Eileen Flynn, teacher sacked in 1982, dies

Thu, Sep 11, 2008, 01:00

THE DEATH has taken place of Wexford school teacher Eileen Flynn, who became an important figure in the history of the separation between the Catholic Church and the State.

In August 1982 Ms Flynn was dismissed from her job as an English and history teacher at the Holy Faith Convent in New Ross, Co Wexford. At the time she was sacked, Ms Flynn was unmarried with a baby son and was living with the baby's father, a separated man, Richie Roche.

Two months after Ms Flynn gave birth she received a letter from the school manager informing her that following her decision not to resign from the school her position was being terminated.

The letter referred to complaints from parents about her lifestyle and of her open rejection of the "norms of behaviour" and the ideals the school existed to promote. It also reminded her of the "scandal" already caused.

Ms Flynn sought to be reinstated in her post but lost her unfair dismissal case at the Employment Appeals Tribunal and at the Circuit Court. She finally lost her appeal to the High Court on March 8th, 1985. In his reserved judgment, Mr Justice Declan Costello said: "I do not think that the respondents over-emphasise the power of example on the lives of the pupils in the school and they were entitled to conclude that the appellant's conduct was capable of damaging their efforts to foster in their pupils norms of behaviour and religious tenets which the school had been established to promote."

Her case caused a polarisation of opinion in Ireland at the time, of both outrage and agreement. The case became a cause célèbrebecause it occurred in a decade which saw divisive referendums on divorce and abortion.

Writing to this newspaper in 1995, Sister Rosemary Duffy of the Holy Faith Order wrote: "Eileen Flynn was dismissed because in the town where most of the pupils and parents of the school lived she openly and despite warnings to the contrary continued to live a lifestyle flagrantly in conflict with the norms which the school sought to promote."

In an interview with The Irish Timesin 1999, Ms Flynn said: "At the time it was a very frightening situation for me. Look at it this way: I had a small child and my livelihood had just been taken away from me.

"People were terrified that there was going to be a witch-hunt, that my case would just be the first. Yes the school won, but it was a pyrrhic victory."

Ms Flynn spoke of how she had not expected to win due to the power of the church. "At that stage its reputation was still untarnished," she said.

Eileen Flynn went on to marry Richie Roche over a decade ago. She died on Tuesday and is survived by her husband and their five children. She will be buried in Co Wexford on Friday.