Fr Michael O’Flanagan – the Republican Priest sss


Born in 1876 to farming stock at Kilkeevan Castlerea, Michael as a boy attended the National School at Cloonbonniffe where his intellect brought him to the fore. He was duly sent to the diocesan college of Summerhill in Sligo and then to Maynooth college, after which he was ordained in Sligo Cathedral in 1900. He returned to teach at Summerhill for a number of years but in 1904 in an attempt to pay off the rising debts at Loughglynn Church and Convent, Fr O’Flanagan was sent on a fund-raising mission to the States by his bishop, John Joseph Clancy. While here his philanthropic activities brought him to the attention of prominent republican Irish-Americans and these contacts proved to be of great benefit on his return to Ireland and in future years.

After some time spent in Rome, Fr O’Flanagan eventually returned to the country of his birth and in 1914 he was appointed the curate of Cliffoney, in northern Sligo. Here he witnessed the injustices endured by locals as authorities, alongside the Congested District Board, imposed sanctions on turf cutting under the guise of the wartime emergency restrictions. He began a long communication with the Board but the return of turbary rights to the locals was not forthcoming, leaving them worried for the coming cold winter months. Not accepting this defeat on the 29th June 1915 he stood before a gathering outside his church beseeching “what I advise the people to do is for every man who wants a turf bank and can work a turf spade to go to the waste bog tomorrow and cut plenty of turf”

The following morning over 150 people marched with Fr O’Flanagan to the bog. They proceeded to cut their turf every day until mid August, at which time the Board had secured an injunction against them. By now however the turf had been saved and piled up across the road from the Cliffoney RIC barracks with a cover defiantly bearing the Irish words “Ár Móin Féin” meaning “Our Own Turf.” The following year turbary rights were restored but the whole incident, dubbed “The Cloonerco Bog Fight” by local reporters, had seen O’Flanagan go against not only the authorities but his own bishop, Dr Bernard Coyne.

For this latest act of rebelliousness Coyne duly transferred him to Crossna parish, in Roscommon, with a warning to curtail his ideals. However in 1917 O’Flanagan was once again thrust to the forefront of Republicanism in the country. In the very first parliamentary victory for Sinn Féin in the country, he played a leading role in ensuring their candidate, Count Plunkett, romped home in the North Roscommon by-election. Bishop Coyne and the Catholic hierarchy had by now truly wearied of the troublesome priest and revoked his clerical duties forbidding him also from making any public lectures. Nonetheless at the first sitting of the newly proclaimed Dáil Eireann in January 1919, it fell to Fr O’Flanagan to recite the invocation with him additionally being appointed as chaplain to the House.

Retaliation to the formation of this revolutionary parliament was inevitable. Arrests and intimidation of members of this first Dáil by the British forces in Ireland intensified as the country entered the War of Independence. With De Valera absent from the country in the United States, and Griffiths imprisoned, O’Flanagan as vice-president and de facto leader of Sinn Féin, began discourse to bring an end to the fighting. In the early 20’s O’Flanagan informally met with leading members of the Unionist movement to discuss ways of reaching an agreement. Later in London he met with the Prime Minister of England Lloyd George, with a similar objective, but these moves for some went too far. The impression back in the Irish Republic was that with these unsanctioned meetings the Irish cause was considerably weakened and consequently bargaining power reduced in future discussions. It is certainly thought that those ministers pressing for more militant action in Ireland began to have more influence with Lloyd George and the perceived lack of, or disjointed, leadership of the Irish encouraged this viewpoint. Perhaps in an effort to remove him from the front line he was sent by Dáil Eireann on a special mission to the United States and for several years campaigned for the republican movement there, albeit with a brief sojourn in Australia.

In 1925 following a request by De Valera, O’Flanagan returned to what was now the Irish Free State and the following March he attended the Sinn Féin Ard Feis. At this De Valera’s proposal to enter the Oireachtas, once the Oath of Allegiance were removed, was defeated with O’Flanagan siding with the small majority. With this setback De Valera left to found Fianna Fáil. This new party would overshadow Sinn Féin at the June 1927 election as the bulk of it’s members, along with public opinion, shifted to Fianna Fail making it now the leading Republican party in the country. Sinn Fein without the American financial backing that came with De Valera as it’s leader struggled to make a serious impact in Irish politics until 1957 when they once again contested elections in the Republic.

In this time Fr O’Flanagan served as leader of Sinn Féin from 1933-35 although he was still expelled from the party for participating in a Radio Eireann broadcast in early 1936. Sinn Féin had at the time a policy of abstentionism and frowned on the participation of O’Flanagan alongside other political parties, in a show commemorating the First Dáil of 1919.

In later years he retired to Dublin where he worked on historical manuscripts including John O’Donovan’s archaeological survey of Ireland and subsequently undertook a project to edit a vast compilation of the history of the 32 counties. Priestly duties had by now been restored, after over a dozen years, allowing him once again to celebrate mass and this he did at the Convalescing Home of the Sisters of Charity at Kilternan, and the Carmalite Convents at Kilmacud and Roebuck. Fr Michael O’Flanagan died 7 August 1942 just shy of his 66th birthday, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery beside Austin Stark, another Irish revolutionary. The throngs of mourners who lined the streets of Dublin as the funeral cortège passed a testament to the ‘staunchest priest who ever lived in Ireland’. (Cathal Brugha)


Anvil Keystone Patrick Street Castlerea sss

An anvil motif carved on the keystone is found on top on the laneway arch indicating that a smith was resident and working from this location sometime in the past. A ‘smithy’ is depicted here in the ordinance survey of c1895 on the road that was called in those days New Line. The name and road were comparatively new additions to the town when the map was drawn up signalling that the smithy and his family could have arrived within their own generation, as urbanisation occurred.
The closest census returns for this period, that of 1901, list a couple of possibilities including a Francis Hayden and a John McCormack who were both working as smiths on this road and may have been the resident worker on this site.


Sir William Wilde sss

Born in Castlerea in 1815 to Dr Thomas Wilde, an eminent provincial physician, William was educated at Elphin before entering the profession like his father. His career that followed was remarkable as he became the leading eye and ear surgeon in Europe revolutionising the practice of treating infections in particular. His first clinic in Dublin treated the blind poor for free and he also taught aural surgery techniques in probably the most respected teaching hospital in the country.
In addition to his surgical work Wilde was hugely involved with the mid-19th century census returns being tasked with analysing mortality rates at the time of the Great Famine in Ireland. For this pioneering work he received a knighthood in 1864.
Wilde was an accomplished contributor to medical journals throughout his life but he also wrote papers of historical and archaeological significance and published articles relating to folklore and legends.
For all that is praiseworthy about the man and his career though some aspects of his life were of a less laudable nature. His reputation was severely tarnished late on in his career when a long-term patient, and apparent mistress, brought a libel case against his wife alleging that Wilde had raped her in previous years. Wilde’s previous infidelities were no secret – even before his marriage, which produced Oscar, he had fathered one son, who Wilde trained as a doctor, and two daughters who tragically died. This case however was different and Victorian Dublin was shocked as sordid details of the proceedings unfolded especially when costs were awarded against the Wilde’s.
After the court case, and the ill feeling that it caused, William became reclusive retreating back to the west of the country and his beloved ‘Moytura’ overlooking River Corrib. In 1876, just as his son Oscar was beginning his literary life, Sir William Wilde passed away. He was buried in St Jerome’s cemetery in Dublin.


Scarlet Fever in 19th century Ireland sss

Before the advent of antibiotics and hygienic practices in the home a serious concern existed for parents of young children who were especially susceptible to infectious diseases common in the Victorian era. Across major European cities poor sanitation and overcrowding meant illnesses like typhus, cholera, influenza and smallpox were greatly feared and in many cases reached epidemic proportions. In 1846 Ireland, as the Great Famine tightened its grip on the country, many sought refuge in places like Glasgow and Liverpool bringing with them a form of typhus, known as ‘The Irish Typhus’ thus adding to problems already facing the city dwellers. By 1847 a new virulent form of this had enveloped the British Isles killing 30,000 in that year alone.

Back in Ireland meanwhile concerns for another infectious disease, Scarlet Fever, was making people anxious. Also known as Scarlatina, this is an illness caused by the Streptococci bacteria which causes sore throat, high temperature and swollen glands but was known to have more serious consequences in the past. Delays in diagnosing the Fever, and lax treatment in the early stages often resulted in a rapid spread of the infection and children caught up in the 19th century epidemics were seen to succumb to it within 48 hours.

Historically, it is known that many infections came from ingesting unpasteurised milk that had been handled by an infected carrier, but more commonly the disease was contacted within the family home from a loved one. Small cramped living quarters allowed the bacterial infection to spread through human contact while it also became airborne through coughing and sneezing, all which unfortunately passed the disease from one child to another. The fatal consequences were that whole families were wiped out within a matter of weeks where had the original patient been isolated, containment of the disease would have prevented extended losses.

Initially presenting as a sore throat with fever and ‘strawberry tongue’ where the tongue appeared coated in a white film, the infection progressed rapidly. A rash covered the body and the glands became swollen along with the tongue which caused breathing difficulties. Severe headaches, nausea and abdominal pain were also common but for the many who were unable to fight off the contagion death swiftly followed.

Even those lucky enough to survive were often left with debilitating long term effects including liver and kidney damage, meningitis, rheumatic fever, and pneumonia as their damaged immune system proved unable to fight off a secondary infection.

Present-day antibiotics, such as penicillin, have reduced the harmful effects of this ailment but as recently as the late 1880’s it was the most common infectious diseases causing death among children in Europe. Some regions recording deaths attributed to the disease exceed 30% fatalities surpassing even that of measles, whooping cough and diphtheria.

In 1892 the Fever visited the family of Moffit of Cloonsheevers, between the towns of Castlerea and Frenchpark, and the result was devastating. In early May the youngest child, Patrick, had contracted the infection and was already displaying concerning symptoms. By the 4th of the month he had died aged just 4½. Two days later his older sister passed away aged 7½ followed the next day by her older brother Edward who died from the disease aged 12½. The following day their brother Thomas died of the infection at 14 years of age and became the last child to die from the disease in the house leaving behind just one brother, John Moffit. He would have been about 10 years old at the time. Sadly within two weeks there was another loss in the house, with the children’s maternal grandmother Mary Quinn passing away of old age debilities while staying at the family home. It is probable that the bacterial infection that was present in the building, though not listed as a causal factor in her death, hastened her passing or perhaps watching four of her grandchildren die within a matter of days was simply too much for her to bear.

On the 29 June the children’s father Patt Moffit travelled the short distance to Frenchpark and registered all of the deaths that had taken place the previous month in his house, including his four young children and his mother-in-law. The location of the resting places of the departed children is unknown but a family plot is present at Fairymount and is the closest cemetery to Cloonsheevers townland.


Civil Death Registers


Castlerea Workhouse Stone sss

The stone dated 1841 comes from the original workhouse structure that was built around this time on a six acre site south of Castlerea town. Constructed using the design laid down by Poor Law Commissioner architect George Wilkinson it was one that was repeated to a great extent across the country as places to house the growing destitute Irish. Long thought lost to history the stone was located in recent times and enclosed by a local mason into a standing stone structure on the site of Bully’s Acre in Knockroe. (This term has been used regularly to describe famine or workhouse mass graves with the origin possibly stemming from the Irish word “buile” which can be used to describe someone who is insane)
Initially built to accommodate 1000 paupers the Union Workhouse was completed in 1842 but long running financial issues meant it would be four years until it was finally used to receive the poverty stricken. Running costs for the complex were dependant on the collection of Poor Rates from local landholders but as the famine gripped the country they were less inclined to pay causing lengthy delays and postponements. Furthermore the original cost of rates were set before the famine years and were later seen to be inadequate especially as inmate numbers exceeded capacity.
It was into this environment that the workhouse finally opened it’s doors to the starving masses waiting outside. Quickly the numbers became unbearable with the paupers huddled together in dormitories that became a breeding ground for disease, hunger and death.
Once inside inmates were separated from their families, often not seeing them again, with those that were capable being given menial manual jobs for the sustenance that they would receive. Men were tasked with breaking stones in the workhouse yard which were to be used as gravel for the many pointless famine roads being built while woman regularly worked at domestic duties and caring for the sick indoors. Even the older inmates were put to work with many mending clothes, spinning wool or picking oakum.
The work available however could never cope with the sheer numbers of destitute hungry and for many who entered the workhouse in Castlerea they would not leave alive.
Reports from the period describe in harrowing detail how when a person was near to death they were moved to an area at the rear of the building called the black room. Here they were allowed to die before their corpse was lowered from the window into a vast pit where it was covered with lime.
Details of the exact number of deaths at the workhouse and subsequent burials in Bully’s Acre are unclear but considering that Castlerea and Roscommon as a whole suffered such widespread losses during the famine years the figure is undoubtedly high.
During the Great Famine the population of Roscommon was particularly badly impacted with a population loss of 31% making it the worst hit county in the country


James Young Esq. of Harristown, Castlerea sss

Castlerea Petty Session Court on 17 Feb 1877 saw a case come before the magistrates that seemed almost routine at the time but had grave and unforeseen consequences. Malachy Fox and his brother John along with their friend John Flynn were charged with assaulting Timothy Finneran and Patt Morris in the town eight days previously. A guilty verdict promptly followed with the men being sentenced to two months hard labour – a considerably harsh judgement for the offence and it was duly appealed to the higher court.
During the appeal process two months later one Thomas Weldon began his attempts to influence proceedings. Outside the court he publicly met with the O’Conor Don, one of the ruling magistrates, where he appealed for leniency. He stated that an agreeable deal had been arrange between the parties and asked for the trial to be postponed.
O’Conor agreed to do all that he could to help however another magistrate, James Young of Harristown, was of a different opinion. He was adamant that the ruling must stand setting a precedent that such crimes would not be allowed to go unpunished in the town.
The judgement stood and an outraged Weldon departed the scene incensed.
In early June of that year James Young was dead. He had been shot twice on the grounds of his estate a short distance from Castlerea train station.
Investigations by the authorities eventually settled their attention on Weldon and his accomplice Bernard McHugh. On the day of the murder the men had been spotted in a car speeding away from the town towards Ballenagar as if in a panic. Further inquiries revealed that Young had recently fired McHugh’s father-in-law in a bitter dispute that caused great anguish to the family.
McHugh himself was strongly rumoured to have been one of the leading members of the Fenian Brotherhood, an underground republican movement seeking to unite Ireland and to sever links with England. One way of severing these ties was by removing the landlords putting Young directly at odds with the organisation and it’s ideology. When he raised bog rents earlier in the year it seems that he effectively signed his own death warrant.
The prosecutors for the murder trial reiterated all these facts in their opening address and then called their main witness, a man named Launcelot Clark. This man had been an associate of both Weldon and McHugh for many years but contrariwise he had also been supplying information to the authorities about their activities. He began by stating that it was a known fact among people that McHugh was a prominent leader of the Fenian movement that he held great authority in the district.
McHugh had himself told him that he was the armourer for the whole of Connacht and a great many guns went through his hands. Clark said that he had attended many Fenian meetings with the two accused and heard men discuss overthrowing British rule beginning with the landlords.
However the most damning evidence he offered occurred a few weeks before the murder was ever committed.
He had been in a store managed by Weldon in Castlerea when Weldon said they it had been arranged for Young to be shot. They had cast lots and it had fallen on McHugh to do the shooting using a revolver that Weldon had given him. Just days after the shooting Clark said he received a message from Weldon to meet him in Carson’s Hotel in the town. They talked for a while and Weldon asked him for his contribution to the shooting. He paid £1 and this was given directly to McHugh who acknowledged that he had shot Young.
The defence case then began with them going to great efforts to belittle Clark and his testimony. They portrayed him as a man of low ethics who should not be trusted and consequently his description of the accused, themselves upstanding members of the community, must be discounted.
The jury retired to consider its verdict.

After just 25 minutes the jury had come to a unanimous decision. They had found both Thomas Weldon and Bernard McHugh totally innocent of the murder of James Young Esq. and they were free to go. This ruling was met by loud applause from the gallery that the police tried to suppress but failed. Family and friends of the co-accused carried the men from the courtroom held high on shoulders with much cheering and delirium.




Irish National Schools sss


The English Parliament in 1826 commissioned a report to investigate the state of district schools in Ireland. It was in fact only one of a number of such investigations that had taken place in the preceding decades that sought to tackle the terrible literacy and numeracy levels of the Irish. Each time the results were offered, debated and then rejected as parties with vested interests opposed any wholesale changes. The report on this occasion though was to have a more desirable and inclusive outcome.
Education, particularly Catholic education, in the country was profoundly affected by the Penal Laws of the previous century. These laws, in part, made it an offence to send a Catholic child to school or to be educated as one. This led to the illegal teaching of children in secret countryside locations known as hedge-schools, the name being more of an indication of the rural setting then the external aspect of the school. Instruction here varied greatly, depending on the capability and knowledge of the resident teacher, with some totally unsuited to the task. Formal training was impossible, leaving the sole route into teaching being in effect an apprenticeship with the local hedgemaster. Furthermore, a casual approach taken by families to education, when farming needs were of greater concern, meant that even the best teachers could never expect to receive adequate payments. Many were forced to live in squalor. Contemporary reports from the time show that in some instances, after lessons finished, teachers were forced to accompany a pupil to their home to receive food or shelter – in part payment for their fees.
At the start of the 19th century Protestant schools opened across the country offering free education for all, including the young Catholic children. In the absence of any state sponsored system these appeared to have filled the needs, but it was at great cost. With the free education came an inevitable religious influence on the children that caused great concern particularly to the families forced to send them there.
Daniel O’Connell, with the help of Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, advocated for change and with The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 the landscape was transformed forever. With this Act laws were passed to address the problem of the existing religious biased education. Two years later The National School System was established that looked to create nation-wide standards in the educational structures. Among other things that was examined was the subjects taught, and a structure that paid teachers based on ability. A major and controversial sentiment also being that any schools seeking funding must be managed by joint Catholic and Protestant guardians. In the early years this proved successful but gradually, each religious group petitioned the government to allow grants to be given to schools under the care of individual churches. This pressure was so effective that in the next 30 years the numbers of schools under joint management had dropped to just 4%.
The 1826 report covered the whole of the country and included the schools name, schoolmaster or mistress, wages paid and the number of students attending. Of particular interest though may be the description of the sometimes hovel-like buildings that were the common places of education in the years leading up to the famine in Ireland.




Thady Kearns and son sss

ballinasloe lunatic asylum

courtesy of

11 May 1898 the Castlerea Petty Session courts saw a case brought forward by Thady Kearns of Lissergool against his own son Thady jr. The charge levied focused on events at their home two days previously, in which the accused threatened to ‘do away with himself’ and at the same time threatened his father with assault. A returning verdict was reached by the attending magistrates that Thady jr was a dangerous lunatic and was to be committed to Ballinasloe Lunatic Asylum (BLA).

Considering the swiftness at which the case was heard after the row it is safe to assume that the threat was serious enough but just how afflicted was Thady jr and did it warrant institutionalisation. With little other information it is obviously difficult to decide either way but it is worth remembering that very little actual evidence was required in these cases. The Dangerous Lunatics Act of 1838, gave tremendous power to accusers and contrariwise little to the accused. Anybody could in effect make an accusation against another, for instance a troublesome son, who could be arrested and charged. It was then up to the medical attendant to decide if they were actually insane, where the all-encompassing term could conceivably include those suffering from common ailments such as epilepsy and the psychiatric symptoms associated with it.

The time period that Thady Kearns Jr. was being placed into care, corresponds with an era of great increases of mentally ill patients being admitted to the expanding number of mental care facilities being built around the country. In fact Ireland at this stage displayed ‘the most rapid proportionate growths in asylum admissions in the world.’

So what became of Thady Kearns jr? Once convicted it is likely that he would have been placed in a prison until such time as a place became available at Ballinasloe, with some writers estimating that this period could have lasted up to 12 months.

Though great strides had been made in medical health in the preceding century still the patients would have undoubtedly experienced archaic care in this overcrowded facility. This care inevitably still involved electro-therapy or even contemporary instances of the controversial psycho-surgery, where the connective tissue between the two frontal lobes was severed. Opiates were also in widespread use as ways of ‘relaxing’ particularly psychotic individuals who commonly found themselves restrained for considerable periods.

An inmate that found themselves released from any Lunatic Asylum would however have found themselves inexorably linked with the building. A.J. Saris article of 1996 states that you aught to ‘very careful of putting someone in a psychiatric hospital, because once it’s done, you’ve done something to him that can never be undone.’

Consequently if Thady ever found himself being released from BLA, he would have found ridding himself of the stain that he was an inmate hopeless and this same stain would furthermore have fallen on the Kearns family. The prospects of him marrying now would be gone and also the possibility of inheriting anything meaningful from his father.

A search for Thady in the Irish census returns in the years following his admittance into the institution of BLA proves sadly inconclusive. Like all healthcare facility, BLA list the patients simply by initials and so the closest to placing Thady here would be a T. K. (for Thady Kearns) or possibly T. C. (for Thady Cairns) of which there are many.

A civil death certificate listing Thady Carins death on 13 September 1898 while resident at the District Asylum at Ballinasloe certainly refers to Thady Jr and offers up some further information. Cause of death in this instance indicate that general wasting occurred as a result of ‘phthisis’- a disease characterised by wasting away of the body, possibly through Tuberculosis. Sadly this infectious disease was almost certainly picked up in his short four months stay at Ballinasloe where the close quarter of all patients meant any infectious disease was rife.


Electricity: a history of its use in the treatment of mental illness in Britain during the second half of the 19th century
A W Beveridge and E B Renvoize, British Journal of Psychiatry (1988), 153, pg 157-162

Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish: Historical Studies, 1800-2010, Pauline Prior editor, Irish Academy Press, July 2012

Saris, A. J. (1996), Mad Kings, Proper Houses and an Asylum in Rural Ireland. American Anthropologist vol 98 issue 3

Oonagh Walsh, ‘tales from the big House’ the Connacht District Lunatic Asylum in the late nineteenth century, Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th – Century History, Features, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2005), Volume 13.

Civil death record of Thady Kearns 1898

Native Ireland