John O’Dwyer Creaghe (1841-1920)
By Máirtín Ó Catháin*
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.
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’s house-cum-office in Luján (Mariano Moreno street)
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:
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)
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.
Record of John Creaghe's arrival to New York in 1911 (Ellis Island
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.
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).
From website <http://www.antorcha.net/biblioteca_virtual/politica/epis/carta_gus_25_marzo_1920.html>
accessed 16 October 2004.