Short biography of John Creaghe, Irish anarchist who fought baliffs in Sheffield, taught in a free school in Argentina and rioted with Flores Magon in California.
Dr. John O’Dwyer Creaghe (or Juan, as he came to be known), was an Irish-born international revolutionary anarchist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His name is most often associated with anarchism in England and Argentina, though he was also active in the United States in support of exiled Mexican anarchists, and died in Washington DC. He is a figure who encapsulates the diversity of the Irish in Argentina in a very idiosyncratic manner, who forsook ethnic for class alliance and helped pioneer a movement of critical importance to Argentine and South American labour history.
John O’Dwyer Creaghe was born to an old Limerick family in 1841 and after qualifying as a physician in 1865 at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, he took up his practice at Mitchelstown, County Cork the following year.He was fully licensed as a medical practitioner in 1869 from the King’s and Queen’s Colleges of Physicians in Ireland, and remained in practice at Mitchelstown until 1874 1. Curiously perhaps, he does not appear to have been involved in any way with the Fenian movement, either in Dublin as a student or in Mitchelstown, though ongoing research may yet uncover a link with that movement.
In 1874, Creaghe emigrated to Buenos Aries, Argentina and quickly became a follower of anarchism. It is unclear how exactly this came about as anarchism was a very peripheral element in the labour movement in Argentina until the early twentieth century, and would have been almost completely non-existent in 1874. It’s known, however, that the seminal anarchist thinker and activist, Errico Malatesta (1853-1932), lived in Argentina between 1885 and 1889, and it is likely that Creaghe became an anarchist at least in part under the Italian’s influence.
By 1890, Creaghe had re-located to Sheffield where he worked in a poor, working class district of the English city, populated by a great many Irish immigrants, having arrived there from Dublin the previous year. He soon involved himself with the local branch of the famous designer William Morris’ Socialist League, but they broke away early in 1891 to form a specifically anarchist group in Sheffield. They made their first public appearance on May Day at the city’s regular public speaking pitch, the Monolith and unfurled a banner with ‘No God, No Master’ written on it. A club and a newspaper soon followed, the Sheffield Anarchist, which was begun by Creaghe and Fred Charles, who the following year received a ten year sentence for his part in an anarchist bomb plot, which was largely the product of a French agent provocateur. The newspaper was caught up in this dynamite trial of the so-called ‘Walsall Anarchists’ and soon collapsed, though much of its bombastic tone, and Creaghe’s personal activism, had presaged its demise.
During the ‘No Rent’ agitation against landlords, he had taken a poker to local bailiffs attempting to restrain goods, a deed that won him considerable fame and support in working class districts of Sheffield (2). Many anarchists, like Creaghe, were convinced revolution was at hand and their appeals to physical force – to expropriation for ‘the cause’ and attacks on policemen, bailiffs, landlords and magistrates were to increase in tandem with mounting hysteria from the authorities about the ‘anarchist menace’. In 1891 Creaghe wrote ‘give me Anarchists willing to die NOW if necessary for Anarchy, and if you can find me 15 or 20 to join me I promise you we will make an oppression of the
In 1892, Creaghe left Sheffield and travelled to Liverpool, London, Spain and finally, Argentina. Once there, he again gravitated towards the anarchists and began another publishing venture with El Oprimido (1893-97), which became La Protesta Humana (1897-1903), and then the hugely influential La Protesta (1903 to the present day). In each case, Creaghe invested considerable time, energy and money into these propagandist ventures which would eventually bear fruit in the form of the Federación Obrero Regional Argentina (FORA), the mighty anarcho-syndicalist union which won the hearts and loyalties of 20,000 Argentine workers by the time of the events of the ‘Tragic Week' of 1919. Creaghe was also heavily involved in the Free School movement in Buenos Aries and was director of the Rationalist School in Luján, an anarchist educational experiment along the lines of those founded by the Spanish anarchist, Francisco Ferrer (1859-1909). He also rallied to the defence of a young Polish immigrant who killed the Chief of Police in Buenos Aries at an anarchist demonstration in 1909. At the same time, Creaghe worked on as a doctor from his base in Luján, Buenos Aries province, combining easily the roles of local physician and anarchist militant 4.
Despite the great impact Creaghe made towards the development and sustenance of the Argentine anarchist movement into the twentieth century, much has still to be uncovered, though the recent work of Juan Suriano has begun to re-assess the importance of Creaghe and the circle of pioneering anarchists in fin de siècle Buenos Aires 5.
Creaghe took off on his travels again in 1911, settling eventually in Los Angeles among Mexican anarchists. He took part in producing yet another influential anarchist newspaper, La Regeneración, and struck up a good friendship with the leading Mexican anarchist, Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922), who died in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. He, along with Creaghe, was involved in the Baja California revolt of 1910 as well as giving support to the fragmented anarchist movement in Mexico in the years after the start of the Mexican revolution of 1910-14. Magón was informed of Creaghe’s death in Washington DC on 19 February 1920 while in prison and wrote to a comrade in Washington of his sense of loss:
‘Por tu carta me he enterado de que nuestro viejo amigo Creaghe falleció el 19 de febrero último (El camarada doctor Juan Creaghe fue editor y uno de los fundadores del diario anarquista La Protesta de Buenos Aires, Argentina). Ahora está libre y descansando. Los últimos desafíos de este gran luchador por la libertad fueron de tal naturaleza que hacen a uno estremecerse. Él, que amó a la humanidad, fue blanco de todos los tratamientos inhumanos. Él, que soñó la libertad. fue privado de todos los privilegios humanos. Él, que luchó para que cada criatura humana pudiera tener un hogar, no tenía un albergue propio. ¡El pobre viejo veterano de la lucha de clases!
Ahora está libre y descansa. La Muerte es la gran libertadora. Es un absurdo representar a la Muerte como una cosa terrible que inspira horror. Estoy cansado de ver a la Muerte pintada como un esqueleto humano, llevando en una mano una guadaña y en la otra un reloj de arena. Si yo fuera artista, representaría a la Muerte completamente diferente, como una bella doncella. Por ejemplo, en el acto de tirar una cortina que oculta una magnífica recámara, y con una dulce sonrisa en su faz amorosa ofreciendo la entrada a cada mortal. Nuestro querido Juan Creaghe es feliz ahora, como lo es el que goza de un sueño profundo’. 6
Such was the regard held for Creaghe, a man whose controversial life of anarchist activism is only now beginning to emerge. It is a story which promises to hold much for the Irish in Argentina and indeed, for the Irish Diaspora in general.
* Dr. Máirtín Ó Catháin
Magee College, University of Ulster, Derry/Londonderry.
Taken from http://www.irlandeses.org/cathain.htm
- 1. The Medical Register: Printed and Published Under the Direction of the General Council of Medical Education and Registration of the United Kingdom, Pursuant to an Act Passed in the Year XXI and XXII Victoriae, CAP.XC, Entitled an Act to Regulate the Qualifications of Practitioners of Medicine and Surgery, 1896 (London, 1896), p.358, entry for John O’Dwyer Creaghe; and Thom’s Directory (Dublin, 1866-74), Mitchelstown, County Cork entries.
- 2. Quali, John The Slow Burning Fuse: the Lost History of the British Anarchists (London, 1978), pp. 97, 101,.108; and Lane, Fintan The Origins of Modern Irish Socialism 1881-1896 (Cork, 1997), p.159.
- 3. Shpayer, Haia British Anarchism, 1881-1914: Reality and Appearance, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London (1981), p.44 and footnote 1.
- 4. Nettlau, Max A Short History of Anarchism (London, 1996), pp. 264, 375.
- 5. Suriano, Juan Anarquistas: Cultura y Política libertaria en Buenos Aries 1890-1910 (Buenos Aries, 2001).
- 6. From website accessed 16 October 2004.