The city of Limerick witnessed a disturbing incident that displayed the intolerance prevailing within the Roman Catholic community. On June 2nd, 1901, Dr John J. Long, a Protestant doctor, was ridiculed and harassed by a Roman Catholic priest, who believed Dr Long was trying to proselytize and convert his parishioners. This incident led to a court case, where Dr Long accused the priest of using threatening language.
While attending to a Protestant patient, Dr Long faced aggressive confrontation by the priest, who created a scene that attracted a large crowd. The priest went as far as to label Dr Long a “brute” and encourage his ejection from the house where he was treating his patient. As Dr Long left the area, the priest and an angry mob followed him, even throwing a brick at the doctor.
The court listened to Dr Long’s testimony, as well as corroborative evidence from his patient, a police constable, and the defendant priest. The priest justified his actions by claiming Dr Long was not only converting but also interfering with the Roman Catholicism of the people living in the house a fact he believed was justified to act against such interference.
The magistrates expressed their disappointment in the situation, explaining that by following Dr Long around and creating disturbances, the city was being disrupted on unnecessary grounds. They suggested that, just like in Liverpool, Dr Long should be left alone, and that such intolerance toward his religious beliefs would not be tolerated.
As a result, the charges against the priest were dismissed, and two girls who had participated in the harassment were ordered to keep the peace. Nonetheless, one girl proclaimed that she “would do it again for Dr Long,” displaying an unrepentant attitude. Additionally, numerous other defendants were represented in this case, reflecting the severity of the unrest generated in Limerick by this incident.
Decrying the unsightly scenes occurring throughout the city, Rev. Mr Shanalhan, P.P., expressed his concern that if Dr Long continued in his alleged proselytizing endeavours, the same conflicts would likely arise again. He believed that if the community continued to see Dr Long as a threat to their faith, they would resist and seek to restrict his activities.
This incident at Limerick and the subsequent court case demonstrate the unfortunate intolerance that permeates religion, especially when it comes to the belief that a person’s faith is at stake. The unfounded fears of having their faith stolen from them led the Roman Catholic people of Limerick to unjustly target and harass Dr Long. While the court ultimately dismissed the case and sought to promote tolerance, the attitudes displayed and the impact on the city of Limerick were significant reminders of the struggles that persist in the name of religion.
Belfast News-Letter – Saturday 08 June 1901