More on Castlecor’s ‘Jews’

The World of Books

Recently I was writing about the mysteries of our past which are revealed by maps, and I offered as an example the caption on William Larkin’s 1812 map of Meath which mentions  a “Jews burial ground” alongside a road below Castlecor, some miles west of Oldcastle.

I suggested that readers with any additional information might get in touch. One quickly emailed me to say that an article on the site had appeared in Riocht na Midhe, the journal of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society for 2013.

The article, ‘An enigmatic Jewish presence in 17th Century Meath’, is by Melanie Brown, an associate of the Irish Jewish Museum. Her attention had been drawn to the mystery by her brother David Brown, the researcher I had spoken to about the map. 

Melanie Brown begins by pointing out that there are eight known Jewish cemeteries in Ireland, to which this discovery was a puzzling addition. She rightly feels the solution to the mystery must lie in some aspect of the history of Jews in Ireland.

Sephardic Jews

To this end she provides for readers of the journal a very effective and well reference epitome of that long history. But much of this is by the way, for the crux of the matter seems to lie in the arrival in Ireland of Sephardic Jews (that is Jews expelled from Iberia) under the Commonwealth. 

She notes “that certain Sephardic Jews, particularly the Pereira family, resided in both London and Dublin during this period”. The Pereiras were Portuguese Jews settled in Holland. ìThe Dutch Sephardic Jewish contractor Isaac Pereira, whose father handled the provisioning of a large part of the invasion armada in Holland in 1688, was entrusted with the provisioning and logistics, and the supply of 300 four-horse food-wagons, for the new sea-borne invasion by William III. 

This included bakers. Melanie Brown thinks these bakers were settled in Meath, though on what grounds is not clear. Bread has to be made daily. Those wagons would have followed the army as it moved south. What she suggests cannot, I feel, be fitted into the facts of the Williamite Wars in Ireland. Williamís army entered the island in the north and moved south, eventually meeting the Jacobites at the Boyne.

Jewish merchants

But even when James fled abroad, much of the island remained in Jacobite hands. Most of the fighting was in the south west, and not around Meath. Even if the war was a fluid affair, it is hard to image a bakery crew being left behind in Meath. If any Jewish merchants had been left in Meath it is more likely they would have been concerned with securing a supply of beef rather than baking bread.

Melanie Brown, with some family members and others, explored the area indicated on Larkin’s map as well as they could. I myself found it difficult to establish exactly where the place was supposed to be, as the lay of the roads has been altered in more recent times.

They found a site, covered in ivy, with a sort of style at the entrance, an iron gate, and four corner posts. They also found some large stones, but no inscriptions could be seen on them. 

The fencing in her in her photograph is late 19th Century in appearance. This suggests the site was fenced off in comparatively recent times, and that therefore more information might be gleaned locally. If the title ‘Jews burial ground’ refers to real Jews there must be some folklore about them. 

But if, as I suggested in my earlier article, the title derives from some legendary idea about the Lost Tribes of Israel there will be no historical basis to it. If the British Israelites could believe that the prophet Jeremiah was buried in a stone coffin on Devenish Island in Lough Erne anything is possible.

“Who is really buried at Castelcor, Co. Meath?” she asks finally. Cleary further research is called for. In fact an archaeological dig is needed. As the site is not officially a graveyard, merely part of a field, permission to dig there should be easy to obtain. The mystery may then be solved.