Marching to Cloonerco Bog, Sunday 28 June 2015.
Marching to Cloonerco Bog, Sunday 28 June 2015.

Cliffoney Event Remembers The Rebel Priest

Press Release by John Joe Gallagher, 5th June 2015

A commemorative weekend will be held in Cliffoney on the last weekend in June to remember one of Ireland’s forgotten heroes, Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, described by Cathal Brugha as "the staunchest priest who ever lived."

Fr. Michael, a Roscommon native arrived as curate in Cliffoney in 1914 to support the parish priest Fr. Shannon who was unwell.

The Staunchest Priest, RTE radio documentary on the life of Fr. MIchael O'Flanagan from 1976.

After numerous efforts to sort out turbary rights for the local people with the Congested Districts Board, Fr. Michael, against the advice of his bishop addressed his parishioners in Cliffoney after mass on the 29th June 2015 and in a passionate address urged them to go with him to the bog in Cloonerco next day to cut their turf.

As the turf was saved over the summer months the local RIC arrested some of those involved. Undaunted the turf was taken to Cliffoney village and stacked outside the old national school building, across from the RIC barracks.

A tricolour and banner that read 'Ár móin féin D’ár muintir féin' – Our own turf for our own people were placed on the stack.

2015 centenary turf stack and tricolour.
2015 centenary turf stack and tricolour.

Shortly afterwards Fr O’Flanagan was reprimanded by his bishop, Dr. Coyne, and transferred to Crossna parish in Roscommon. The parishioners of Clifoney reacted by going in large numbers to Sligo to request the return of their curate but the bishop did not relent.

The response of the Cliffoney people was to close the church by barricading doors and windows to prevent any one from entering. Each Sunday they gathered in the church grounds and recited the rosary.

The impasse lasted until Christmas Eve when following a request from Fr. O’Flanagan, the church was reopened and the saga which became known as the 'Cliffoney Rebellion' was brought to an end.

Trad session.
Trad session.

Coolaney native, Dr. Michael Farry author of ‘Sligo: The Irish Revolution 1912-1923’ says

"Fr Michael O'Flanagan played a crucial role in the development of the national spirit in Cliffoney and in County Sligo. His turbary rights campaign harkened back to the Land League days."

During the O’Flanagan weekend a number of the events of 1915 will be recreated, including a walk to Cloonerco bog on Sunday 28th where Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, a relative of Fr. Michael’s will cut a sod of turf recalling the evens of one hundred years ago.

A turf stack will be built and decorated outside the newly renamed Fr O'Flanagan hall on Saturday 27th June while a traditional ceili involving local musicians and dancers will take place in the hall.

The life of Fr. MIchael O'Flanagan from 2018: Directed and edited by Marcus Howard. Fr Michael O'Flanagan was involved in every aspect of the Irish revolutionary period from officiating at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral to supporting his people’s fight for turf cutting rights, who rewarded him by boarding up the local church when he was removed from the parish. He helped to organize the Irish struggle after the execution of the 1916 leaders and was Vice President and Acting President of Sinn Fein.

The rosary will be recited in the church grounds on each of the three evenings at 6pm.

There will be an exhibition of newspaper cuttings and a dramatic presentation on the life of Fr. O'Flanagan on the Friday evening in the hall.

Creative writing and art competitions are being organised for the children in the local primary schools and there will be demonstrations of local crafts.

The local public houses will host traditional music and ballad singing evenings. Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, MEP, will deliver the closing address to the event in the hall.

Presentation of awards to the national school prizewinners, Sunday 28 June 2015.
Presentation of awards to the national school prizewinners, Sunday 28 June 2015.

It has been said that O'Flanagan’s experiences in Cliffoney marked the beginning of his involvement in national politics. In October 1917 he was elected vice-president of Sinn Féin.

His leadership was pivotal in Sinn Féin’s general election victory of 1918 as he campaigned throughout the country and was made a Freeman of Sligo in June 1918.

Dr. Farry declares that:

"O'Flanagan's leading role in Sinn Féin led to the early organisation of Sinn Féin clubs in Sligo making it, by autumn 1917, one of the best organised Sinn Féin counties in the country."

O’Flanagan served as president of Sinn Fein from 1933 to 1935. He was an outstanding public speaker and it was he who gave the oration in July 1915 while the remains of O Donovan Rossa lay in state.

Michael O‘Flanagan was a man of many talents. In later life he was commissioned to write histories of the counties of Ireland in Irish and English.

He died on 7th August 1942 and he was given a state funeral.

Contact: The Secretary, The Old RIC Barracks, Cliffoney, Co Sligo.