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January 12: A Boycott Against Irish Jews

Lawrence Bush
January 12, 2017
A two-year boycott against the thirty-six Jewish families in Limerick, Ireland -- most of them Lithuanian refugees from pogroms in the east -- was launched with violence on this date in 1904, thanks to the incitements of a local priest, John Creagh, who preached from his pulpit that "Jews came to Limerick apparently the most miserable tribe imaginable, with want on their faces, and now they have enriched themselves . . . Their rags have been exchanged for silk." It was a "bile and brimstone sermon [that] had its effect," reports Kevin Haddick Flynn at History Ireland. "Large numbers . . . launched an attack on the Jewish sector of the city, pelting the Jews with mud, breaking windows and throwing stones. The police moved in and eleven were arrested and later prosecuted, but it was estimated that at least 200 had behaved violently." Father Creagh continued his agitation, accusing Jews of "fasten[ing] themselves on us like leeches . . . to draw our blood" and of kidnapping and killing Christian children in ritual murders. He urged a boycott of Jewish businesses -- and Arthur Griffith, who was shortly to found Sinn Féin, added his voice in support. The boycott endured for two years and was accompanied, in its early months, by numerous physical attacks on Jews and their property. By its end, only six Jewish families remained in the town. Among the many Irish gentiles who protested the so-called "Limerick Pogrom" was Michael Davitt, author of The True Story of Anti-Semitic Persecutions in Russia, his eye-witness account of the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom, who made solidarity visits to Jewish families in Limerick. "Historically Jews were blamed for killing Christ and for persecuting the early church. In more recent times, Jews were the victims of wild rumors alleging all manner of devious activity. Many established small shops or worked as peddlers, selling everything from clothes to food. Such activity led to charges of trickery, alleging that Jewish shopkeepers and peddlers sold drugged tea to unsuspecting customers in order to force them into debt and eventually acquire their land. Others assailed the 'immoral' nature of peddling — Jewish men knocking on the doors of homes while the 'man of the house' was at work." --Edward T. O’Donnell, The Irish Echo

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.