Fr Michael O’Flanagan and the 1916 Rising
Sir, – Writing of Sinn Féin and its victory in the December 1918 general election, Fintan O’Toole writes: “Its leading propagandist, Fr Michael O’Flanagan, had strongly opposed the Rising and allegedly referred to those who took part as ‘murderers’” (“The 1918 election was an amazing moment for Ireland”, December 8th).
In his 2004 book, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmaid Ferriter had previously maintained: “Mrs Tom Barry’s statement to the Bureau of Military History recorded that at the time of the Rising in 1916, Fr Michael O’Flanagan, later vice-president of Sinn Féin, had remarked of the fighters in the General Post Office, ‘let these people burn to death, they are murderers’.”
Mrs Barry had indeed named the 1916 Easter Week curate at Dublin’s pro-cathedral as a “Father Michael O’Flanagan”, who was at that time a parish curate in his native Roscommon, and already a public figure and member of the Sinn Féin executive.
She had, however, two decades after the Rising, inaccurately recalled the name of the pro-cathedral curate she then encountered.
For he was neither a Michael nor an O’Flanagan, but a Fr John Flanagan. In his 1964 book The Easter Rebellion, Max Caulfield related how Fr John went on to serve as an “unofficial chaplain” to the GPO garrison, and the curate’s own account would be reproduced by Keith Jeffrey in his 2006 book, The GPO and the Easter Rising.
When Cathal Brugha presided over the inaugural meeting of Dáil Éireann on January 21st, 1919, he hailed Fr Michael O’Flanagan as “the staunchest priest who ever lived in Ireland”. But mud sticks. It is now high time for all concerned to remove the slur cast on Fr O’Flanagan’s character. – Yours, etc,
The error in the statement by Mrs Tom Barry (Leslie Price) was rectified in the paperback edition of Diarmaid Ferriter’s 2015 book A Nation and Not a Rabble. – Letters Ed