‘Mary Elmes Bridge’ was named in 2019 after a public vote, in honour of the aid worker born in Cork in 1908. Mary Elmes volunteered in the Spanish Civil War and Second World War in France. Clodagh Finn, writer and author of A time to risk all, a biography of this incredible Irish woman who saved children from Nazi concentration camps, was present at the opening of the bridge and sent the following text for the map.
“On the day that this bridge was inaugurated in Cork in 2019, I remember thinking that one way to appreciate the magnitude of what Mary Elmes did was to visualise all the people she helped to save standing on it. I imagined them on the day, standing shoulder to shoulder across this beautiful pedestrian bridge; not just the people themselves, but their children and their children’s children. They would have crossed the River Lee several times over. “Whoever saves a life saves the world entire,” as the famous Talmud teaching goes.
As it happened, two of the people she saved were there on the day, Charlotte Berger Greneche and Georges Koltein. They had travelled from Paris to recall the woman who had spirited them away from the cattle wagons that were en route to the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942. They also visited Mary’s former school, now Ashton, and addressed a full hall of more than 500 pupils and their parents. Charlotte asked them never to forget and to remember that everyone can live together. I’m not sure whether the silence during her speech or the thunderous applause afterwards made the bigger impact on me, but I remember feeling so privileged to be part of it.
Mary’s work during World War ll tends to overshadow the years she spent in Spain during that country’s civil war. We should also remember that this exceptional woman saved many lives during that conflict, too, by providing food, shelter and hospital care”.
Author: Clodagh Finn
Erev Shavuot in Cork City
I remember a time,
Against the backdrop of a bustling city,
We move to the rhythms of dance,
Sharing a moment of togetherness,
Marching to the beat,
Three claps here and one clap there,
I think of my great grandfather,
Fleeing persecution at the age of 16,
Although no one spoke of his tortured journey,
Anguish lingered through unspoken fears.
A narrative not only stained with sorrow,
But with resilience,
A Jewish woman guides the way,
Leaping and whirling around the room.
A fleeting image that embodies the Jewish women who lead my community,
Gentle and powerful,
Marked with radiance, courage and compassion.
When we dance,
We are equal,
We create spaces of tranquillity,
Remembering our roots as we act in the present,
Reaching into the past to build our future.
Ergo I say hakarat ha’tov,
Recognising the good,
Even in the smallest of ways.
Conach Gibson-Feinblum wrote this poetry piece. It was inspired by a memory of the Cork Jewish community gathering for Shavuot. This poem features a narrative of survival and diaspora, known all too well within the Jewish community. While absorbing the residue of trauma is an unwittingly shared commonality, this poem stresses how the story of the Jewish people is also one of resilience. The Cork Jewish community is small but vibrant. It is run and led by women who are not only transmitters of tradition, keeping our history alive, but leaders, activists and creative artists. As a community, we do not exist in cultural isolation. While it is important for us to create spaces of togetherness, we also participate multi-culturally in Irish society. This is a part of moving beyond narratives marked by sorrow.