Michael O'Flanagan

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Father Michael O'Flanagan (Irish: An tAthair Mícheál Ó Flannagáin) (1876 – 7 August 1942) was a Roman Catholic priest, Irish language scholar and Irish republican active in Sinn Féin, of which he was President in 1933–35.

Early life and education[edit]

O'Flanagan was born at Kilkeeven, near Castlerea, County Roscommon, the elder son of Edward Flanagan, a smallholding farmer and Mary Crawley. O'Flanagan's parents were bilingual in Irish and English, engaged in Fenian politics, and members of the Land League. Michael went to national school at Cloonboniffe and secondary school as a boarder at Summerhill College in Sligo, growing very tall. He matriculated in St Patrick's College, Maynooth in 1894 and was a brilliant student, winning prizes in theology, scripture, canon law, Irish language, education, and natural science. In later years he filed patents for protective goggles and house insulation products. He was ordained for the Diocese of Elphin on 15 August 1900 and returned to Summerhill College as Professor of Irish until 1904. The position kindled his enthusiasm for the Gaelic revival. His organisation of the Sligo Feis, a nationalist festival, attracted the attention of Sinn Féin.[1]

Early political activity[edit]

O'Flanagan supported rural development and Irish self-reliance. He was a skilled orator and started agitating for radical social and political change. In 1904 he was invited to speak on a tour of the United States by his bishop John Joseph Clancy and Horace Plunkett. He was sent to find investment for agricultural and industrial projects in the west of Ireland. In August 1910 he was elected to the executive of the Gaelic League with Fionan MacColuim. His clerical career was hampered by his outspokenness, but through Clancy's political sympathy he was appointed a curate in Roscommon in 1912. The same year, Clancy died and his successor, Bernard Coyne was a conservative who deprecated O'Flanagan's perceived modernism. With his ecclesiastical prospects dim, O'Flanagan began to focus on his political activity.

In 1913, the "advanced nationalist" Keating Branch took control of the Gaelic League and O'Flanagan was elected to the Standing Committee for two years. After the outbreak of the First World War, he was sent[by whom?] to neutral Italy to advocate Irish independence in Rome. On 1 August 1914, Coyne transferred him to Cliffoney and Grange parish in north county Sligo. There he called for land redistribution to his parishioners, condemned the export of food from the area, and demanded a continuation of turbary rights. In newspaper pieces he contrasted Irish opinion-makers' outrage against Germany's contemporary treatment of Belgium with their indifference to England's ongoing treatment of Ireland.[2]

In 1915 O'Flanagan was transferred to Cootehall, County Roscommon and was sanctioned by Coyne when accused of making a speech disloyal to the Crown: he had spoken against war-related taxes at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa .[3] He also offended nationalists in a letter to the Freeman's Journal in June 1916 when he supported David Lloyd George's proposal to implement the 1914 Home Rule Act outside the six counties.[4] He felt partition was preferable to continued unionist.

At the 1917 Sinn Féin convention, the Easter Rising veterans merged with Arthur Griffith's older organisation, with Éamon de Valera becoming president, and Griffith and O'Flanagan as vice presidents, for a three-year term. O'Flanagan proved a highly effective party manager. After the May 1918 "German Plot", Sinn Féin leaders were interned, but O'Flanagan was exempted as a priest. During the autumn general election campaign he toured the country talking to candidates and crowds. He was censored by the bishop but stated that it was essential to Ireland that East Cavan elect a Sinn Féin candidate. Nonetheless he became more queasy about the increasing level of violence deployed by the Irish Republican Army, and shrank from appearing with them in public. The Sinn Féin candidates abstained from Westminster and instead proclaimed an Irish Republic with Dáil Éireann as its parliament. At the First Dáil's inauguration in January 1919, O'Flanagan recite prayers and was appointed its chaplain. On the Republic's Land Executive he was responsible for propaganda and agriculture in County Roscommon. By December 1920, with de Valera in the United States, O'Flanagan was acting president of the party.

Treaty and after[edit]

In late January 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, O'Flanagan and judge James O'Connor met informally in London with Sir Edward Carson to discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict, but without success.[5] He also had talks with prime minister Lloyd George and found Dominion status for the Irish Free State acceptable.[6] His critics accused him of waving a "white flag" but when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921, O'Flanagan like his friend John J. O'Kelly was strongly opposed, and he left Ireland in fear of his life, arriving in the United States in November 1921.[contradictory] In 1923 he went to Australia and met the politically sympathetic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Daniel Mannix, before being deported. He returned to Ireland from the United States in April 1925.

In March 1926, the Sinn Féin ard fheis narrowly defeated de Valera's proposal to enter the Free State Oireachtas if the Oath of Allegiance were removed. O'Flanagan sided with the majority. De Valera left to found Fianna Fáil, which eclipsed Sinn Féin at the June 1927 election. O'Flanagan remained with the reduced Sinn Féin. In 1927 he was suspended from clerical duties because of his nationalist activities. Bishop Coyne finally died in July 1926, which lifted the ban on his ministry,[contradictory] though he was never promoted in the hierarchy. He expressed brotherhood with union leader James Larkin and some Marxist sentiment but never joined any left-wing group, though he maintained his radical stance on social issues in the republican journal An Phoblacht.[4]

O'Flanagan undertook academic work at this time, editing for publication in 1927–8 several volumes of the 1830s Ordnance Survey of Ireland notebooks. He was commissioned by the government to write a history of the Irish language for schools; five of the ten parts were published. He was elected president of Sinn Féin from October 1933 to 1935, when he was expelled from the party for taking a state job on the Placenames Commission and participating in a Radio Éireann programme.[7] Bernard O'Higgins and Mary MacSwiney resigned in protest at O'Flanagan's presidency.[clarification needed][6] In 1936 he took part in a re-enactment of the Dáil re-opening, interpreting it as a triumph,[vague] and he was expelled by the purists in his party;[contradictory] later re-joining. He sympathised with Italian fascists when they invaded Abyssinia because they were enemies of Britain. He was one of the few Catholic priests to defend the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War.[8]

On 3 April 1939, he was restored to his faculties by a bishop Edward Doorly.[contradictory] In retirement he moved to Dublin, and acted as chaplain of two convents and a hospital. He died in a Dublin nursing home of stomach cancer on 7 August 1942.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McGowan, Joe. In the Shadow of Benbulben. Aeolus. ISBN 0952133407. Retrieved 16 October 2007. 
  2. ^ The Spark[full citation needed]
  3. ^ The Leader, 1916.[full citation needed]
  4. ^ a b Murray, Patrick (2004). "O'Flanagan, Michael (1876–1942)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  5. ^ "Memorandum by James O'Connor of an interview with Edward Carson from James O'Connor". Documents on Irish Foreign Policy. Royal Irish Academy. January 1921. No. 129 UCDA P150/1902. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Dictionary of Irish National Biography[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Cronin, Seán (1981). Irish nationalism: a history of its roots and ideology. Continuum. p. 279. ISBN 9780826400628. 
  8. ^ Ó Conluain, Proinsias (17 October 1976). "The Staunchest Priest". Documentary on One. RTÉ Radio 1. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
Party political offices
Preceded by
?
Jennie Wyse Power (1911–)
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
1917–1923
with Arthur Griffith (1917–1922)
Succeeded by
Kathleen Lynn and P. J. Ruttledge
Preceded by
Brian O'Higgins
Leader of Sinn Féin
1933–1935
Succeeded by
Cathal Ó Murchadha

External link: http://www.frmichaeloflanagan.com