour the museum and observe the site. However, the museum's principals declined to comment on the project.

However, locals are appalled that An Bord Pleanala has given the new museum the go-ahead and are keen to be heard.

Maurice McConnell has lived next to the museum since the 1980s and he is one of the residents who have campaigned against the new development.

"Before Raphael Siev passed away, he wanted the museum to remain in-situ," said Mr McConnell.

"He had visions of building the museum to create a representation of what it was like to live here at the turn of the century, with an outhouse at the back and a place where the meat was cured, a more subtle development like an interpretative centre. We cannot understand the scale of the utilisation of this space," he added.

It is the construction of a new basement for the museum that concerns him most.

The Irish Jewish Museum intends to house a new six-metre-deep basement in the new development and Mr McConnell fears this could pose a threat to his home.

"There are issues relating to hydrology at the site because we have underground wells and going down that depth may, we believe, put a blockage in the water regime and push the water under my house," he said.

Another resident, Pauline Atkinson, has similar concerns.

She claimed the original hydrology survey completed in 2007 was done after a six- week period of drought.

She suggests the survey should have taken place over a longer time frame.

"They will be building in an area where the other houses were constructed on shallow foundations in the 1860s," she claims.

However, some residents say they are upset at the way that they have been treated by the museum since the plans to extend the museum were announced.

Donal O'Donoghue moved in across the road from the Irish Jewish Museum in 2006 and he claims he has noticed a change in the way the 
museum interacts with locals.

"The museum door was always open. Raphael Siev always came out and chatted or said hello. Now, we have no consultation and it has become a case of us and them," said Mr O'Donoghue.

He said a modest proposal would be welcome and he questioned the need for such a huge redevelopment.

"Does it need to be 17,000 square feet? Do they need to have a restaurant which seats 70-100 people?" asked Mr O'Donoghue.

"In the basement they have 14 toilets. They have more toilets than the National Gallery have open to the public. It is bloated and excessive in my view," he added.

The museum is currently open five days a week (Sunday to Thursday) for four and a half hours each day.

In the 90 minutes that the Sunday Independent spent talking to residents during its opening hours at the peak of the tourist season, it had no visitors.

Locals agree that the museum is an important symbol of the area's past and they do not want to see this vibrant history lost.

"The Irish Jewish Museum has been a great attraction in the area. It is small and it fits in beautifully with the surrounding area," said Ms Atkinson.

Mr McConnell added that "the destruction of a unique museum, the last of its kind in Ireland is a major issue.

"Residents feel, rightly or wrongly, that the people in charge are destroying their own heritage," he added.

Sunday Independent

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