Creagh, John (1870–1947), Redemptorist priest, was born 19 August 1870 in Thomondgate, Limerick, son of John Creagh, clerk, and Mary Creagh (née Tyrsonnon). Initially educated by the Christian Brothers, he joined the Redemptorist order at 14. In 1887 he was sent to Liverpool, where he was professed the following year. Ordained (September 1895) at the Redemptorist house in Teignmouth, Devon, he became a professor of sacred scripture and theology. He spent his first years as a priest teaching at Redemptorist schools throughout Ireland before returning to Limerick to pursue parochial duties. In 1903 he was appointed director of the arch-confraternity of the Holy Family, and during his period of office became one of the city's most controversial figures. He launched a vigorous anti-drink campaign (1903), patrolling the city's public houses 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 young boy whom he had expelled from his confraternity.
A series of lectures damning protestantism (September 1903) presaged what was to be his most notorious legacy to the city of Limerick. On 11 January 1904 at a weekly meeting of the men's confraternity he preached his first anti-Semitic sermon, accusing the Jews of deicide, usury, ritual murder, and corrupt business methods, and of being in league with the Freemasons, who (he believed) had driven the Redemptorists out of France. The sermon, later printed in the local press, led directly to assaults on the city's Jewish population. There were objections from Michael Davitt (qv), Frederick Ryan (qv), and Thomas Bunbury, the protestant bishop of Limerick (1899–1907), but Creagh was supported by Limerick corporation, several local newspapers and – most notably – Arthur Griffith (qv), whose articles in the United Irishman gave credence to his views, if not his history. Despite appeals to the bishop of Limerick, Edward O'Dwyer (qv), Creagh was not silenced, and launched a second attack (18 January 1904), advocating a boycott against the Jews. In the following months the Jewish population, defeated by the rigours of exclusion, dwindled to approximately six families.
In July 1904 he officiated over the celebrations marking the Redemptorists' fifty years in Limerick. Before he left the city he was instrumental in setting up a savings bank and a workmen's cooperative. In 1906, shortly after his arrival at the Redemptorist mission at Opon in the Philippines, he suffered a nervous breakdown. After a year's recuperation, he was posted to Wellington, New Zealand, where his missionary activity gained widespread repute. Recalled to Australia (1914), he was made rector of Perth House. In 1916 he was appointed vicar apostolic of the Kimberleys, north-west Australia, where his time was spent mainly at the pearling port of Broome. There he railed against the exploitation of the pearling divers and crews and fought for government aid for the local hospital. His powerful sermons attracted crowds, and he approached the aborigines with a proselytising zeal that was both crude and successful. His time there was also marred by controversy: his testimony in favour of a drover accused of murdering an aboriginal farmhand placed him yet again at the centre of contentious debate. In 1923 he was appointed parish priest at Bunbury, serving there until 1925, at Pennant Hills (1926–30), and subsequently at 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 24 January 1947 at the Redemptorist monastery of St Gerard, Wellington, New Zealand. After his death attention continued to focus on his attack on the Limerick Jews. In April 1970 the mayor of Limerick, Stephen Coughlan (qv), endorsed Creagh's views in a speech that eventually provoked Jim Kemmy (qv) to leave the Labour party, and in 1984 Creagh's actions and motivations were the subject of three months of lively debate in the letters page of the Irish Times.