The phrase ‘rebel priest’ could have been invented for Michael O’Flanagan (1876-1942). Although he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1900, he was suspended from his duties in 1918-19 for his participation in the Sinn Fein general election campaign, and again from 1925 to 1939. His career took in many of the radical and nationalist causes of the day – he supported the Sligo dockers’ strike in 1913; he preached in favour of the redistribution of land in 1914 and against war taxation in 1916; he was prominently involved in the Roscommon by-election campaign of 1917 and was effectively the head of Sinn Féin in the second half of 1918 (as a priest, he was not arrested along with the rest of the leadership); he was the chaplain of the first Dáil in 1919; he took the anti-treaty side in the civil war and later opposed entry into the Dáil; and perhaps most remarkably, he toured the United States as a supporter of the Republican side in the Spanish civil war.
There was even more to O’Flanagan than this. Historians and archaeologists are in his debt for getting John O’Donovan’s Ordnance Survey letters transcribed between 1927 and 1934, and these were the copies that were used for decades (the library in NUI Galway has the complete set). He was active in the co-operative movement and in the language revival movement, serving as vice-president of both the IOAS and the Gaelic League.
Finally, he was an inventor, and had several patents in his name. The advertisement above for his swimming goggles appeared in the Catholic Bulletin for 1928.
[I downloaded the Catholic Bulletin from the blog Lux Occulta, which scans and posts Catholic material, mostly Irish, from the 20th century. It’s a tremendous historical resource, documenting a cultural formation that seemed hegemonic sixty or seventy years ago, but seems neglected in current historiography.]
Niall Ó Ciosáin