Sean O'Casey - Autobiographies II:

Drums Under the Windows & Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well

Father Michael O'Flanagan.

"A shadow showing a familiar figure passed by the window, and formed a memory in his mind: of Father Michael O'Flanagan. An unselfish man, a brilliant speaker, with a dangerous need of more respect for bishops dressed in a little brief authority; a priest spoiled by too many good qualities.

He had been priest of the poverty-stricken parish of Cliffoney in Sligo, and when, one cold, ice-proud winter, he saw his people shivering for the lack of fuel, he said to them - Go ye even unto the bog lands where there is turf and to spare, and gather all ye need; and they said to him - How can we venture to do this thing, seeing as the bogland is owned by one who got the place from God? And he answered them, saying - Let him, of his plenty, give unto you of your need.

They answered, saying - We have gone to him, and, behold, he turned us away, using us despite fully, setting the dogs on us, and saying - Begone, for none but those who can buy are welcome here. And Father O'Flanagan, raising his hand to heaven, saith unto them - Go, take what ye need, for it is written, The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; so go again, for the Lord will not refuse ye in your extremity; and take what ye need, and the Lord will bless the doing of it. And they went, and took the turf, every man according to his need; and the owner thereof was afraid, for he was but one, and they were many.

Sketch for a portrait of Fr. Michael O'Flanagan by Sean Keating, 1936.
Fr. O'Flanagan in 1937.

But it came to the ears of the righteous bishops whose deep affection and profound respect for the common people, the children of God, could not be denied by any fair-minded person.

The bishops knew that this sort of thing would not be good for the people; that the finest way of keeping them close to God was to dis-encourage any attempt to cock them up with any kind of comfort.

Their flock came first with them. So they laid hold of the foolish Father O'Flanagan and drove him from his parish.

Time to do it, too, for in a few places held by the Republicans, red flags were fluttering over the roofs. God Almighty, what was catholic Ireland coming to! Another priest was sent to replace Father O'Flanagan; but the people had locked the chapel door, and so the poor man had to climb in through the window to celebrate Mass; but lacking any support of thought or action, the poor people of Cliffoney soon had to submit, and resume their old pilgrimage along the way of hunger and cold.

If they were cold for want of fuel and had no money to pay for it, then they must remain cold; if they were hungry for want of food, and had no money to pay for it, then they must remain hungry; and all these light afflictions would work for them an exceeding weight of glory in the world to come.

So Father O'Flanagan wandered here and there, subdued, beaten, making odd speeches that became calmer and more reticent as the days passed, till he died in a quiet corner, forgotten by almost all, save the kindly bishops, who shook their mitred heads and murmured - Poor misguided man whom we could not help to a higher honor than a quiet death."