Fr. Michael O’Flanagan (1876 - 1942)
O’Flanagan was born in Kilkeeven, Castlerea,
Co. Roscommon in 1876 to Edward Flanagan and Mary Flanagan, nee Crawley.
The Flanagan's were smallholding
farmers who managed to eke out a living by raising enough crops and
livestock to provide for the family.
Despite the many hardships they faced under
British rule they remained defiantly steadfast and confident in their
Irishness, resolute and determined to resist the attempted anglification
of the Irish people which, at that time, was an imperative British
objective. To that end they embraced all aspects of their ethnic Irish
cultural heritage including its history, literature, arts and language.
They also engaged in Fenian and
Land League activities despite the risk such so-called "subversive
activities" posed to their wellbeing and freedom.
Such were the childhood difficulties and
influences that characterized Michael early years.
In a historic context it’s worth noting here that another notable
individual, Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League, also hailed from
Castlerea. A speech delivered by Hyde to the Irish National Literary
Society in November of 1892 titled ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicizing
Ireland’ led to the formation of the Gaelic League. Hyde was a leading
figures in the Irish Literary Revival movement at the turn of the 20th
O’Flanagan received his primary education at
the Cloonbonniffe National School in Castlerea. After completing his
primary education he attended Summerhill College, a secondary school for
boys in Sligo town. After graduating from there in 1894 he entered St.
Patrick's College in Maynooth in Co. Kildare to study for the
priesthood. He was a brilliant student who excelled in a broad range of
subjects including oratory, theology, the Irish language, education
and natural science.
O'Flanagan was ordained a priest for the
Diocese of Elphin in August of 1900. After his ordination he returned to
Summerhill College as a lecturer of Irish, a position he officially
held, albeit long absences, until 1914. As a young newly ordained
priest, O'Flanagan, who involved himself in Irish nationalism, rural
development, Irish self-reliance and the survival of the Irish language,
worked with Hyde on a number of projects during the turbulent early
years of the 20th century.
In 1903 O'Flanagan was the prime mover and
organizer for the Sligo Feis, the first Gaelic Feis
in Connacht. The aim of the Feis was to advance the
revival of the Irish Language and the preservation of Ireland's Cultural
heritage. During the early years of the Feis
Douglas Hyde adjudicated Irish language competitions.
After O’Flanagan left Sligo
the Feis lapsed. It was revived
in 1929 and has flourished ever since.
In 1904, O'Flanagan, who by then was
recognized as an expert on agricultural
cooperatives, was sent to the United States by the Bishop of
Elphin, John Joseph Clancy and Horace Plunkett, the vice-President of
the Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. His
mission, which spanned a number of years and numerous trips was 1) to
raise funds and awareness for home-based industries in the west of
Ireland and 2) publicize the work of the Gaelic League and raise funds
to support its programs.
In 1910 Flanagan was elected to the
Executive Council of the Gaelic League, an organization the Catholic
Hierarchy deemed a threat to its exalted role in Irish society and to
its influence over the everyday lives of the Irish people. As a priest,
his involvement with the League and other nationalist leaning
organizations placed him at odds with the Hierarchy, thus, despite his
communicative and fundraising skills, his chances of advancing within
the organizational structure of the Church were nonexistent.
As a consequence Flanagan spent much more of
his time involved with political issues, particularly with those
relating to the struggle for control of the Gaelic League. In 1913, control
of the League was in the hands of the republican leaning Keating Branch led
by Cathal Brugha. O’Flanagan, who supported the aims of the Keating
Branch was elected to the League’s Standing Committee.
During the years 1912 through 1914
O’Flanagan spent some time attending to his ecclesiastical duties at St.
Sylvester in Rome in Rome "the Church for the English-Speaking Peoples
In 1914 the new Bishop of Elphin, Bernard
Coyne, appointed O’Flanagan as curate to the parish of Ahamlish,
serving in Cliffoney village. After arriving there he became involved in
a turf cutting dispute that became known as the ‘Cloonerco Bog Fight’.
The dispute was brought about by the Congested District’s Board who
persisted that turf cutting rights be awarded to families who had
relatives in the British Army or Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.).
The local farmers who depended on turf for cooking and heating their
homes were, literally, left out in the cold.. Bishop Coyne warned
O'Flanagan not to become involved in the dispute
At the onset of the turf cutting season in
1915 O'Flanagan instructed the local farmers to meet him outside the
church with their turf cutting implements. Ignoring the Bishop’s warning
he led them to the bogs where they encountered a large contingent of RIC
who ordered them to stop. Ignoring their orders Fr Michael marched
through the assembled RIC and cut the first sod of turf himself.
Reluctant to arrest a priest the RIC backed off. Despite selected
arrests and legal action by the authorities the local farmers prevailed.
After cutting and saving the turf the
farmers, in an act of defiance, stacked the turf close to the RIC
barracks with a sign that read: “OUR OWN TURF FOR OUR OWN PEOPLE:
FOREIGNERS HAVE NO RIGHTS HERE”.
In retaliation for having defied the bishop
regarding the turf cutting incident as well as his anti-British stance,
Fr. O’Flanagan was transferred to Crossna, a remote parish in north
Roscommon reserved for recalcitrant priests. If the intent was to
silence him it did not work. He continued to agitate for the
redistribution of land to the farmers who worked its’ soil for
privileged and/or absentee landlords. He also spoke out against
Ireland’s forced participation in WWI – the War of the Empires.
On Sunday 1st August 1915 Fr. O’Flanagan
officiated at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa. He accompanied O’Rossa’s
widow, Mary Jane, and daughter in their carriage in the funeral cortege
to Glasnevin where he conducted the burial service in Irish. After he
finished Pádraig Pearse delivered the funeral oration, a speech for the
He did not participate in the Easter Rising
of 1916. He considered the executed leaders martyrs and heroes and their
execution a grave criminal act, akin to a war crime. In its aftermath
he became more fervent and committed to Ireland’s freedom and
At the 1917 Sinn Féin convention nationalist
leaning members led by Arthur Griffith and republican leaning members
led by de Valera resolved their differences and agreed to move forward
in pursuit of an independent Irish Republic. De Valera was elected
President of the unified organization; Arthur Griffith and O’Flanagan
were elected vice-Presidents. O’Flanagan who was an effective and
knowledgeable leader took control of the organization during de Valera’s
prolonged tour of the United States in 1920.
In May of 1918 during the East Cavan
by-election campaign O’Flanagan denounced the British and German
war-mongers who had led millions to their deaths: “Those royal
cousins who rule England and Germany will come together and clink their
champagne glasses over the graves of millions of the flower of the
manhood of Germany and England.”
After this speech O’Flanagan was sanctioned by Bishop Coyne
who could not countenance any criticism directed at the British for
either their callous treatment of their Irish subjects or their imperial
During the 1918 General Election campaign,
O’Flanagan’s oratorical skills and eloquence was a major factor in the
success of Sinn Fein candidates who won 73 of the 105 seats contested.
Those skills were clearly demonstrated in the successful election
campaign of Count Plunkett’s in Roscommon north.
Count Plunkett was the father of Joseph M. Plunkett, one of the
executed 1916 Proclamation signatories. He was also a distant cousin of
the aforementioned Horace Plunkett.
The Irish General Election of 1918 was part
of the United Kingdom's General Election for seats in the British House of
Commons in London. Instead of heading off to London to take their seats
the elected Sinn Féin candidates convened their own parliament, Dáil
Éireann, at the Mansion House in Dublin. O’Flanagan, who was appointed
the Dails’ Chaplin, recited the invocation at its inaugural meeting in
It was at that meeting that Ireland was
declared a sovereign 32-county Irish Republic.
During the War of Independence he held
unauthorized communications with Edward Carson, leader of the Unionist in the
north, and with Lloyd George, the British prime minister probing the
possibility of arriving at a peaceful solution to the conflict.. His efforts, which
caused consternation within the Republican ranks, proved fruitless.
Despite his efforts at peace-making he
vehemently opposed the divisive Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 that ended
the war. He did not take part in the ensuing Treaty War between British
backed Free State forces who supported the Treaty and Republican
volunteers who opposed it. Nonetheless, his anti-Treaty stance coupled
with his castigation by the Church made him a potential target for
retribution by Free State agents. Aware of his vulnerability to harm he
returned to the Unites States in November of 1921 at the height of the
In March 1923 O’Flanagan together with John
J. O’Kelly (also known by his nom de plume ‘Sceilg’) arrived in
Australia from the United States as envoys of the Irish
Republican movement. During their six months stay in Australia they met
with Irish groups sympathetic to the Republican cause. They also met
with Irish-born Cardinal Daniel Mannix an outspoken opponent of English
rule in Ireland. When the purpose of their visit became known to the
authorities they were deported back to the United States. He returned to
Ireland in 1925.
At the 1926 Sinn Fein convention O'Flanagan
sided with the Sinn Fein members who defeated a proposal tabled by de
Valera to allow Sinn Fein TD’s to enter the Free State Oireachtas
(government apparatus) In order to do so TD’s would have to swear
allegiance to the King of England one of the contentious Treaty imposed
conditions that precipitated the Treaty War. After his defeat de Valera
left Sinn Fein with his supporters, founded Fianna Fail, swore
allegiance to the King and entered the Oireachtas.
During the years 1927 through 1935
O’Flanagan edited, for publication, several volumes of John O’Donovan
manuscripts relating the 1830s Ordnance Survey of Ireland.
During that same period he
was commissioned by the government to write a history of the Irish
language for schools.
The manuscripts O’Donovan produced in support of the Ordnance Survey
included descriptions and details relating to topographical features,
antiquities, population, and socio economic factors that could not be
adequately encapsulated in cartographic form. This was done at the
Parish level for every county in Ireland
In 1933 O’Flanagan was elected President of Sinn Fein. He was expelled from the
party in 1936 for participating in a Radio Eireann broadcast. He was
During the Spanish Civil War he supported
the Spanish Republic. He was vocal in his opposition to the Catholic
Church’s support for the coup d’etat led by the fascist, General Franco,
and his supporters. While on a speaking of North America in support of
the Spanish Republic he made his feelings perfectly clear regarding the
Church’s involvement in political affairs stating, “when the Church
tries to step outside of its own activity, which is to preach the
gospel, it is very likely to do wrong.
In addition to other undertakings during the
1930’s he worked on the development of county histories in Irish. The
first of these works was published in 1938. It was for his native county of
Roscommon "Stair na gCondae 1 – Ros Comáin".
In April of 1938 his ecclesiastical duties
were restored by Bishop Doorly allowing him to say Mass in public and
administer the Sacraments.
Fr. Michael O’Flanagan a devout and
exemplary priest a man of the people and a diehard patriot died in
Dublin on 8th August 1942 at the age of 66. He was buried in Glasnevin
Cemetery on August 10th. His graveside oration was given by "Sceilg"
Contributor; Tomás Ó Coısdealha
353 1 830-1133
Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Ireland