Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Michael Flannery 1902-1994

Michael Flannery was born in Shinrone around 1902. His parents Andrew and Annie Flannery lived at Cangort Demense and Andrew worked as a herd.

During the Ranch War, Shinrone was the scene of numerous cattle drives instituted by the United Irish League against commercial farmers, who’s leasing of grazing acreage on the 11-month system was viewed as depriving smallholders’ access to land. As part of this campaign the Ormond Hunt was prevented from hunting in the locality. Flannery’s uncle is reported to have served a term of imprisonment for his role in this agitation.

Flannery joined the Irish Volunteers at a young age. At the time of the Truce, he was listed as adjutant in the Shinrone company, which along with other units at Roscrea, Dunkerin and Clonakelly formed the 7th Battalion, Tipperary No.1 Brigade. Following the signing of the Treaty he took an anti-treaty position in the Civil War.

In September 1922 a goods train travelling between Cloughjordan and Roscrea was derailed and its cargo seized. That December, Flannery and five others were charged in Dublin before the southern police court in relation the hold up.

Flannery was imprisoned in Mountjoy at the time of the reprisal killings of Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett, Joe McKelvey and Liam Mellows. The executions imbued him with a longstanding hostility to the Free State government and its successors. Having participated in the mass hunger strike of republican prisoners in 1923, he was released the following year.

Emigrating to the New York, he found work with the Metropolitan Insurance company and married Margaret Mary (Pearl) Egan a Cumman na mBan veteran from Mullinahone who worked as a research chemist.

A devout catholic and a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Society, Flannery played a prominent role in the Tipperary Men’s Society and the GAA, serving as chairman of the New York county board and managing the cities Tipperary Gaelic football side to championship honours four times between 1928 and 1931.

A longtime member of the secretive republican support group Clan na Gael, on the outbreak of the Troubles, Flannery was central to the creation of the Irish Northern Aid Committee. Better known as Noraid, this organisation was viewed by many as ‘the fundraising arm of the IRA in America’.

While vocally and unapologetically supportive of the IRA’s campaign, Flannery claimed that donations to Noraid were ringfenced to support the families of republican prisoners, while money to finance arms deals were secured from separate sources. This position was challenged by the US Justice Department which initiated court proceedings over Noraid’s refusal to register the Provisional IRA as its principal foreign agent.

In 1981 Flannery was arrested as part of an FBI sting codenamed ‘Operation Bushmills’ after suppling $16,800 to purchase weapons. Flannery, Mayo born socialist republican George Harrison and three other co-defendants were found not guilty of arms trafficking having claimed they believed their smuggling network operated with the approval of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The decision of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians to make Flannery grand marshal of the 1983 New York St Patrick’s Day Parade created a diplomatic incident, drawing criticism from the media, the Archbishop of New York, politicians and the Irish government.

A republican legitimist Flannery believed that all Irish parliaments after 1921 were illegitimate and broke with Gerry Adams after Sinn Féin voted to abandon abstentionism in the south. Throwing his support behind Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s Republican Sinn Féin, he left Noraid and established Cumman na Saoirse. In 1993, he assumed the position of Republican Sinn Féin patron.

Michael Flannery passed away in September 1994, shortly before his death he had given a series of press interviews opposing the IRA ceasefire.

Flannery was buried at Mount Saint Mary’s cemetery Flushing, Queens. Mourners at his funeral included well-known lawyer Paul Durkan and Pulitzer winning columnist Jimmy Breslin. George Harrison read a message from Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The oration was given by Republican Sinn Féin treasurer Joe O’Neill.

The Michael Flannery cup is presented to the winners of the New York senior hurling championship For many years Cuman na Saoirse has hosted an annual Michael Flannery Testimonial event.

The author wishes to acknowledge the substantial existing literature on Michael Flannery in particular the works of Sean Boyne and Patrick Maume.

Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at https://www.nationalarchives.ie/

Military Service Pension Collection. 7 Battalion, 1 Tipperary (North Tipperary) Brigade, 3 Southern Division, IRA RO190. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Sean Boyle. ‘Gunrunners: The Covert Arms Trail to Ireland’ (Dublin) 2006.

Patrick Maume. Royal Irish Academy, Dictionary of Irish Biography profile of Michael Flannery online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/flannery-michael-a3277

Michael Flannery Interview with Niall O’Dowd 1983 online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djMsTHk1Nro&t=205s

Cuman na Saoirse website online at http://www.irishfreedom.net/Obituaries/Michael%20Flannery/Michael%20Flannery%20(1902-%201994).htm

Financial Times. Online at https://www.ft.com/content/ba0f1bd5-2c92-421b-aca7-a8c91c2c4d8c

Cork Examiner. 27 March 1986.

Derry Journal 6 September 1994.

Donegal Democrat. 13 October 1994.

The Independent. 1 September 1994.

Leinster Reporter. 9 December 1922.

Irish Independent. 17 March 1983.

Nenagh Guardian. 9 December 1922. 20 January 1923. 3 September 1983. 8 October 1994.

Nenagh News. 7 November 1907.

New York Magazine. 22 November 1982.

New York Times. 2 October 1981. 2 October 1994.

The Scotsman. 2 September 1994.

Tipperary Star. 21 December 1991.

Washington Post. 22 March 1987.

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