Creagh, Richard (c.1523–c.1588), catholic archbishop of Armagh, was born in Limerick, one of at least three children of Nicholas Creagh, merchant, and his wife, Joan White, both of Limerick. Having been apprenticed to a merchant there, he traded in his own right until, at about the age of 25, he abandoned commerce to follow a religious vocation. He studied Latin in Limerick and migrated to Louvain where, on 28 February 1549, he matriculated as a ‘pauper’ in Le Porc college. Supported by a bursary from Charles V's almoner, he studied philosophy, in which he graduated as MA in 1551, and afterwards theology in the Pontifical College. He proceeded BD in 1555.
In that year he was recommended by Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit general, for the catholic bishopric of Limerick, then occupied by William Casey (d. 1591), who had conformed to protestantism. Creagh refused the proffered promotion and returned as a priest to Limerick about 1557. There he opened a grammar school and was joined after May 1560 by Thomas Leverous, the deposed bishop of Kildare. In 1562 he was adjured by David Wolfe (qv), SJ, the papal emissary, to go to Rome to accept appointment to either of the vacant archdioceses of Cashel or Armagh.
While in Rome (1563–4) he befriended Thomas Goldwell, the exiled bishop of St Asaph, and took an interest in the closing session of the council of Trent. Creagh had hoped to join the Theatine order but was eventually appointed archbishop of Armagh on 22 March 1564. He was granted special faculties by Pope Pius IV to carry out his mission in Ireland and to found schools and a university.
In Flanders he was joined by William Good, SJ, on the journey to Ireland. He was separated from Good at Dover and travelled through London to the west coast of Britain, whence he sailed to Ireland. Almost as soon as he entered his ecclesiastical province, he was arrested and examined before the Irish council in Dublin. He was sent in chains to London and committed to the Tower of London on 18 January 1565. Creagh was interrogated on three occasions by Sir William Cecil and others about his continental sojourn and the purpose of his mission. He continually stressed his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth.
On Low Sunday 1565 he escaped from the Tower and fled to Antwerp. He was kindly received by the Jesuits there and by Michel Baius, president of the Pontifical College at Louvain. He stayed in Brabant until late 1565, preparing for a resumption of his mission; travelled to Madrid, where he briefed King Philip II on his plans, and with financial assistance from the king he set out for Ireland in the summer of 1566. He was robbed and maltreated by pirates in the Bay of Biscay and left for dead at Blavet near Nantes. Recovered, he proceeded on his journey and arrived in the north of Ireland in the autumn of 1566.
The paramount chieftain of central Ulster, Shane O'Neill (qv), who had vainly expected the archbishop to support his rebellion against the crown, refused him access to his episcopal temporalities. Creagh attempted to convoke the clergy of the region to promulgate the decrees of the council of Trent. At Christmas 1566 he offered in a letter to the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), to act as mediator between O'Neill and the crown but was rebuffed. Having been joined by David Wolfe, Creagh journeyed from Ulster into Connacht. While passing near Roger O'Shaughnessy's castle at Kinelea, Co. Galway, he was captured on 27 April 1567.
He escaped briefly from Dublin castle but was recaptured by Meiler Hussey, the steward of the earl of Kildare. Creagh was transferred to London in late 1567 and questioned about his alleged traitorous contacts with Shane O'Neill. For two and a half years he was held in irons in the Tower of London, during which period the Spanish ambassador reported to Philip II on his captivity. On 5 March 1570 he was returned to the custody of Sir Henry Sidney in Dublin and put on trial for treason. He defended himself against the charge and was found not guilty by the jury. His imprisonment was continued, however, until February 1575, when Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam (qv) requested that he be transferred to London because, as he stated, the work of the reformation was being hindered by the presence of a revered catholic in Dublin.
Creagh's plea to the privy council for his release was refused but the conditions of his captivity for his last twelve years were relaxed somewhat. Creagh was vindicated of a charge of sexual misconduct with the young daughter of a jailer, and for the final phase of his life he was a confessorial figure in the Tower prison. He was an icon for contemporary Irish catholics because of his reputation for holiness. Despite the brevity of his ministry, Creagh had vigorously promoted Tridentine norms among the Irish clergy and laity. While rejecting any compromise with protestantism, he remained loyal to the English crown. His early biographers stressed his role as a pioneer of catholic education. As a scholar his major contribution lay in his scientific treatise on the Irish language, which he used in his bilingual catechism of about 1560. He was above all a champion of the rights of the catholic church in Ireland in the face of intrusions from crown officials, ill-disciplined clergy, or Irish magnates such as Shane O'Neill.
His release was denied because the authorities concluded that he was a ‘dangerous man to be among the Irish’ (PRO, SP 12/178, no. 74). Eventually he died in prison. It was suspected that Robert Poley, the agent provocateur of Sir Francis Walsingham in the Babington plot, administered poisoned cheese to Creagh. According to the Vatican authorities, he died before the end of 1586, but an entry in the burial register of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower records that Creagh was buried there 28 January 1588.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).