He was named Yael when he was born: Yael ben Laben Yahuda ha Cohane. His brothers and sisters called each other by nick-names and they called him Gerald. He was frequently known as GY. They lived at 10 Parnell Place, Cork. His parents had come from Lithuania, and married in Cork 23rd September 1891. As a boy he was close to everything. He often told people that he saw Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, lie in State in the City Hall, 1920. He was moved too by the death of the other Lord Mayor of 1920 Tomas MacCurtain. He heard Michael Collins speak on 11th March 1922 at the Grand Parade. 50,000 people attended. These had a profound and lasting effect on him. They sowed the seeds of heritage and belonging which was part of the reason he never left Cork. He said in interviews “I wanted to be Lord Mayor of Cork…I wanted to be the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork.” All of this despite the offers to go to Israel where he said he was offered a Supreme Court seat: an offer to join a large New York Law Firm, and an offer to take some post in Switzerland connection to Judaism. He eschewed all of these wonderful offers.
He went to school at the Model School, in Anglesea Street, just across the River Lee from Parnell Place. Later he was sent to a Jewish school, with his brothers, in Sussex Downs near Cookfield. They didn’t stay there long, and when they returned, they went to Presentation College.
Gerald qualified as a solicitor in 1937, and set up his own practice in Patrick Street. He had met Sheila Smith (1916) at an event in Donachadee, Co Down, Northern Ireland. They married in 1937 and commenced their long happy marriage at a house called Ben-Truda. The marriage endured for 63 years. They had three sons. John (1938-2014) Theo (1943) and David (1945). The house was a hub of activity. Sheila became secretary of the Cork Orchestral Society, a position she held for a long time. She was responsible for bringing orchestras and musicians to play in Cork. So many great names passed through the house: Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Harry Sargent, Yehudi Menuhin, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, and many others. Writers and artists came: Frank O’Connor, Robert Gibbings, Seamus Murphy. Music and books were a constant feature in their lives. Gerald was a student of many things. He also collected, not only books and records, but paintings and sculpture. He had a very large library of Judaica.
He was noted as a very accomplished lawyer. He entered politics in 1965. He ought to have been elected President of the Southern Law Association. But because he was a Jew, they blackballed him. This spurred him to run for the Council of Incorporated Law Society to which he was elected. Then he entered local politics. He was elected an Alderman of the Corporation of the City of Cork as an Independent, 1965. He could never achieve Office as an Independent. Ultimately, he joined Fianna Fail. In 1977, won the nomination for Lord Mayor, and in June of that year he put on the great Chain of Office. He was the first Jewish Lord Mayor, and Sheila, Lady Mayoress. It was a lifetime’s achievement.
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