Irish lives


John Creagh 1870-1947: CREAGH, JOHN (1870-1947), Redemptorist priest, was born in Thomondgate, Limerick, son of John Creagh, clerk, and Mary Creagh (née Tyrsonnon).

He joined the Redemptorist order at 14 and in 1887 was sent to Liverpool. Ordained in 1895 at the Teignmouth order house in England, he became professor of sacred scripture and theology. He spent several years teaching at Redemptorist schools around Ireland, before returning to Limerick. In 1903 he launched an anti-drink campaign, patrolling the city’s pubs and demanding that the full legal penalty be imposed on transgressing publicans. In the same year he was also linked to the suicide of a boy whom he had expelled from his sodality.

A series of lectures damning Protestantism were followed, in early 1904, by Creagh’s first anti-Semitic sermon, accusing the Jews of deicide, usury, ritual murder, corruption, and being in league with the Freemasons, who, he claimed, had driven the Redemptorists out of France. The sermon, printed in the press, led to assaults on the Jewish population. There were objections from Michael Davitt and Thomas Bunbury, the Protestant bishop of Limerick, but Creagh was supported by Limerick Corporation, several newspapers and, most notably, Arthur Griffith. Despite appeals to the Catholic bishop of Limerick, Edward O’Dwyer, Creagh was not silenced, and launched a second attack, advocating a boycott against Jews. In the following months, some Jewish families left Limerick.

In July 1904 Creagh officiated at celebrations marking 50 years of the Redemptorists in Limerick. Before he left the city he helped set up a savings bank and a workmen’s co-operative. In 1906, after his arrival at a Redemptorist mission in the Philippines, he suffered a nervous breakdown. A year later, he was posted to Wellington, New Zealand, and in 1914 was made rector of Perth House, Australia. In 1916 he was appointed vicar apostolic of the Kimberleys in north-west Australia, working at Broome, where he railed against the exploitation of pearling divers. His sermons attracted crowds and he approached local aborigines with a proselytising zeal that was both crude and successful. He served as a parish priest at Bunbury (1923-5), Pennant Hills (1926-30) and Waratah, where he suffered a paralytic stroke. He resumed work after a swift recovery and spent the rest of his life conducting retreats and preaching. He died in 1947 at a monastery in Wellington.

From the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography. See for more details