The number of Jews in Ireland has always been small. In the later half of the 19th century a relatively large influx of Lithuanian Jews arrived (about 5000) mostly settling in Belfast and Dublin. In 1904 there were over 150 Jews living in Limerick, a small city at the head of the Shannon estuary.

At the turn of the century, anti-Semitism certainly existed in Ireland. The prejudice was imported from Europe and accepted by many. When this nonsense was preached from the pulpit by one Father John Creagh in 1904 (a priest of the Repemptorist order whose views were not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church), the Catholic population were duly incited.

In 1899 Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, wrote that 'the three evil influences' were Jews, Freemasons and pirates. Father Creagh preached that the Jews were 'blood-sucking' money-lenders and that a common Jewish ritual was to 'kidnap and slay Christian children'. He urged a boycott on Jewish businesses. It was alleged the Jews added substances to the tea leaves they sold and that they were physically unhygenic.

Over the next two years the small Jewish population was subject to a trade boycott which brought them to financial ruin. They suffered harrasment, intimidation and abuse (both physical and verbal). There were no fatalities but most were forced to leave the city.

There were some voices of protest raised against the pogrom. Michael Davitt, the influential leader of the Land League had this to say-

'I protest, as an Irishman and a Christian, against this spirit of barbarous malignity being introduced into Ireland, under the pretended form of material regard for the welfare of our workers.'

There have been other individual instances of violence and displays of prejudice against Jews since then, but the Limerick pogrom is the only organised campaign of anti-Semitism in Irish history. On the European scale these events may seem insignificant, but to the people of Limerick they leave an indelible stain.

A Lord Mayor of Limerick stated in 1970 that the pogrom was justified in 'defending the impoverished Limerick population against the exploitative Jews'. In 1990 the Jewish cemetery in Limerick was restored.

Sources:
www.axt.org.uk/antisem/archive
www.jewishsf.com

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