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Michael Flannery: Accepting the Challenge

THE memoirs of Michael Flannery, Tipperary IRA Volunteer and leading Irish-American supporter of Irish freedom for almost 70 years, were launched at a reception in Dublin on February 27. Two other titles were also launched by Irish Freedom Press on the night: Songs of Resistance 1968-2001(fourth enlarged edition) and Laochra Luimnigh -- Uí Dálaigh Luimnigh agus Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916, le Nóra de hÓir.

Michael Flannery (1902-1993 was a leading figure in Clan na Gael, Irish Northern Aid and the Irish Freedom Committee/Cumann na Saoirse and held executive positions in the GAA in the United States. After his trial and acquittal in 1982 on arms charges in New York he became Grand Marshal of the city’s St Patrick’s Day Parade.

The memoirs were edited by Meathman Dermot O’Reilly who proposed the idea to Michael and saw it through to its conclusion.

Launching the book, Accepting the Challenge -- The Memoirs of Michael Flannery, in the Cultúrlann, Dublin historian Brian P Murphy said it helped refute recent academic studies which portrayed the IRA as short of principles and lacking in idealism.

"Michael’s book shows that the Land War, dispossession and emigration were live issues of principle in his early life. It also shows that the Volunteers made intellectual choices . . . and had all the refined ideological commitment that one would expect from those brave enough to adopt a minority position," Dr Murphy said.

He quoted Republican Sinn Féin President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s comment in the Foreword that Michael Flannery "will be remembered as the leading and indeed, the outstanding supporter in North America of the Republican Movement in over three generations."

Dr Murphy said that Michael Flannery’s memoir should be bought and read to appreciate the value of a full and devoted life.

(The full text of Dr Brian P Murphy’s address can be read below.)

Sheol an t-iriseoir Nollaig Ó Gadhra, Luimneach agus Gaillimh, an leabhrán a scríoch Nóra de hÓir, Laochra Luimnigh, faoi a mhuintir, Uí Dálaigh, Luimnigh agus tréimhse Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916.

D’fhoilsigh an nuachtán SAOIRSE na haltanna atá sa leabhrán seo cheana féin. Rinne Nollaig Ó Gadhra comhairdeas le "údar dílis agus pobal dílis" agus mheabhraigh sé den lucht eisteachta go raibh an mheas i gcónaí ar Uí Dálaigh Luimnigh sa cathair.

Nollaig Ó Gadhra said that Limerick Corporation as far back as the Fenian Movement in the 1880s had granted the freedom of the city to freed Republican prisoners. The Dalys of Limerick were part and parcel of this tradition, he added.

The third publication from Irish Freedom Press was the long-awaited fourth enlarged edition of Songs of Resistance 1968-2001. The songbook was first published in 1975 and has been out of print since 1982. Séamas Mac Mathúna of Comhaltas Ceolteoirí Éireann introduced the songs, some of which predate the current phase of the liberation struggle.

Joined by his son Lorcán he sang some of his favourites, including The Boys of the Old Brigade, Cath Céin an Fhia and Sliabh na mBan.

He also recalled a fragment of a popular Dublin ditty at the time of the famous Helicopter Escape by Republicans in 1973:

Swing low, sweet hijacked chopper
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low faster than an Irish copper
Coming for to carry me home.

The books will be launched in New York city on Sunday, March 11, Micheál Ó Coistealbha of the National Irish Freedom Committee told the attendance. It will take place in Hugh O’Lunney’s bar at the corner of Broadway and Times Square, commencing at 3pm.

Seán Ó Brádaigh of Irish Freedom Press thanked all those who organised the launch and all who attended despite the snow and ice on the roads of Dublin and warmly recommended the three books to the widest possible readership.

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‘A life devoted to the separatist position’

In his speech launching The Memoirs of Michael Flannery – Accepting the Challenge historian Dr. Brian P Murphy said:
"I am very happy to introduce these memoirs of Michael Flannery not only because they provide a valuable historical record of events in Ireland and America during the past century; but also because, having interviewed him myself on two occasions in c. 1990, I realise how important it was for him to tell his story. Congratulations are due therefore, to Dermot O’Reilly, who pioneered the project of producing a finished book, and to those who assisted him in various ways, notably Hugh O’Lunney and Seán Ó Brádaigh. To transform a verbal account into a written document is no easy matter, especially when Michael was able to talk for hours on end without notes, bursting, as it were, to get his story told.

"This memoir tells Michael Flannery’s story in two phases: firstly, his life in Ireland from 1902, the year of his birth, until 1927; and, secondly, his years in America from 1927 until his death in 1994. The first phase in Ireland recounts Michael’s own family background ; his marriage to Margaret Mary Egan, called Pearl , (so named, if I recall his words, after an association with a rare white blackbird); his role in the Volunteers, especially the actions of the IRA in his own area of Tipperary; and his feelings about the Truce, Treaty and the Civil War. While these events were taking place and absorbing the attention of Sinn Féiners, he notes, significantly, the often forgotten actions of the British Government in creating a Six County Northern Ireland.

"There is a particularly interesting account of life as a prisoner in C Wing of Mountjoy, with Andy Cooney as O/C prisoners, when Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey, the four martyrs of the Republic, were shot on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1922. The poem of Mgr. Pádraig de Brun, written to commemorate this tragedy, was a favourite of Michael’s, possibly because the verses conveyed something of the qualities in life that Michael, himself, treasured.

‘Rory and Liam and Dick and Joe
(Star of the Morning, Mary, come!)
Red is their hearts’ blood , their souls like snow
(Mary Immaculate, guide them home!)
Their eyes are steady in face of death
(Star of the Morning, Mary, come!)
For their minds are rapt by the vision of faith
(Mary Immaculate, guide them home!)
For Winter will pass and the Spring be born
(Star of the Morning, Mary, come!)
And Freedom will waken the land at morn
(Mary Immaculate, guide them home!)

Despite this clear commitment to Christian values, and faithful fidelity to the abstract idea of Irish freedom, recent academic studies on the IRA portray the Volunteers as short of principles and lacking in idealism. The value of this memoir, and the recent book by Tom Malone on his father, Alias Seán Forde, is that, in simple language, it provides information that refutes the sweeping condemnations of these academic works. Take, for example, the words of Joost Augusteijn, author of From Public Defiance to Guerrilla Warfare. The Experience of Ordinary Volunteers in the Irish War of Independence (1996), who states that ‘in recent historiography it has been shown that the reasons why people joined the Volunteers and became involved in violence during the revolutionary period in Ireland had often more to do with social context and coincidence than with an exceptional ideological commitment.’

Apart from his own work, the principal source of this sweeping generalisation is Peter Hart’s book, The IRA and its Enemies. Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923 (1998). For Hart the Volunteers were to be seen as coming from the same mould as the Wren Boys and Straw Boys, and deriving their motivation from such origins. A claim that can only be made if one makes a sociological study of the volunteers. To say that the once yearly gathering of the Wren Boys on St Stephen’s Day served to inspire the Volunteers as much as validity as to claim that the American armed forces were moulded by the once yearly celebration of ‘trick and treat’.

Hart might well, indeed, have discovered the shallowness of his claim, if he had studied the Capuchin Annual for 1970, which commemorates the year 1920, and, in particular the article by Fr Colmcille on ‘Tipperary’s Fight in 1920’s. Michael’s book adds some more detail to this account, and shows that the land war, dispossession and emigration were live issues of principle in his early life. It also shows that the volunteers made intellectual choices, after their formation in 1913, as they respond to the British Government’s accommodation with Unionists, and to Redmond’s response to these accommodations, and to England’s entry into the First World War.

"The Volunteers who emerged prior to 1916, and were later refashioned in 1917, had all the refined ideological commitment that one would expect from those brave enough to adopt a minority position. As Pearse informed McGarrity on 19 October 1914, after the break with Redmond, ‘this small compact, perfectly disciplined, determined separatist force (separatist was underlined) is infinitely more valuable than the unwieldy loosely held together mixum-gatherum force we had before the spilt’.

"This minority decision was taken before Michael Flannery was old enough to make a personal choice, but for the rest of his life he courageously embraced minority decisions in defence of a separatist position – 1922, 1926, 1946, 1969, and 1986. In America, prior to the Second World War, he joined Clan na Gael, becoming head of its New York Branch, and made contact with Joe McGarrity. Following the war he responded to developments in Ireland, such as the Civil Rights movement, Bloody Sunday and the Hunger Strikes, by supporting the Irish Republican cause in such bodies as Irish Northern Aid Committee and the Friends of Irish Freedom. Indeed, one of the most interesting sections of the book is a transcript of his arms trial, and acquittal in 1982.

"For Michael Flannery’s activities in America, embracing many aspects of GAA life and effectively symbolised in his position as Grand Marshal of the St Patrick’s Day parade, he deserves Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s tribute as one who will be remembered as the leading and indeed, the outstanding supporter in North America of the Republican Movement in Ireland over three generations.

"Other valuable tributes to Michael Flannery are contained in this book, as paid by George Harrison and Councillor Joe O’Neill, where, among other things, recognition is given to his social work and to his commitment to Pioneer principles. One could go on. Enough has been said, however, to indicate that Michael Flannery’s memoir should be bought and read to appreciate the value of a full and devoted life. He was dedicated to the ideals of Patrick Pearse until the end of his days, and fond of his poetry. One of his favourite poems, Councillor Joe O’Neill tells us was Mise Éire. The poignant lines convey something of the sentiments of both Pearse and Michael Flannery.

I am Ireland
I am older than the Old Woman of Beare
Great my glory
I that bore Cuchulainn
Great my shame
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare."

Mayo hunger strikers honoured in Ballina

THE 25th anniversary of the death on hunger-strike in Wakefield Prison, England of Hollymount, Co Mayo Republican Frank Stagg was the occasion of a march to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina and a graveside ceremony at the Republican Plot.

Also honoured on Sunday, February 11 were the other two Mayo men who died on hunger strike, Seán McNeela of Ballycroy in Arbour Hill Prison, Dublin in 1940 and Michael Gaughan, Ballina in Parkhurst Prison, England in 1974.

Gaughan rests alongside Stagg in the Republican Plot, Leigue Cemetery. The commemoration was organised by Republican Sinn Féin in Co Mayo.

The parade formed up at the 1798 Memorial in the town and was led by a colour party bearing the National Flag, the Starry Plough and Fianna Éireann flags. A piper from the Balla Pipe Band with another from the Glens of Antrim led the relatives and wreath bearers while the Glens of Antrim Accordion Band headed the general parade which numbered several hundred.

A halt was made at the grave of veteran Ballina Republican, Jackie Clarke who died last October. His sister Loretta Clarke-Murray laid a wreath and Ruairi O Bradaigh, President of Republican Sinn Fein delivered an address.

At the Republican Plot, Dan Hoban of Newport presided and spoke feelingly of the sufferings of Republican prisoners down the decades and of the hunger strikes for political status and consequent deaths.

"Mayo," he said, "stood next only to Cork in the number of its sons who had given their lives on hunger strike for POW status. Of this many Mayo people were justly proud."

In the 1940s Seán McNeela of Mayo, Tony Darcy of Galway and Seán McCaughey of Belfast had made the supreme sacrifice in that manner South of the Border. In the 1970s, Gaughan and Stagg in England and in 1981 Bobby Sands and his nine comrades in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh had all met the same painful and agonising fate.

Today and throughout this year we honour them all and what they died for, he said. They did not die for a reformed Stormont and updated British rule in the Six Counties.

Wreaths were laid by Niamh McNeela, grandniece of Seán McNeela; Róisín Stagg-Doyle, sister of Frank Stagg; Francis Hughes, nephew of Francis Hughes; Lita Ni Chathmhaoil on behalf of comrades in England and Paddy O Reilly, Kiltimagh on behalf of Mayo Republicans.

A message of support was received from Tina Gaughan-Foots, sister of Michael Gaughan who regretted her inability to be present.

A decade of the Rosary in Irish was led by Seán Mac an Iomaire, Gaillimh and a lament was played by the piper from the Balla Pipe-Band.

In a brief address Dolours Price of Belfast who suffered forcible feeding for over six months while on hunger strike in an English prison in 1973-74, said she and her sister with two Belfast men were fasting at the same time as Michael Gaughan.

They did not endure the pangs of hunger strike just for a reformed English rule in Ireland. They sought Prisoner-of-War status in the struggle to end English rule here.

She said that the Provisionals under the Stormont Agreement had gone back on all the hunger strikers had died for. While Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were administering British rule in Ireland, Republican prisoners in the Six Counties who had continued the struggle were once more being criminalised.

The main speaker was Josephine Hayden, who had recently been released from Limerick Prison on completion of a six-year sentence. A member of Cumann na mBan, she was the only woman political prisoner in the 26 Counties during her time in jail.

She was denied political status although the men arrested with her and sentenced on the same charges as her by the Special Court received political treatment in Portlaoise Prison, the chairman said in introducing her. She had suffered a heart condition while in confinement.

Josephine Hayden traced the history of political prisoners, their sufferings, hunger strikes and deaths from the 1940s period onwards. She quoted Terence MacSwiney who died in that manner in 1920: "It is not those who inflict most, but those who endure most, who will ultimately triumph."

She outlined the plight of Tommy Crossan of Belfast and the other Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim who were again being criminalised as a result of the Stormont Agreement of 1998.

She said that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, former political prisoners themselves, had got themselves and their followers into a situation in Stormont where they were now standing over the denial of political treatment to Republican prisoners.

Their position was similar to that of Fianna Fáil Ministers of the 1940s who had themselves been political prisoners in the 1920s. From their denial of political status to prisoners had come the deaths of Seán McNeela, Tony Darcy and Seán McCaughey on hunger strike.

While British rule remained in Ireland there would always be resistance to it. That was the lesson of history which had, to our cost, been ignored so many times in the past and had again been rejected in the current Stormont Agreement.

True Republicans would continue to oppose English rule here in spite of the fact that former comrades were now collaborating fully with the British occupation regime.

The ceremony ended with the playing and singing in Irish of Amhran na bhFiann.

In his final message to his comrades in the Republican Movement Frank Stagg wrote: "We are the risen people, this time we must not be driven into the gutter. Even if this should mean dying for justice. The fight must go on. I want my memorial to be peace with justice.’’

Hunger strikers remembered in England

REPUBLICAN Sinn Féin (England, Scotland and Wales) members and supporters gathered outside Wakefield prison, Yorkshire, England on November 11 to commemorate the deaths on hunger strike of Michael Gaughan 27 years ago in Parkhurst prison and Frank Stagg 25 years ago in Wakefield prison.

Jim O’Dwyer, Cathaoirleach, Comhairle Ceantair (England, Scotland and Wales), opened the proceedings by thanking all those present who had, despite the weather, travelled from all over Britain to attend the commemorations. At the prison entrance Brendan Magill recited prayers as Gaeilge, followed by both Andy Brogan and 16-year-old Kimberley Foley who laid wreaths on behalf of the Comhairle Ceantair. The wreath laid by Kimberley signified the continuation of the struggle for Ireland’s freedom to the next generation of Republicans.

Speaking at the commemoration Dáithí Ó Broin, PRO, recalled “the torture, sacrifices, and numerous deaths on hunger strikes that Republican prisoners had endured over the decades in preventing repeated attempts by the British to both deny them political status and criminalise the Irish Freedom Struggle”.

He reminded those present that “over the centuries, for Republicans the prisons have been but an extension of the battleground in which the war against the British Occupation Forces has, and is still being fought. Where forces of the Crown will isolate, torture and intimidate Republican prisoners in an attempt to criminalise, depoliticise, and finally break the spirit of resistance.”

Those assembled were further reminded that “20 years ago, Bobby Sands and his nine comrades made the ultimate sacrifice and died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks. It was clear then as it is now that the British policy of criminalisation has failed. Yet still today the British have not learned their lesson from history.

“This time in Maghaberry prison, Co Antrim, the British have again introduced their failed policy of criminalisation. Republican prisoner Tommy Crossan and his comrades who reject the Stormont Agreement are at the coalface of this policy. As the British attempt to finally crush resistance to British rule in the Occupied Six Counties, they are being subjected to a brutal ongoing regime and are denied political status.”

Concluding the commem-oration the PRO recalled the words that Bobby Sands on the tenth day of his hunger strike in the H-Blocks: “Unfortunately, the years, the decades, and the centuries, have not seen an end to Republican resistance in English hell-holes, because the struggle in the prisons does hand in hand with the continuous freedom struggle in Ireland. Many Irishmen have given their lives in pursuit of this freedom and I know that more will, myself included, until such times as that Freedom is achieved.”

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