A biography of an Irish anarchist- Doctor John Creaghe

A few years ago a comrade from Leeds introduced me to the life and times of this colourful figure, Dr John Creaghe who helped spread the flames of anarchism across three continents. In the words of the famous Italian anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti this pamphlet is dedicated to the ‘nameless in the vast crowd of nameless ones.’
Born in Limerick/Cork in 1841, little is known about John Creaghe’s early life except that he graduated from Queens College in medical studies, before emigrating to Boston and then onto Argentina in 1874. The social/political conditions and the emerging socialist movement soon politicised the young Creaghe despite his fledging medical career.

In 1888, he published a journal entitled La Verdad (The Truth) which promoted working-class self-organisation and collective direct action to solve their immediate problems. It is in Buenos Aires where Errico Malatesta had a profound influence on the young John Creaghe.

In September 1890, he set sail for England and took up residence in Gower Street, a slum district of Sheffield, with a militant working class history and by this stage anarchism was well planted. John Creaghe made his first public appearance at a Chicago martyrs commemoration and helped to found the Sheffield Anarchist group, and later ‘The Sheffield Anarchist’ paper. with Fred Charles. During this period, he earned his living as a six pence doctor, six pence his fee and more often than not he charged for free.

The paper covered everything from rent strikes, to ‘movement’ news and even advocated theft as a remedy against the evils of private property. Creaghe returned to Argentina in 1894 to find anarchism under the banner of FAO and later FORA (Argentine Regional Workers' Federation) gaining enormous influence within the wider labour movement. It was an intense period of class war and state repression. Creaghe became editor of the daily newspaper ‘La Protesta’ which was closed down on numerous occasions. Alan O’Toole notes that, “It was the major paper of revolution in Argentina until recent years… its establishment and continuation was probably his greatest single contribution to the politics of revolution.”

Creaghe moved to Los Angeles in 1911, where he studied the Zapata and Magonista movement in nearby Mexico at first hand. Writing in his Manifesto to the Comrades of Argentina, Uruguay, and the Whole World, Creaghe wrote: “Mexico is proudly leading the beautiful economic and agrarian revolution. Even those bourgeois intellectuals commenting on such affairs admit in their newspapers and magazines that there will be no peace in Mexico until the people themselves have control of the land, which they consider belongs to them.”

Creaghe and Emma Goldman where closely involved in a campaign to free Anarchist lawyer and journalist Ricardo Florus Magon who spent most of his life in prison.

Sadly, Dr John Creaghe died in poverty in Washington in February 1920. He was 78 years old and gave thirty years to the movement.
Alan O’Toole’s biography rescues the story of this inspiring figure, assessing his world wide agitation, showing his interactions with figures like William Morris and Edward Carpenter, and illuminating a large slice of Anarchism’s “heroic years”.

“In our times it is more important than ever that people reclaim their own consciences, instead of leaving them in pawn to any party and ideology. This history of the years since Creaghe’s death is an extended object lesson in what can happen if they do not.”- Alan O’Toole

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