- An sagart is dubhrachtaigh do mhair arimh in Eireann -
Father Michael O'Flanagan receives the freedom of Sligo; a massive crowd at attend at Sligo town hall, 23rd June 1918.
Fr Michael O'Flanagan (1876 - 1942)
In the late summer of 1914, a new curate was sent to the parish of Cliffoney in North Sligo, to help out the ailing priest, Fr Shannon. The new arrival was Fr Michael O'Flanagan and he would leave his mark on the village of Cliffoney during his fifteen month stay.
In 2015 the people of Cliffoney set out to mark the centenary of the time this 'turbulent priest' spent in our village; a weekend of events took place at the end of June to remember how Fr Michael, in his first act of clerical and social protest he led the local people on a march to Cloonerco bog to cut and harvest turf.
In the course of organizing the events, it became apparent that Fr Michael's prolific writings were not easy to access, his having been proscribed and censored by the church for a good number of years. Thankfully, his biography, They Have Fooled You Again by Denis Carroll has been republished for the centenary of 1916 and is available online.
The collection of information is an ongoing process and letters and speeches are being gathered here, and published online, by the Fr Michael O'Flanagan committee in Cliffoney village. Recently added files are an essay on the state of Ireland in 1920, antiquities, and some stories of Edward O'Flanagan.
A still of Fr Michael O'Flanagan from the 1921 Pathe film clip, which can be viewed below.
'They have fooled you again.' Michael O'Flanagan's sardonic announcement, uttered at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, commenced what was to be the last chapter of his public involvement in socio-political affairs. Yet the words express his life-long conviction that the 'rank and file of the people' - a favorite phrase of his - had been duped all too often by leaders with self-interested aims or narrow vision. Michael O'Flanagan was a populist rather than an ideologue of faction, party or movement. He had an instinctive mistrust of all establishments, whether civil or ecclesiastical. His populist leanings, amply manifest in speeches as well as writings, serve to explain his widespread influence with people throughout Ireland and in the Irish diaspora. As a priest who was also a republican and a radical social critic, Michael O'Flanagan deserves greater recognition than has heretofore been accorded him in the canon of academic writing on Ireland in the twentieth century.
It is an irony that the Catholic press, which for so long had yapped at his heels, should have given a most perceptive description of Fr O'Flanagan's life and work. In an obituary notice, The Standard wrote of him: 'Like Pearse he was a student and a teacher with thought and sympathy for youth. Like Tom Clarke he seemed in his person to typify the spirit of resistance to oppression. Like Connolly, he loved the people who work in poverty.' As was Pearse, O'Flanagan was a splendid pedagogue. Like Clarke, he hated injustice, particularly that perpetrated by great empires. As did Connolly, he accepted the principle that people are more important than territory. Pearse, Clarke and Connolly shared a common dedication to an independent, socially just Ireland. Yet between these great figures there are differences in emphasis and, perhaps, some tensions in regard to ultimate ideals. Incorporating so much of Pearse, Clarke and Connolly in his own political stances Michael O'Flanagan exemplifies at once the tradition of republican separatism and the internationalism of the socialist demand for economic liberation.
'They have fooled you again,' by Denis Carroll, 1993
On the 13th August 1876 Michael was born, oldest son of Edward and Mary O'Flanagan on the small farm at Kilkeeven, Castlerea, County Roscommon. His parents were native Irish speakers and he was raised in a nationalist household.
Michael attended the local national school in Cloonbonnif, founded the O'Conor Don School, where he was taught by Michael O'Callaghan. On September 18th 1890 he entered secondary education at Summerhill College in County Sligo.
From Summerhill he proceeded to Maynooth in the Autumn of 1894 where, by all accounts, he excelled as he studied for the priesthood. Michael O'Flanagan became Fr. Michael on 15 August 1900, ordained by Bishop Clancy for the Diocese of Elphin in Sligo cathedral two days after his 24th birthday.
Fr Michael was appointed Professor of Irish at Summerhill College, a position he occupied from 1900 to 1904. During this time he evolved a method of teaching Irish pronunciation and he produced a primer titled Irish Phonetics, published by Browne and Nolan of Nassau Street, Dublin, in 1904.
In 1903 he was a founder member of the Sligo Feis.
In 1906 Fr Michael was sent on a fundraising mission which led to several years of travel all across the United States. During this time he made contact with various missionary groups and learned to hone his style of delivery and oration - it was in America that he learned to become a fiery public speaker.
During 1908 and 1909 he traveled extensively across America with an exhibition of Irish lace, accompanied by a trio of young experts, Mary O'Flanagan, Mary K. Davoren and Rose Egan, who gave demonstrations of lace-making techniques while Fr Michael gave a series of lectures. Their work attracted plenty of coverage from the local papers. More on lace making here.
Between 1910 and 1912 the delegation was recalled to Ireland after two years, returning to skeptical questions about the effectiveness of fundraising methods used by the group. Between March 1911 and July 1912, £3054 was sent back to headquarters in Dublin. Fr O'Flanagan was unhappy about the amount raised and compared it unfavorably with the amount collected "by a handful of Chinese washerwomen in Chicago for a library in Peiking."
He returned to his clerical work in Roscommon Town under the bishop Dr. Clancy, and remained there for two years. Fr Michael also visited Rome, where he was invited to preach the Advent lectures in 1912 and the Lenten lectures in 1914.
The centenary march to Cloonerco bog, June 2015.
In late July 1914 Fr Michael was transferred to Cliffoney by Bishop Coyne. He spent 15 months in the area, which he knew well from his days as a student in Summerhill. At first he rented one of the Lodges at Mullaghmore, which, despite the distance to Cliffoney had its advantages:
?My predecessor Fr. Scott, had rooms in the house popularly known as the “Hotel”, situated on the northwest corner of Cliffoney crossroads. The landlord of the house, brother of the Parish Priest I had left in Roscommon, occupied rooms in the building along with his tenant. The situation did not appeal to me. I rented one of the lodges at Mullaghmore. It was three miles from Cliffoney and the double journey of three miles was added to most of my sick calls and stations, but it was just beside the sea and that brought up for everything. It was there I learned the pleasure of swimming at night. Every night just before going to bed, I put on an overcoat and a pair of slippers, and marched down to the head of the Pier. When one goes out swimming at night, at least in Mullaghmore at that time of the year, every stroke starts thousands of little phosphorescent lights shining in the water, with the result that one feels surrounded by a halo like the picture of a saint. I kept up this practice of swimming at night until I left Mullaghmore about the middle of November.
Fr O'Flanagan lectured widely around the country during 1915; his topics included criticism of the Congested Districts Board, whom he felt were not working quickly enough to distribute land and alleviate distress; he felt that the C. D. B. was really a mechanism to facilitate emigration. During this time he became known for his call to 'Stick to the Oats,' a call to Irish people to resist pressure to grow extra wheat for the British war effort, when they should be feeding themselves. Fr O'Flanagan was outspokenly critical of any effort to conscript young Irish men to join the British Army.
2015 centenary turf stack and tricolor.
His sermons were monitored by the R. I. C. from the barracks next door to St Molaise's church. Fr O'Flanagan is quoted as saying:
'Men and women of Cliffoney and Grange, the Germans may be here any time now. You need not worry as the RIC have the situation well in hand...... we have twenty policemen in Cliffoney, Grange and Drumcliffe who will see that your crops are destroyed and then, with their twenty rifles they will keep back the German army and navy'.
During his fifteen months serving in Cliffoney, Fr Michael upset Bishop Coyne several times within a few months. At the end of June 1915, he gathered the local people and led them on a march to the contested turf banks in Cloonerco, where access to fuel was being denied by the slow-moving Congested Districts Board. A stand-off with the local R.I.C. led to Fr. Michael cutting the first sods of turf on the bog; subsequently several banks of illigeal turf were cut, so much so that the extra turf was stacked against the old school in Cliffoney village, across the street from the R.I.C. barracks. In addition the stack of turf was draped with a tricolor and a banner bearing the words: ?“ÁR MÓIN FÉIN”.
In July of 1915 when veteran Fenian Jeramiah O'Donovan Rossa died in New York, a massive funeral was organised by Tom Clarke and a committee of leading nationalists, which took place on August 1st in Glasnevan cemetary in Dublin. Fr Michael's was invited to attend by the O'Donovan Rossa family to led the prayers and speech at the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa on August 1st. Fr Michael attended the family during the funeral, delivered a fiery oration over the coffin at the City Hall, and recited the prayers in Irish at the graveside in Glasnevin cemetery.
Mrs Mary Jane O'Donovan Rossa, Fr Michael O'Flanagan, Eileen O'Donovan Rossa and Tom Clarke; the image: National Library of Ireland.
"The coffin was then carried the short distance to the grave. Those admitted to the graveside formed a square and Father O'Flanagan recited the burial service and prayers in Irish. When he was finished Pádraig Pearse stepped forward to deliver the funeral oration, a speech that would leave its mark on Irish history.
As Pearse finished the crowd stood in silence for some moments before breaking into applause and cheers. Then, in a further act of defiance, the firing party stood forward and fired three volleys over the grave, followed by the Last Post."
Glasnevin Trust 2015
The third offence was speaking out at a meeting in Sligo court house, where T. W. Russell, the vice-president of the Board of Agriculture, was calling for Irish farmers to increase tillage production to support the British war effort.
Fr Michael was moved to Crossna in the parish of Ardcarne, close to Boyle and not far from where he grew up. His letters show that he was not unhappy with the more central location of his new parish, but felt he could do much good if sent back among the people of Cliffoney.
Tthe bishop's grief and afflictions did not stop the ink flowing out of Fr O'Flanagan's pen, and he published a series of articles during the spring and summer of 1916. He wrote three major pieces, a critique of the CDB, a piece on corruption in public life, and his thoughts on the nationalist relationship of the north of Ireland, all of which stirred up plenty of debate and comments in the letters pages.
Fr Michael had no knowledge of the Easter Rising, he was grounded in Crossna at the time, following the Bishop's orders to stay within the bounds of the parish.
In the early months of 1917 Fr Michael "took off the muzzle" and was instrumental in pushing for a nationalist candidate to stand and contest the Irish National Party in the 'Election of the Snows' as the Roscommon by-election where Count Plunkett was elected as an independent candidate, eventually to abstain from Westminister and merge with Sinn Féin. The recently discovered collection of papers has an account of the election written by Fr. Michael in March of 1920:
"On Monday morning I returned from Crossna and I sat in the motorcar outside the Courthouse while the votes were being counted. I had never at any time any serious doubt about the result of the election. Two weeks before the poll, I was asked in a hotel in Carrick what I thought would be the result. I said that unless we beat the combined vote of the other two candidates by five hundred, I would not be satisfied.
Count Horace Plunkett's election kick-started the Sinn FÈin election campaign which saw them wipe the Irish National Party, the remenants of the Home Rule Party, from the political map. Count Plunkett was awarded the Freedom of Sligo on St. Patrick's Day, 1917. Father Michael applied to Bishop Coyne for permission to speak at the event, but he was prihibited from speaking at political meetings without written permission. Arthur Griffith
In June of 1918 Fr Michael was given the freedom of Sligo, and a reception was held in the Town Hall, attended by some two thousand people who cheered themselves hoarse.
Fr. O'Flanagan was one of the principle speaker at hundreds of gatherings and rallies across the country.
THE BISHOP OF CORK LEAVES A MEETING
The Bishop of Cork had promised to preside at a meeting in that city to extend an invitation to President Wilson, but on learning that the Standing Committee of Sinn FÈin had nominated the Rev. Michael O'Flanagan as the principal speaker, his lordship wrote to say that he could not take the chair at a meeting to which a priest is deputed, whose relations with his own bishop are not satisfactory according to ecclesiastical law.
On the day of the meeting, Sunday, it was learned that Father O'Flanagan would not be present, and the Bishop accordingly presided. But among the correspondence read was a letter from Father O'Flanagan which was received with such prolonged and vociferous cheering that the Bishop rose and said: "Gentlemen, you will see by a letter in the Evening Echo last night I refused to attend this meeting on a certain contingency. Now, after this demonstration, I will leave the meeting."
His lordship then left, and was followed by all the clergy of the diocese.
The Tablet, 28th December 1918
The Fr. O'Flanagan Sinn FÈin Hall in Cliffoney was burned by the Auxiliaries in October 1920.
Foreward from the memoir, a remarkable story which we have called From Cliffoney to Crosna, self published in October of 1916.
Republican Envoy 1921
Breaking with de Valera 1926
Suspension from Sinn Féin 1936.
The Spanish Civil War.
In 1936 a bitter civil war erupted in Spain when a Republican government was overthorwn in a Nationalist military coup. Fr. O' Flanagan emerged from his study in the National Library, where he was working on the County Histories, to campaign for the Republicans, and he got no support f
Transcription of John O'Donovan's Ordinance Survey work, a mammoth task:
Typescripts of all the OS Letters were prepared, under the editorship of Rev. Michael OíFlanagan, in the years 1927-30. Each typescript volume includes a detailed index. A full set is available for consultation in the Reading Room of the Academy Library. Copies of the typescripts are also available in selected Irish research libraries.
Sample.: typrscript for County Waterford.
Irish Phonetics 1904
Representative of the Gaelic League in America 1910 - 1912
'Michael O'Flanagan's ministerial responsibilities centered on Cliffoney but they also extended to the island of Inishmurray some four to five miles off coast. Inishmurray is a wonderfully beautiful island, uninhabited since 1948. It is the site of a monastic settlement founded by St Molaise and is now a favorite visiting place for archaeological students.
According to the historian of the island, Dr Patrick Heraughty, at its height the population of Inishmurray numbered one hundred and two persons in 1880. When, in November 1948, the islanders came to the mainland, population had fallen to forty-six. The Inishmurray islanders were dispensed from obligation to Sunday mass. Once a year, usually in May, the curate at Cliffoney or Grange said a station mass on the island. On other Sundays the islanders gathered to say the rosary at the same time as mass was celebrated at the parish church in Cliffoney.
Doubtless, Fr O'Flanagan, who had an inveterate interest in people like those at Inishmurray, would have visited the island more than once during his time at Cliffoney. An article written by him for the Catholic Bulletin pays tribute to the islanders' devotion to the rosary, and the Coroín Mhuire. 'In the dim twilight the same islanders, like other islanders along our coast, may be found reciting the rosary with equal fervor on the swelling waters of the Atlantic.'
'.....I also availed of this opportunity to discuss the case of Father O'Flanagan. I reminded His Excellency of the disgraceful way in which Father O'Flanagan had been treated because of the fact that he stood up for the rights and liberties of the people of Ireland. I pointed out to him that the action of Father O'Flanagan in Cavan had been later fully justified by the united Hierarchy themselves when they passed their resolutions against the right of the English Government to conscript our people.
I also pointed out to him that if Father O'Flanagan had been guilty of the most heinous offence he could not possibly have been treated worse than he was by his Bishop. I suggested that his shameful treatment was due to and purely only to the political bias of his Bishop and of Cardinal Logue, and I suggested to him with all respect that this treatment ought not to be allowed to continue.
I told him that I knew that the Archbishop of the diocese had intervened and had made an effort to settle the matter; that Dr. Gilmartin had suggested terms which Father O'Flanagan agreed to accept, but that though the Archbishop of the Province was fully satisfied, that these terms would meet the case, the Bishop of Father O'Flanagan's diocese would not accept them. I asked that this persecution should end.
His Excellency pointed out to me that this was a matter between Father O'Flanagan and his Ordinary, and as such it was very difficult for him or any other outsider to intervene. He said it was a most delicate matter, but that he would think about it.
Before leaving the subject I made him acquainted with the strong views of the Irish people on the matter and said that it would be a great blessing if he could see his way to intervene and bring about an early settlement.'
Sean T. O'Ceallaigh,
'....Within a week from the date of that meeting we held our first meeting of the new standing committee. There were only six or seven persons present, viz: James O'Meara, Mrs. Wyse-Power, Father O'Flanagan, I think Alderman Tom Kelly, Paudeen O'Keeffe as secretary, and myself. I mention this meeting specially, because on leaving No. 6 Harcourt St. at about a quarter to twelve that night, I was speaking to Father O'Flanagan at the Trinity College corner of Grafton Street.
Some church clock rang out the hour of twelve and Father O'Flanagan said to me: "Pat, I have nowhere to go. Up to this moment I still belonged to my parish, but now I am suspended. I had to make a choice today before I left Roscommon whether to come to attend this important meeting of the standing committee or stay at home as I had not the permission of my parish priest to leave the parish".
He said that the meeting was important because it was the first held since the leaders were arrested. It was also important for him to attend because a full meeting was necessary.
Father O'Flanagan said he had to choose between staying at home, thereby giving the British authorities the satisfaction of knowing that he would not attend the meeting which, from the national point would look bad, or falling out with his Bishop by coming to the meeting. He mentioned that if Canon Cummins had been at home he would have given him permission to leave, but that as he was not there he had to leave without permission. He said he knew that his Bishop would suspend him, which he did.....'
Ireland To-day, Political and Economic.
Illustrated with slides.
Of all the men who played a part in the recent Irish National Revolution the most interesting and forceful personality is Fr Michael O'Flanagan. After the collapse of the insurrection of Easter Week 1916 and the execution of its leaders, it was he who rallied the people of Ireland, gathering them into the Sinn FÈin organization and in two years blotted out the old compromising political party political party which had held Ireland in its grip for a quarter of a century. He is therefore rightly known in Ireland as the Father of Dail Eireann.
Since 1904 when he visited America for the first time, he has spoken to many hundreds of audiences all over the United States, Canada and Australia. Up to the present he has mainly appealed to Irish and Irish-Americans, but from now on he intends to address himself to the general American public.
The fact that he is recognized as the moving spirit and the leading orator of the most dramatic National movement of our time will commend him to multitudes in America who love Ireland and who desire to gain a better understanding of the past history and present day problems of that fascinating country.
Cathal Brugha, first Chairman of Dail Eireann:
Eamonn de Valera, President of the Republic of Ireland:
Very Rev. Fr. Cavanagh, President of Notre Dame, Indiana:
The Irish Times:
Rev. Michael O'Flanagan was the main driving force behind the candidate. For twelve days and nights he was up and down the constituency going like a whirlwind, and talking in impassioned language to people at every village and street corner and cross roads.
The Observer, London:
The Rev. Michael O'Flanagan ranks in Ireland and the world over as an orator of brilliancy, sincerity and honesty.
The Sunday Herald, Boston:
Many Irish and descendents of Irish have been aroused by this eloquent priest's thrilling words, which go straight to the heart and touch its slumbering patriotism, kindling it to a flame of love of country and nationality.
The Leader, Dublin:
He had wit like clear golden honey and he had charm. His thoughts were the thoughts of a nation builder, and he had delightful anecdotes. But need I describe Father O'Flanagan's speech? Are his speeches not known all over Ireland and in every country of the world in which the Irish reside?
Cutting turf on Cloonerco bog in memory of Father Michael O'Flanagan on Saturday 25th June 2016.
Irish Phonetics | 1908 Lace tour | 1915 Cliffoney | 1918 Speech | 1923 Australia | 1934 Speech | Trad sessions