Ilana K. Levinsky
Ilana K. Levinsky
I write what I see

An Irish Pogrom for a Honeymoon

The wedding date was January 7, 1904. The location — Limerick, Ireland, which had a population of 150 Jews at that time. Fanny Toohey was dressed in white satin and Maurice B. Maissell wore a top hat, their guests arrived in horse-drawn carriages and the bridesmaids wore long dresses and colored capes, trimmed with swan down. It was a memorable event by all accounts, even the Limerick Chronicle made mention of the affair, well, maybe more than just a mention. They wrote that outside the synagogue stood “those who wore poverty’s motley, while those inside were clad in fine broadcloth and silks and satins goodly to look upon.”[1]

What followed after the report was a sermon by Fr John Creagh CSSR, the spiritual director of the Arch-Confraternity of the Sacred Heart. He had a following of 6,000 members and his incendiary sermon took place on January 11, 1904, four days after the wedding. He spoke of Christian charity and the duty to look upon all men as brothers, even those who hate or persecute Christians. Though a closer look at his sermon reveals that charity in this case takes on a different meaning altogether:

 It would be madness for a man to nourish in his own breast a viper that might at any moment slay a benefactor with its poisonous bite. So too is it madness for a people to allow an evil to grow in their midst that will eventually cause them ruin. It was that they were allowing themselves to become the slaves of Jew usurers. They knew who they were. The Jews were once the chosen people by God. God’s mercy and favours toward them were boundless. They were the people of whom was born the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Master. But they rejected Jesus, they crucified Him — they called down the curse of His precious blood on their heads.[2]

A Long History of Prejudice

We know that Jews were only tolerated as long as they benefited the economy of their host nations. Their lives were promulgated by oppressive laws that limited their freedoms, and yet they managed to prosper. When locals felt threatened by their success, deep-seated antisemitic sentiments would eventually rupture their reasonably peaceful lives. When I say “reasonably peaceful lives,” never forget that insults and abusive behavior towards Jews was part of the landscape, always. In Limerick it was no different even though popular historiography suggests that Irish Jews never suffered persecution. And so, with the help of a demagogic-styled preacher, the masses were mobilized and ready to pounce on their Jewish enemy:

Nowadays, they dare not kidnap and slay Christian children, but they will not hesitate to expose them to a longer and even more cruel martyrdom by taking the clothes off their backs and the bit out of their mouths. Twenty years ago and less Jews were known only by name and evil repute in Limerick. They were sucking the blood of other nations, but those nations rose up and turned them out and they came to our land to fasten themselves on us like leeches, and to draw our blood when they had been forced away from other countries. They have, indeed, fastened themselves upon us, and now the question is whether or not we will allow them to fasten themselves still more upon us, until we and our children are the helpless victims of their rapacity.[3]

The rest of the sermon transgresses the boundaries of common sense and turns darker. Father Creagh gives a detailed account of money transactions between Jews and residents of Limerick who unbeknownst to them were “victims of rapacious Jews who force themselves and their goods upon people who are blind to their tricks.” He describes their weekly payment system i.e., credit trading as “sinful and unscrupulous.”

“When they came here first they had to carry their packs upon their shoulders. Now they can afford to have horses and traps to carry their goods . . . I do not hesitate to say that there are no greater enemies of the Catholic Church than the Jews.”

He then asks his congregants to sever all commercial ties with Jews. What followed was a two-year economic boycott waged against Limerick’s Jews, which devastated the Jewish community and forced many to move elsewhere. Jews were assaulted, homes were attacked, and threats and abuse were commonplace. Some historians have argued against the term pogrom used in this context of events; they believe that the Limerick boycott is a more accurate term. Back in the day, a correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle reported his despair after hearing the mobs chanting: “Down with the Jews, they kill our innocent children,” “Death to the Jews,” “We must hunt them out.” He said that all the horrors of the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 had flashed before his eyes.

The Jews did have a handful of defenders, and the local police made sure there was no serious physical harm directed towards them, but no one was able to stand up to the Redemptorists and the Confraternity and many in Limerick endorsed Father Creagh’s actions and condemned Michael Davitt, an Irish Republican activist, for intervening on behalf of the Jews.

The truth is that in Limerick, the leading private lenders were Christians and when analyzing court records from that period, those indicate that Jewish traders were not over-represented in terms of summons issued by the courts.[4] Craegh delivered a second sermon as a response to some of his detractors, however, both sermon number one then two evoked an outright aversion to Jews. The language he used, and stereotypes he employed overshadowed any concern he may have had for his congregants’ economic well-being. His tirade falls directly in line with other examples of religious-based antisemitism.

The Limerick Leader newspaper supported Creagh’s position in his second sermon where he insisted that “the whole Jewish question is not one of faith or belief, but one purely and simply of trade methods” (Limerick Leader, 15 Apr. 1904).

Persona non grata

Jews had always been treated as foreign interlopers and expendable, no matter where they resided, and the first reference to Jews in Irish history is in 1079, found in the Annals of Innisfallen, which recorded Irish medieval history. Those first five Jews who arrived were not allowed to remain in Ireland, but Jews lived in Ireland during the12th century until their expulsion together with British Jews in 1290. They returned to Ireland as refugees during the Spanish Inquisition, in the 15th century. Gradually, their numbers dwindled, possibly because of missionary work aimed at converting them to Catholicism and a refusal to grant them Irish citizenship. In 1700 the shrinking Jewish population meant the closure of the Dublin synagogue. Their numbers fluctuated again during the 1900s and small communities began to surface and flourish across Ireland. Finally, in 1937 the Irish government recognized Judaism as a minority faith, but how shameful that during the Nazi’s rise to power, also after the Holocaust they refused the entry of Jewish refugees. The Department of Justice was in charge of the vetting process and they only issued entry visas to Catholics or Jews who had converted to Catholicism. This was a memorandum that was published on September 24, 1945:

It is the policy of the Department of Justice to restrict the immigration of Jews. The wealth and influence of the Jewish community in this country, and the murmurs against Jewish wealth and influence are frequently heard. As Jews do not become assimilated with the native population, like other immigrants, there is a danger that any big increase in their numbers might create a social problem.

Eamon De Valera was president during World War II when Ireland remained neutral, albeit backing the Allies, and then he went ahead and signed the condolence book at the German Embassy after Hitler committed suicide. Why?

Flash-forward to October 2021

When hot-shot flavor-of-the month writer Sally Rooney announced her decision to invoke BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) policy and take away the Hebrew publishing rights of her latest book from Modin, were you really surprised? Really? Be honest, because I wasn’t.

These days, Ireland is one of the most hostile countries towards Israel in the EU (European Union); their government has expressed strong anti-Israel bias and there is not one member of the Dáil or Senate who’s ever defended Israel for exercising self-defense during one of the many attacks against its civilians—Arab and Jews alike.[5] Palestinian intransigence is excused and Jews are to blame for all the hostilities; additionally, they’ve refused to declare Hamas as a terrorist organization and they were the first members of the EEC (European Economic Convention) to call for the inclusion of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) much before their leader, Yasser Arafat, considered recognizing  Israel’s right to exist.

They also passed the BDS Bill otherwise known as “The Occupied Territories Bill” in 2019 through both lower and upper houses, thus banning the import or sale of any Israeli goods or services from settlements deemed occupied by international law.  This includes goods from the Golan Height, East Jerusalem, or the West Bank.

Once it becomes law, any dealings with Israelis in the settlements will be criminalized and punished with a $282,000 fine or a five-year jail sentence. And you know that this means, ALL Israelis become persona non grata and toxic, and this will inevitably follow a precedence of violence that’s been exercised against Jews when the public is indoctrinated with such falsehoods. I say this even though the papers report that in Ireland there have been very low incidents of antisemitism, but what the heck are they talking about? Is muted antisemitism not as pervasive and dangerous? It’s become exceedingly normalized–those who adopt an anti-Zionist ideology believe they’re on the right side of history so to speak, and when you repudiate such claims you’re deemed a proponent of racism, and cancelled in certain social circles. Social media is rife with opinions, and those matter too for they are a microcosm of the general mindset. Most antisemitic incidents occur within the context of the political discourse as it relates to Israel.

Just last week British actor Eddie Marsden seemed gobsmacked by a torrent of abusive comments on his own Twitter account because of his role portraying a Jew on the television series Ridley Road:

“F**k me, this is relentless, all I did was play a Jew, I dread to think what would’ve happened if I was actually Jewish” (Twitter, October 14, 2021, accessed October 20, 2021, https://bit.ly/2Zh8BqC).

When author and journalist Tuvia Tenenbom visited Northern Ireland in 2019, he stepped into a bar at Derry’s Bogside area and asked a simple question: “Why are there so many Palestinian flags flying in the area?” “We hate Jews” and Israelis are “child murdering scum,” “the scourge of the Earth,” and last but not least “the only thing Hitler did wrong was he didn’t kill enough f***ing Jews” (https://bit.ly/3AZZ7Ni).

Among the flowing beer and the craic–words matter.

Shcmucky Bill

We know this Irish bill is rubbish because it supports an organization that rejects Israel’s right to exist. It rejects the rights of the most persecuted people in human history. “A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically,” said Mr. Barghouti, co-founder of BDS. The Irish government supports an organization that accepts in its midst terrorist organizations, obviously Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine. Barghouti treats resistance to Israeli occupation, including an armed struggle as a legitimate right, and when asked if BDS condemned violence that targeted Israeli soldiers, he declined to comment.”[6]

Apparently Israelis are a nasty lot—really nasty. They’re killers of women and children, and innocent dreams; they’re imperialistic thieves, oppressors, and occupiers—more like the modern-day Hitler’s of this world. Israel’s detractors have honed the art of political anchoring so that “apartheid” and “genocide” have become synonymous with Israel and Israelis.

Did I leave anything out? If you’re a Jew but not an Israeli, some of that will rub off on you too.

I’ve read that the Irish stance has nothing to do with antisemitism and all to do with their own experience of colonial oppression under the British. To that I say, great, they’re a sensitive bunch; they care about the plight of the downtrodden and wronged. But what about us?

Hahaha, right. What about us? Anger towards Israel and Jews is universal; our critics come from neighboring and distant Muslim countries as well as the West as Jews worldwide are swept under this politics of hate. Israel and Jews and Zionism are always crisscrossed and interlaced. Plenty of Jews have also expressed their ideological adoration of anti-Zionism and they are the types of critics whom I find the most disturbing. They go out of their way to uplift the rights of Palestinians, while rejecting Jewish self-determination and Jewish indigeneity.

Worse, they paint a picture of bloodthirsty Jews in the same way that Father Creagh had described the Jews of Limerick, relying on lies and antisemitic tropes that have stood the test of time, and never fail to gain momentum and immediate support. Why do I not see anyone questioning the very idea that Jews are warmongers, especially because they had always been at the receiving end of genocidal aggression towards them. Where is the anger towards Arab nations where Jew-hatred is institutionalized—you find it on TV, in school books, and for the most part these countries are Jew-free!

Dr. Ronit Lentin, a Jewish-Irish race scholar and self-proclaimed anti-Zionist is proud of the 200 signatories she’s added to her beloved BDS organization. In a piece she wrote for the Irish Times in 2019 she claimed that Jews exploit the Holocaust and antisemitism, and that we grow up indoctrinated in a dual message of victimhood and Jewish supremacy.

The idea that we no longer have to live under subjugation; that we no longer have to pack our chattels and flee at the drop of a hat; the idea that we can stand up for ourselves and not give a damn about what Lentin and the rest of the Rooneys of this world have to say about us, is refreshingly liberating.

It makes me one proud Zionist. I’m thankful that I grew up imbued with my beautiful Jewish culture and religion in the same way that Jews have done for centuries, and by doing so we did not become yet another indigenous nation that faded into oblivion as was the fate of many others.

Does this history of hate against Jews give Israel a carte blanche to persecute Palestinians? Nope. But this is not Israel’s policy, albeit there are many issues that need to be dealt with and improved. On October 19, 2021, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz extended registration to the Palestinian Population Registry of 4,000 more Gazan-born people who had moved to the West Bank. This means that they will be getting their Palestinian IDs as well as passports. The process for making sense of this conflict is ongoing and complex without the obsessive and aggressive intervention of outside bodies that have become a hindrance to the entire peace process.

To Date

Ireland exported to Israel its sixth president, Chaim Herzog, and the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland was Mr. William Annyas, elected in 1555–four Jewish mayors altogether from what I’ve learned. Yippy. However, a census from 2018 shows that 2,557 Jews, out of a population of 4,588252 people, presently reside in Ireland. Most of them live in Dublin and their Jewish Museum holds artifacts of other closed synagogues and a way of life that has vanished. A lot of Jews left after the formation of the State of Israel, can you blame them? “Some left because Ireland’s muted antisemitism made it harder for Jewish doctors to obtain bed allocations in Catholic or state-run hospitals, or to join professional associations and clubs.”[7]

With all of Ireland’s grandstanding against Israel, it is interesting to note that to this day it maintains a strong dependency on high-end economic, research, and development collaboration including arms trade with Israel! I wonder how that will go down with the average pub-going Irishman.

If I were about to get married in Ireland, I’d think twice about holding a wedding. Perhaps eloping is a better idea because, well, you never know there are so many Father Craegh’s out there spouting their ideas in muted hallways. Except their voices are so bloody loud. We hear you Sally Rooney, we hear that you have absolutely nothing against Hebrew per se, you are only advocating for Israel’s cultural and economic isolation because of their supposed apartheid policies towards Palestinians. Yeah, we hear you loud and clear.

  1. Keogh, Dermot, Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland, 1998, p. 26.

2 Keogh, Dermot, Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland, 1998, p. 27.

  1. Keogh, Dermot, Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland, 1998, p. 28.
  2. Gannon, Sean William, July 2020, Revisiting the ‘Limerick Pogrom’ of 1904.
  3. Miller, Rory, October 1, 2006, “Irish Attitudes Toward Israel,” the Jerusalem Center for public Affairs.
  4. Halfinger, David M, Wines, Michael, Erlanger, Steven, July 27, 2019, “Is BDS Anti-Semitic? A Closer Look as the Boycott Israel Campaign,” The New York Times.
  5. Roddy, Michael, March 2003, “Jewish Community Dwindles in Ireland,” The Washington Post.
About the Author
Ilana was born in London, England, and currently resides in Camarillo, California. She graduated from Manchester University with an LL.B in 1991. Her writings include the play “A Recipe for Hummus,” and her novels "The Diary of a Wrinkle" and "East End Dreams." "Age Schmage" is a little book intended to help women in their moments of doubt; "A Cookbook for the Woman Who Hates Cooking" is an honest, yet funny approach to cooking; "What if I Had a Different Name?" is a collaboration with her son Jack and it’s a fun exploration of some of the weird and fantastical names that Jack imagines as his own; "The Cloud That Covered My Head" is a whimsical story about a boy who preferred to stay in bed and dream rather than go to school, and "Rotten Tooth Ruth" brings to life T. Brush, Minty Paste, and Floss who must think of a way to befriend Ruth; "Bobby B. Sprout Meets a Bunch of Rotten Veggies" is an allegory for anyone who's felt like the "other," it's all about racism/antisemitism. "My Best Friend Shadow" teaches that life can be bigger, better and fun, and her latest publication now available on Amazon is "I'd Rather Eat Fries!"--a charming tale about a picky eater and parents who make one mistake after another as they try to convince their son to adopt a healthier diet. Other work includes "Diary of a Wrinkle" a blog where she muses on the topic of aging and beauty and @wrinklerevolution is her corresponding Instagram account. You can follow her on @soletseat for her daily culinary creations and for more of her creative writing inspiration you may scroll through @whoopdedocreations. "A Yemenite Bride" (a screenplay) tells the story of Ilana's great-grandmother Saida, and sheds light on the life of Jews in Yemen during the early 20th century, and her adapted screenplay (of her book) "East End Dreams" tells the story of Gertrude, a widowed, middle-aged, Jewish woman who leaves South Africa and returns to her birthplace of London where she battles with a type of existential crisis, as she tries to find her purpose in life as well as love in an unfamiliar, new world.
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