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"Unmasking the Injustice: Outrage Against Antisemitism in Limerick" |

“Unmasking the Injustice: Outrage Against Antisemitism in Limerick”

The Jewish community in Limerick, Ireland faced significant challenges and discrimination during the mid-20th century, particularly during the time known as the “Limerick Pogrom” in 1904. Many Jewish families chose to leave Limerick as a result of the hostile environment and seek better opportunities elsewhere. While their departure may have been a loss for Limerick, it is true that many of those who fled went on to have successful careers and make notable contributions in other cities and countries.

Throughout history, Jewish individuals have made significant contributions in various fields such as science, art, literature, business, and academia. When they left Limerick, many Jews settled in places where they could pursue their talents and skills more freely, ultimately benefiting those societies. By contributing their expertise and talents, these individuals not only enrich their own lives but also made valuable contributions to the cultural, economic, and intellectual fabric of their new communities.

Examples of Jewish individuals who fled Limerick and achieved prominence in other places can be found across different fields. However, it’s important to note that specific examples would require more detailed research as the contributions of individual Jewish migrants vary greatly. Nonetheless, it is a common phenomenon throughout history that diaspora communities, including Jewish communities, have made notable contributions to the societies they settled in, furthering progress and enriching cultural diversity.

While Limerick may have missed out on benefiting from the contributions of these individuals directly, their achievements elsewhere serve as a testament to the resilience and talent of the Jewish people, and their collective contributions have undoubtedly made a positive impact on the global stage.

Regrettably, Limerick has a dark claim to fame alongside its notable accomplishments: it stands as the only Irish city where a significant outbreak of antisemitic violence has occurred. This unfortunate event, known as the “Limerick Boycott” or the “Limerick Pogrom,” took place in 1904 following a venomously anti-Jewish sermon delivered by Father John Creagh, a Redemptorist priest, on January 11th of that year.

The incident profoundly contradicted Daniel O’Connell’s earlier claim, where he had possibly truthfully stated that “[Ireland] is the only country that I know of unsullied by any one act of persecution of the Jews.” The events that unfolded in Limerick tainted this assertion and revealed the presence of prejudice and persecution within the city.

The aftermath of Father Creagh’s sermon led to a climate of hostility, resulting in a boycott of Jewish businesses and a surge in anti-Jewish sentiment. Jewish families faced discrimination, threats, and economic hardships during this period. The social exclusion they endured and the boycott of their businesses underscored the depths of intolerance and discrimination they experienced.

It is important to acknowledge that the Limerick Pogrom was an isolated incident and not representative of the entirety of Ireland. Nonetheless, it serves as a sombre reminder of the historical presence of antisemitism and the need for ongoing efforts to combat discrimination and foster an inclusive society.

In recent years, Ireland has taken significant strides towards promoting diversity, and inclusivity, and combating prejudice. The Irish government, along with various organizations, actively works to create a society that embraces cultural understanding and eradicates all forms of discrimination.

By learning from the mistakes of the past, societies can strive towards a future where every individual is valued and respected, regardless of their background or ethnicity.

The sermon delivered by Father John Creagh during the Limerick Pogrom contained highly derogatory language and drew upon hate-filled stereotypes. Extensive coverage of the sermon was published in both local and national media, making its content widely accessible. The sermon encompassed various troubling tropes, including portraying Jews as individuals who rejected their Messiah, labelling them as Christ-killers, suggesting that their misfortunes were divine punishment, and perpetuating the false notion of Jews engaging in dishonest money-lending while being over-represented in that profession.

The availability of the sermon’s wording and the use of such stereotypes reflect the gravity of the situation and the impact it had on perpetuating prejudice and discrimination. It is essential to recognize that these stereotypes are baseless and have been repeatedly discredited. They serve to fuel hostility, division, and the mistreatment of a particular religious or ethnic group.

As we examine the historical events surrounding the Limerick Pogrom, it becomes evident that confronting and challenging these harmful narratives is crucial. Promoting education, raising awareness, and fostering a culture of inclusivity are fundamental steps towards building a society that values diversity, rejects discrimination, and fosters understanding and respect among all its members.

The term “the barbarous malignancy of antisemitism” aptly captures the severe and inhumane nature of anti-Jewish prejudice. Antisemitism, fueled by ignorance, intolerance, and prejudice, has resulted in historical atrocities, discrimination, and persecution against Jewish communities throughout the ages.

This form of hatred, deeply rooted in baseless stereotypes and conspiracy theories, has inflicted immense suffering on individuals and communities solely based on their Jewish identity. The term “barbarous malignancy” underscores the cruelty and brutality inherent in antisemitic beliefs and actions.

It is crucial to confront and condemn antisemitism in all its manifestations, striving for a world where every individual is treated with dignity, respect, and equality, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. By fostering understanding, promoting tolerance, and educating others about the perils of antisemitism, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and harmonious society for all.

The sermon delivered by Father John Creagh sparked a significant division of public opinion, with only a few national leaders condemning his words. Notably, Michael Davitt, a prominent figure known for his role in the Land War during the 1880s, and John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, were among those who spoke out against Creagh’s sermon.

Davitt, expressing his protest as an Irishman and a Catholic, strongly condemned the “barbarous malignancy of antisemitism” that was being introduced into Ireland under the false guise of concern for the welfare of the Irish people. He emphasized that the Jewish community had never inflicted harm upon Ireland and, like his own Irish compatriots, had endured a history of persecution, which remained a shameful mark on the so-called “Christian” nations of Europe.

Davitt’s sensitivity to the issue of antisemitism was particularly heightened due to his awareness of the horrific persecution suffered by Jews in Kishinev (now Chișinău) in the Russian-controlled province of Bessarabia. In 1903, Davitt had written an account detailing the atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish community in that region. His firsthand knowledge of such persecution further reinforced his condemnation of the antisemitic sentiments expressed by Father Creagh.

These leaders’ outspoken criticism of the sermon highlights their recognition of the injustice and harm perpetuated by antisemitism. Their voices serve as an important reminder of the need to stand against bigotry, promote understanding, and foster a society that values inclusivity and respect for all individuals, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.

John Redmond, a leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, demonstrated his opposition to the attacks on the Hebrew community in Limerick by granting permission to a local rabbi to publish a letter from him. In the letter, Redmond expressed his unequivocal stance of having “no sympathy whatsoever with the attacks on the Hebrew community” and appealed to the good sense and spirit of toleration of the Irish people.

Standish O’Grady, a prominent figure in the Celtic Revival movement, also condemned the events and called for solidarity between the Irish and Jewish communities. O’Grady depicted both groups as comrades in adversity, emphasizing the need for unity and mutual support. He viewed the Irish and Jewish people as brothers in a common struggle, recognizing the shared challenges and experiences they faced.

These gestures of support from John Redmond and Standish O’Grady highlight the importance of standing against discrimination, promoting understanding, and fostering a spirit of inclusivity. Their words aimed to encourage unity and empathy among different communities, emphasizing the shared values and aspirations that can bring people together in the face of adversity.

The sermon delivered in Limerick had a distressing impact on the city’s Jewish community, leading to outbreaks of violence and targeted attacks. Reports indicate that incidents of people being pelted with mud, windows being broken, and stones being thrown occurred in response to the sermon. The violence persisted sporadically for several months.

While it is challenging to establish the exact number of incidents and the extent of bodily harm caused, it is estimated that between February and July 1904, approximately 40 to 50 anti-Jewish incidents were reported. It is important to note that this figure represents only the reported incidents, and there may have been additional unreported incidents.

Furthermore, it is notable that some of these incidents involved sizable groups, with reports indicating the involvement of up to 200 people. The scale and persistence of the violence underscore the gravity of the situation and the level of hostility directed towards the Jewish community in Limerick during that time.

The occurrence of such acts of violence highlights the real-world consequences of hate speech and the power it holds to incite prejudice and discriminatory actions. It serves as a reminder of the importance of promoting tolerance, respect, and understanding within communities to prevent the escalation of such violence in the future.

One specific incident that emerged from the violence in Limerick involved the arrest and conviction of a 15-year-old boy. The boy was found guilty of throwing a stone at a rabbi, striking him on the ankle. As a consequence, the boy was sentenced to one month of imprisonment in Mountjoy Prison.

Upon the boy’s release from prison, he returned home to a crowd that welcomed him, asserting his innocence and expressing dissatisfaction with the perceived severity of the sentence. The community members maintained that the teenager had not committed the offence and argued that, even if he had, the punishment was too harsh.

This incident illustrates the complex dynamics surrounding the events in Limerick during that period. It showcases the varying perspectives within the community and the contentious nature of the situation. The discrepancy in opinion highlights the deeply entrenched biases and divisions that can emerge during times of social tension and conflict.

It is important to acknowledge that individual cases may have different interpretations and that the incident mentioned represents only one aspect of the broader context. Understanding and learning from such historical events can serve as a reminder of the need for justice, fairness, and the pursuit of truth in the face of prejudice and discrimination.

A week after his initial sermon, Father John Creagh delivered another sermon, vehemently denying accusations of antisemitism. Despite claiming to condemn the violence, he proceeded to embark on another anti-Jewish tirade, making unfounded allegations that Jews were the enemies of Christians and colluding with French freemasons to persecute Catholics. In a significant turn of events, Creagh called for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses.

This contradictory and inflammatory rhetoric further fueled the hostile environment surrounding the Jewish community in Limerick. By perpetuating baseless conspiracy theories and urging economic discrimination against Jewish businesses, Creagh deepened the divisions within the city.

It is disheartening to see a religious leader using their position to promote such discriminatory sentiments and incite a boycott against a particular community. Such actions contribute to the marginalization and hardship faced by the targeted group, perpetuating a climate of prejudice and hostility.

Instances like these highlight the need for responsible leadership and the importance of promoting unity, respect, and understanding among different religious and ethnic communities. Fostering a culture of inclusivity and rejecting baseless prejudices is crucial to creating a harmonious and equitable society for all its members.

The boycott imposed on Jewish-owned businesses in Limerick had severe repercussions for the Jewish community. Many families experienced economic hardship, ultimately plunging them into poverty. Given the hostile environment and the economic challenges they faced, a significant number of individuals, several dozen from a community of about 150 people, were compelled to leave Limerick behind. They sought refuge in more welcoming cities such as Cork, and Dublin, and even in countries like Britain and South Africa.

Despite the adversity they encountered, these individuals and their descendants went on to achieve notable accomplishments in various fields. Gerald Goldberg, whose father was forced to leave Limerick, rose to become the Lord Mayor of Cork in 1977, a position of significant influence. David and Louis Marcus, whose grandparents were victims of the boycott, made significant contributions to Irish literature and Irish film, establishing themselves as influential figures in their respective fields. Henry Jaffé, another individual who had to leave Limerick, became the grandfather of Simon Sebag Montefiore, a well-known British journalist and historian.

These examples demonstrate how the Jewish individuals who departed Limerick were able to rebuild their lives and make substantial contributions to other cities and countries. While Limerick suffered the loss of these talented individuals, their achievements elsewhere highlight their resilience and the positive impact they had on their new communities.

It is a testament to their determination and the opportunities they found elsewhere that Limerick’s loss ultimately became a gain for other cities, showcasing the lasting contributions of the Jewish diaspora.

While a significant number of Jewish individuals left Limerick due to the hostile environment created by the boycott and antisemitic incidents, it is true that not all of Limerick’s Jews departed. The 1911 census indicates that there were still 122 people of the Jewish faith residing in the city.

The decline in the Jewish population from 149 in 1901 to 122 in 1911 is indeed notable, considering that, under more favourable circumstances, one would expect the community to experience a natural increase in numbers over that time period.

This reduction in population reflects the impact of the boycott, violence, and overall atmosphere of discrimination on the Jewish community in Limerick. It highlights the lasting consequences that such incidents can have on a community’s size and vitality.

While some Jewish individuals persevered and continued to live in Limerick, the decrease in numbers signifies the challenges they faced and the enduring effects of the tumultuous events that occurred during that period.

Regrettably, The Limerick Leader, the main local newspaper, supported the boycott against the Jewish community, a stance that brings shame upon it. One editorial from that time period conveyed discriminatory sentiments, alleging that Jewish immigrants were replacing the Gaelic population and transforming Ireland into what was disparagingly referred to as a “filthy Ghetto.” Such language perpetuates harmful stereotypes and reflects a lack of empathy and understanding.

Conversely, reports from that time indicate that the local Protestant community in Limerick displayed more sympathy towards the plight of the city’s Jewish population. Notably, the bishop of Limerick condemned the events, demonstrating a stance against prejudice and discrimination.

These contrasting reactions within the community highlight the complex dynamics prevalent during that era. While certain segments of society endorsed discriminatory actions and rhetoric, others recognized the importance of compassion and solidarity, rejecting the mistreatment of the Jewish community.

It is vital to acknowledge and learn from these historical events, promoting an inclusive and empathetic society where individuals are respected irrespective of their religious or ethnic background. By fostering understanding, challenging stereotypes, and promoting unity, communities can work towards overcoming prejudice and discrimination, fostering a culture of acceptance and tolerance.

It is important to note that the Catholic bishop in Limerick did denounce the anti-Jewish violence and ensured that his denunciation was read out in all churches within the diocese. However, it appears that his denunciation had little effect on Father John Creagh, who, as a member of the Redemptorist order, was answerable to his superiors rather than the local bishop.

Eventually, the superiors of the Redemptorist order took action, recognizing that “religious persecution had no place in Ireland.” They transferred Creagh to Belfast for a brief period before assigning him to missionary work in the Philippines. Reports indicate that Creagh experienced a nervous breakdown in 1906 during his time there.

Following his time in the Philippines, Creagh relocated to Australia and New Zealand, where he spent the remainder of his life. He passed away in Wellington in 1947.

The subsequent events of Father Creagh’s life demonstrate the consequences and personal toll that can arise from promoting hatred and intolerance. While the actions taken against him may have limited his influence, it is important to recognize the broader significance of addressing and condemning discriminatory behaviour, ensuring that religious persecution finds no place within society.

Regrettably, it appears that the imperial authorities in Dublin aligned themselves with Father Creagh during the controversy. Heffernan Considine, the deputy inspector general in Dublin Castle, made a statement attributing the agitation to what he believed were the business practices of the Jewish community. Considine claimed that “the methods of business practised by the Jews are entirely responsible for the agitation.”

This position echoes the sentiment expressed by Creagh in his initial sermon, where he asserted that Limerick city’s small debts court had become a venue exclusively favouring Jews, referring to it as “a special court for the whole benefit of the Jews.”

The apparent support of the imperial authorities for such views reinforces harmful stereotypes and unfairly targets the Jewish community. These unfounded claims perpetuate discrimination and contribute to an atmosphere of bias and prejudice.

It is crucial to challenge these baseless allegations, promoting a society that values fairness, equality, and understanding. By rejecting discriminatory narratives and fostering a climate of inclusivity, we can work towards creating a society where individuals are judged on their merits and not subjected to collective blame based on their religious or ethnic background.

An examination of court records spanning the decades before and after 1904 reveals the truth regarding the claims made against the Jewish community. The analysis shows that Jewish traders were not overrepresented in summonses issued by the court. They were also not disproportionately involved in county court actions, comprising only a small fraction of the cases taken against debtors in Limerick City Circuit Court prior to the boycott. In fact, the lending business in Limerick was predominantly dominated by Christians of various backgrounds.

These findings counter the false narrative propagated during that time. As Mark Twain astutely observed, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.” The truth, in this case, reveals that the allegations against the Jewish community were unfounded.

During the events, there were only a few voices in Limerick expressing sympathy for the Jewish community. However, many witnesses later attested that they believed the credit terms offered by Jewish businesspeople were reasonable. They also acknowledged that they were coerced into collabourating with the boycott by their neighbours and the perceived divine authority given by Creagh.

Although some ordinary people continued to support Jewish businesses, their efforts were not sufficient to ensure the survival of many, regardless of whether they were involved in lending or not. The collective impact of the boycott, social pressure, and the sense of religious endorsement instilled by Creagh had severe consequences for the Jewish community in Limerick.

It is important to reflect upon these historical events and recognize the power of false narratives and social pressure. Such reflections emphasize the need to challenge prejudice, promote understanding, and foster a society where individuals are not unfairly targeted based on their religious or ethnic background.

So you low cur – had you nothing better to tell your people than to set them on the poor unfortunate Jews? You call yourself a Minister of God. You are a minister of the Devil. You are a disgrace to the Catholic religion, you brute.

In situations of injustice, it is often observed that many individuals who stand on the side of truth and justice find it easier to express their outrage quietly or anonymously. Within the archives of the Redemptorist Order, there exists a particularly strongly worded letter that was sent to Creagh by a resident of the village of Galbally in south Limerick during that time. Given the societal norms of the era, where Catholics were expected to address religious figures with utmost respect bordering on fear, the letter was written in exceptionally forceful terms.

The letter denounces Creagh’s actions and addresses him with sharp criticism. The author expresses deep disappointment in Creagh for choosing to incite hatred against the unfortunate Jewish community, rather than using his position to spread a more compassionate and just message. The author strongly rebukes Creagh, going as far as questioning his true allegiance as a minister of God and instead labelling him a minister of the Devil. The writer further highlights their belief that Creagh is a disgrace to the Catholic religion and condemns him as a brute.

This letter, crafted with extraordinary forcefulness given the societal expectations of the time, showcases the deep sense of moral indignation felt by some individuals towards Creagh’s actions. It serves as a powerful testament to the existence of voices within the community who recognized the injustice and were willing to express their dissent, albeit in private or anonymous forms.

Such acts of resistance against injustice, even when expressed discreetly, represent an important part of history, emphasizing the presence of individuals who chose to uphold the values of compassion, justice, and empathy even in challenging circumstances.


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