Maurice, Leah and their Baker’s Dozen

As Maurice’s cinema business grew, so did his family.  His eighth child, Hymie, had been born in 1913 while the family was living at 45 Redmonds Hill. Two years later, they moved to 29 Dufferin Avenue on the South Circular Road.  Maurice’s mother, Mollie, died that same year.  The next three children, Queenie, Bertie and Geoff, were born in Dufferin Avenue.

In 1921, the Ellimans made their final move as a family to a spacious house at 8 Kenilworth Road in Rathmines, and two years later the 12th and last child, Teddy, joined the family.

Rosie married that same year.  She and her husband, Ely Copeland, a graduate of Dublin’s Medical School, Trinity College, moved to London.  Their son and daughter, Sonia and Basil (RIGHT), were born and grew up there. Dublin had excellent medical schools and was producing more doctors than the country needed. The exodus of medical graduates was still underway when Hymie qualified as a physician at Trinity over a decade later. 

Rosie and Ely’s marriage certificate. Their marriage was registered at the Registrar’s Office in the City of the Dublin in the District of Dublin on June 5, 1923. Ely Goodman Copeland is described as an MD, son of the late Solomon Copeland, a merchant. Rose Rachel Elliman of 8 Kenilworth Road is daughter of Maurice Elliman, cinema manager. The marriage was witnessed by M Elliman (probably Maurice) and A Elliman (probably Abe).
A post card that Rosie sent her sister Henny from a holiday in Blackpool. It is postmarked: Blackpool Lanes, August 7, 9-am, 1928. Basil would have been a year old .

Two years later, Louis followed his sister to London.  Trained as a pharmaceutical chemist like his mother’s brother Willie, he had a position in London with Boots the Chemist’s Piccadilly branch. So the three-story Kenilworth Road house accommodated Maurice, Leah, eight of their nine sons, two of their three daughters and their niece. Geoff, who was two when the family moved to Kenilworth Road and grew up there, remembers…     

…a very happy home, with a large number of people around.  Mostly male and grown up, my eldest brother being 21 years older than I, the others younger at intervals of two and three years.  My sisters helped my mother with the household chores.  The house always appeared to be a hive of industry, even though my father and elder brothers were out so much.  It was some time before I realized that my family was involved in the entertainment industry, which accounted for their abnormal working hours. The bedrooms were on the top floor of the Kenilworth Road home.  On the house’s middle storey were the formal reception rooms — the dining and drawing rooms, seldom used, because the working hours demanded by the entertainment business severely curtailed social life at home. 

The dining room, in fact, housed for many years a hand-operated 35-mm projector, initially used for viewing silent films, later for exhibiting family exploits.  The walls of this room and the drawing room were each hung with a large portrait:  in one room it was of the reigning British monarch, George V, and in the other of Éamonn de Valera, a leader of the Easter Rising against the British.  Official guests to the house were carefully shown into the appropriate room.

At seven, Jack was too young to understand the reason for the two portraits, and could have paid with his life when the Troubles approached the house on Kenilworth Road.  Jack’s son Steve remembers his father telling him “about the day that he was in the lane behind [the family] home.  He heard gunfire, and then a wounded British soldier came dragging himself along the ground.  My father ran to help him, but the soldier yelled to leave him alone!  The IRA were after him, he said, and they would kill both man and boy if they found them.”

The life of the family was lived on the ground floor.  It housed a vast kitchen, dominated by a long, black cooking-range fed on anthracite and coal, containing several ovens and open griddles, all of them in constant use, frying, cooking, roasting and baking bread and other wholesome foods.  Maintenance of the range was Maurice’s job; he cleaned out the ashes and rubbed on black lead.  Years later, Bertie followed his father, cleaning out and stoking up the Aga in his own home.

Five years old when the family moved to Kenilworth Road, Bertie remembers a walk-in larder with chickens and turkeys and endless cuts of beef and lamb hanging from its walls.  Leslie Watson, who  later married Bertie’s sister Queenie, recalls coming back hungry to the house after nights on the town with his pal Bertie, and raiding the former larder (now a walk-in fridge) for steaks.  They were never disappointed. 

LEFT: Bertie and Leslie, Brittas Bay, early 1930s

Geoff has childhood recollections of:…

…the large kitchen, [where] my mother baked bread and fried fish on the range, and we younger children stayed out of the way. Later, we had a gas cooker installed as an additional aid. Cooking seemed to be incessant, other than on Shabbat.  It was really only at weekends and Festivals that the whole family ate together. The large, ground-floor breakfast room, which led off the kitchen, had originally been two rooms, from which the dividing pantry wall had been removed.

The table in this breakfast room seated 20, and the family sat round it in order of age, the eldest children nearest Maurice at one end, the youngest next to Leah at the other, with the others ranged in between.  Geoff remembers:

This  room also held a large sideboard, two great armchairs and a sofa.  Its two large windows looked out to the front of the house onto Kenilworth Road.   During the week, meals were staggered: early breakfast for us younger children before school, and lunch for us at 3.00 pm; a later breakfast for those going to business, and lunch for them at 1.00 pm; tea at 6.00 pm for whomever was home; and a final meal at 11.30 pm for those coming from business.  Cooking went on all day.

A pantry on the ground floor housed wooden barrels and a wine-press, where wine and mead were fermented.  Making wine for Shabbat and Yom Tov was another of Maurice’s jobs, reminding him perhaps of his mother’s long ago wine-shop.  Large boxes of grapes and honey were regularly ferried in, and the wine-making would begin.  The finished product was usually very good.

From the kitchen, one passageway led to the house’s side-entrance, and another to the wash-house, a large room, which looked out onto the back garden.  It was furnished with two long wooden benches and the mangle.  The mangle was among the most heavily used items in the house.  A large family produced a lot of laundry, and every laundered article passed through the mangle before it was aired and ironed.  Turning the handle to operate the mangle was the job of anyone who happened to be home at the time.  The youngsters saw this as daily entertainment, and would perch on the long benches to watch water cascade from the garments forced through the rollers, and applaud the operator.

One day, the family cat made its way home, drenched by a heavy downpour.  At least one of its nine lives was saved by an older sibling who rescued it from the youngest family members’ attempt to put it through the mangle!  It’s unclear whether it was then or another time that two of Bertie’s fingers were crushed in the mangle, an injury which he flourished with pride to his own children, decades later.

Another attraction for the youngsters was the ironing: they loved to watch the two large irons heated up on the kitchen range, and then used on garments spread across a large wooden table.

But the best entertainment of all was cinema. The business that supported this large family was very much a family business.  The older sons helped Maurice manage his picture-houses, and the younger children were regularly sent to cinema matinées, largely to give the women of the family a break. 

Each morning started for Maurice and the older boys with the putting on of tefillin and talit, and reciting shaharit, the morning prayer.  Then, after a substantial breakfast, the ‘boss’ and the ‘boys’ left the house in a large American car, usually driven by Abe.  The car dropped each son at the cinema where he worked, and returned in the middle of the day to collect them all to go home for lunch.  From then, it was back to work, and neither the boss nor the boys were seen at home again till midnight.

Maurice at the wheel of the family Riley. Possibly Leah in the back seat. Teddy and Geoff on the mudguard

Home and social life scarcely existed during the week. Maurice and his older sons were at work. Leah and her daughters and niece took care of the younger children and the chores.

The youngsters went to school each day with a packed lunch, ate again when they got home, and then immediately left for Jewish study at the Talmud Torah School in Bloomfield Avenue, South Circular Road (LEFT). 

Complains a Jewish contemporary:

Our families were foreign to begin with. Then, in the afternoons when all schoolboys left their homes to indulge in such street games as marbles, relievo, handball and the like, we were not available. Secular schooling for the day was over but we still had to spend a further two or three hours at Hebrew school… having Hebrew beaten into us by the Rebbe through the medium of Yiddish.

St. Peter’s Church of Ireland National School — Auld Joe’s

Secular school for the younger Elliman boys was the St. Peter’s Church of Ireland National School, which had several classes of Jewish pupils. It was known as Auld Joe’s, for its headmaster, Joe Sleete — and Auld Joe was known for his freedom with corporal punishment. The doggerel chanted by hundreds of his boys went:

Auld Joe, he is a bo
He goes to Church each Sunday
He prays to God to give him strength
To bash the kids on Monday

On Friday afternoons, the routine changed.  The whole family was home before dark to prepare for Shabbat, bathing and dressing in their best clothes.  After the Friday bustle, at its peak in the kitchen, the women lit candles and the household moved into the peace of Shabbat.   While the men went to shul for evening services, the women prepared the table for the Friday night meal, which was always eaten at home. 

The family sat down, Kiddush was recited by Maurice, and the wine and then the challa was passed down the long table.  A hearty meal was followed by singing of Shabbat songs and Grace After Meals.

On Shabbat mornings, the family set off for shul again.  Beattie Eppel, who later married Abe and who lived with her parents at 64 Dufferin Avenue when the Ellimans lived at no. 49, remembers seeing Maurice and his sons walking to shul in a long dignified procession on Shabbat mornings.  Maurice walked at the front, with the boys following behind, in order of age.

Early 1930s(?): Max, Maurice, Louis, Abe, Willie Smullen, Bennie, Teddy, Geoff

Geoff remembers…

…certain occasions when we were walking along Rathmines Road, to or from the Walworth Road Shul on Shabbat, when cars pulled up by the kerb and offered us lifts, which my father always refused.  Two of these are set in my mind: one was Seán Thomas O’Kelly, who later became president of Ireland, and the other was Alfie Byrne, Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Maurice’s refusal to climb into the cars of the rich and famous on Shabbat was echoed many years later when colourful Irish playwright Brendan Behan stopped his taxi on Baggot Street to offer Louis a ride wherever he wanted.  Louis explained why he couldn’t and wouldn’t accept, and Behan persisted no more.   But in next morning’s People was an article under Behan’s byline, explaining that Louis Elliman did not ride on Yom Kippur.

Alongside his intense involvement in his business, Maurice was keenly active in the life of Dublin’s Jewish community.  In 1917, he co-founded the shul in Walworth Road (today the site of Dublin’s Jewish Museum) in the Portobello district around the South Circular Road, then the centre of Dublin’s Jewish life.  The Walworth Road Synagogue comprised two adjoining terraced houses built around 1870, one of which had been the early childhood home of historian Bernard Shillman, whose daughter Elaine later married Maurice’s son Bertie. Walworth Road was one of the largest of the eight small shuls in the area, able to accommodate up to 160 men and women.  Maurice served as its president and honorary chazzan and, harking back to his days in Lithuania when he travelled with a choir, led Shabbat and Yom Tov services.  On Yom Kippur, when prayer occupies the entire day, he led it all, rather than share the job. 

He was ‘a very fine cantor,’ recalls Geoff. ‘My brothers and I contributed by trying to behave and follow the service.  This didn’t always work, since there were other boys there who distracted our attention.’

Nick Harris in his book Dublin’s Little Jerusalem:

“One of the smaller synagogues was in Walworth Road. A number of rabbis found themselves in Dublin for some reason, and it was felt that they deserved to be given their own place of worship. Rabbi [Michael Asher] Matlin [in whose home Maurice’s mother, Molly, had once lodged] was one of these, so Maurice Elliman, Mr. Glick and Mr. Watchman decided to buy two houses in Walworth Road and have a synagogue built conforming to every aspect of Jewish law. There were two floors in the joined houses. The ground floor was used for meetings and some festive occasions, with fitted kitchens. The shul was upstairs with the bema in the centre, and Rabbi Matlin sat beside the Ark where the scrolls were kept. The women were at the back of the shul, right across the two joined houses, with net curtains shielding them from the men. I often saw the curtain being lifted by a woman to get a better look at some man. The shul held about 160 people and was always well attended.

The Friday night and Shabbos services were usually conducted by Mr. Elliman and Mr. Watchman. I can well remember Mr. Elliman davening (praying). He had a very pleasant voice. Mr. Watchman also took part in the service and he was the one who layned (read from the Torah). The shul was completed during 1918, but it had to close around 1975 due to decreasing numbers. This synagogue played a big part in the life of the Dublin community, at a time when almost the entire Jewish community lived within a hlaf-mile radius of Walworth Road.”

The Walworth Road Synagogue. As Dublin’s Jewish community migrated from the South Circular Road to the suburbs, the shul fell into disuse, and closed altogether in the early 1970s. It stood locked and empty for 15 years, until 1984 when the Irish Jewish Museum Committee began its conversion into a museum. The museum opened the following year.

The refurbished Walworth Road shul, on what is today the upper storey of the Irish Jewish Museum

Shabbat ended as darkness fell on Saturdays, and Maurice recited the havdalah prayer. 

One week, as he said the blessing, examining his fingertips, as required, by the light of the havdalah candle, a young, grinning Hymie, handed him a nail file.  Maurice didn’t react until he finished the short ceremony, sat down and sipped from the wine goblet.  Then, still without a word, he reached over and clipped Hymie smartly across the ear.

This was unusual.  Punishment of the younger children (more usually for coming home late or failing to do chores) was delivered not by Maurice or Leah, but by the elder brothers.  ‘We essentially grew up as two families,’ Hymie remembers.   But the siblings of the ‘two families’ remained close throughout their lives.

Sunday mornings were open-house at Kenilworth Road. Relatives and friends converged, and cricket and football matches were played in the large garden.   It was also the day when the boys did their chores.  Everyone in the family had a permanent job.   Hymie’s was to take down all the curtains in the house each month, shake them free of dust and re-hang them.  Bertie’s was taking down the chandeliers, washing and drying them, and putting them back up.  It was a job he continued in his own household, where his daughter Maureen helped him wash the individual pieces in soapy water, rub them dry and replace them.  

Shabbat and Jewish Festivals, Sundays and the annual holiday punctuated the year for the Elliman family.  What was not celebrated were birthdays.  “With so many of us, there would have been birthday parties every other week!” Monica recalls hearing from Hymie.

The Ellimans took their annual holiday in Bray, Co. Wicklow, where Maurice rented a large house each summer.  Bray was then a very popular resort.  (James Joyce features it in Ulysses: ‘They halted, looking towards the blunt cape of Bray Head that lay on the water like the snout of a sleeping whale.’)

It had hotels, funfairs, a promenade and sea-baths. The family often walked from the Harbour to Bray Head, passing the Bray Head Hotel and the blind fiddler, whose lively Irish tunes were rewarded with pennies in his hat.

Further up the Head was the fair. Here, the Elliman children rolled pennies, threw hoops, rode the hobby horses, dodgems and swings — and stared wide-eyed at the motorcyclists, performing their daredevil stunts on the Wall of Death. In the evenings, there were shows at the esplanade bandstands, with many a successful actor learning his trade here.

Abe, Leah and Maurice on holiday in Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow

Click here to continue.