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)


Jim Coffey – The Roscommon Giant sss

Big Jim Coffey disembarked onto the busy Boston docks in April 1910, with grand dreams of prosperity and possibilities. He had finally arrived at his destination having travelled from his home in Roscommon, detouring through Cobh before a week long voyage across the Atlantic aboard the Cymric.
Born in 1890 in the townland of Tully near Gortaganny village, Jim was the sixth child of eleven born to John and Ann Coffey. Here in Tully he grew up quickly working hard on his struggling father’s farm where the daily physical exertions saw him develop into a big and strong youngster. The small family farm though was never going to keep the Coffey boys in work and when Jim and his brothers reached a certain age they took advantage of the seasonal manual work on the vast farms of England. Likely it was here that they began to dream of a life in America and as Jim reached his twenties he left his home in Roscommon clutching the ticket that his sister Bessie had sent for him.
Once in America he worked for a stint as a labourer, but later found much better paying employment as a trolley motorman carrying passengers around New York suburbs Manhattan and the Bronx. In 1913 by some great stroke of luck he happened to pick up a passenger that would change his life and fortunes forever. The passenger was Tom Shaw, a local traffic cop moonlighting as an amateur boxer, and as the streetcar waited in New York traffic Coffey was convinced to try out at the local boxing gym. Here he discovered a natural flair that, coupled with his 6 foot 4 inch powerful frame, gave him a distinct advantage against his sparring partners. Over the next four years he gradually moved up the reins of the profession, fighting many established fighters while at the same time developing a large following especially among the growing Irish diaspora in the States. By early 1915 he had fought in, and filled out, the boxing Mecca that was Madison Square Garden several times and he was inevitably mentioned as the new “white hope”.
For years the African American, Jack Johnson, had dominated the heavyweight division and this never sat comfortably with the influential white fight-goers or media commentators. After every Johnson victory the newspapers cried out for a white challenger to dethrone the Galveston Giant, as they named him, and every time the new “white hope” succumbed to his might.
By early April 1915 though the king was finally dethroned but sadly not by Coffey. A young working cowboy from Kansas named Jess Willard had finally beaten Johnson and was instilled as the new champion of the world. Jim Coffey though would still have his title shot at the new champ but first he had to deal with another rival, Frank Moran, to get this chance.
The night of the fight saw huge crowds gather inside The Garden in numbers higher than ever before seen for a boxing event. Coffey’s time had come and he climbed into the ring with his fans chants shaking the very roof of the venue as their anticipation reached frenzied level.
The fight proceeded as expected with Coffey comfortably using his reach and far greater skill to effect. He pounded his opponent relentlessly for the first round and into the second with very little coming back at him. Moran it seemed was about to be outclassed but as he swung his roundhouse aimlessly near the end of the round he connected with Coffey’s chin and sent him staggering around the ring. The bell ended the round but Coffey’s senses could never return sufficiently in time for the next one. He was caught again and the fight was over.
In the aftermath of the fight Coffey played down the loss, only his first official one in 44 contests, calling out Moran and the lucky sucker punch that he caught him with. He and and the newspapers demanded a rematch. Meanwhile Moran soaked up the acclaim and with tongue in cheek christened the punch “Mary Ann” while at the same time agreeing to the fight.
The rematch, when it came, went somewhat along the lines of the first with Coffey dominating the first 7 rounds and was well ahead on the judges scorecards. Unfortunately as the fight entered the final phase he let his guard down and again he was caught by one of Moran’s “Mary Ann” specials that finished the fight as a contest.
After this loss Coffey continued to box for a number of years with some degree of success but he never again came close to a World Title fight albeit he did return for a bout in Castlerea’s Hanley Hall in 1919. He returned to Roscommon for good in 1923 along with his boxing payouts and married a local schoolteacher Kate Kenny before settling down to a life of farming.
In 2017 a plaque was unveiled in his native Tully townland to commemorate “The Roscommon Giant”, Jim Coffey.


The Los Angeles Herald

The New York Times


Loughglynn Castle sss


Loughglynn Castle, of which only one tower remains was built on the banks of Lough Glinn by the Fitzgerald’s of Mayo in Norman times. Once an impressive structure in later years the castle was used as a temporary prison before convicts were transported to appropriate holding facilities.
The Dillon family, including Viscount Dillons, have long association with the castle as well as the nearby Loughglynn House

Native Ireland