When Fr Michael O’Flanagan died, The Standard wrote of him: ‘Like Pearse he was a student and teacher with thought and sympathy for youth; like Thomas Clarke, he seemed in his person to typify the spirit of resistance to oppression; like James Connolly, he loved the people who work in poverty.’ In a conservative Ireland, O’Flanagan consistently worked for social justice, civic honesty and political democracy. A priest of the Diocese of Elphin, he raised issues of land distribution, national independence and cultural renewal. Inevitably, he attracted hostility in church and state. Suspended from his ministry in summer 1918, he nonetheless persevered in his Republican and populist ideals.
Vice-President of Sinn Féin from 1917, Fr O’Flanagan deployed his communication skills to maximum effect during the general election of 1918. In 1921 he opposed eh Anglo-Irish Treaty. In 1933 he became President of Sinn Féin. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Fr O’Flanagan sided with the republican-socialist government of Spain. At home, he joined Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore and Frank Ryan in resistance to the emergence of Fascism. The wry comment attributed to him by Peadar O’Donnell – ‘They have fooled you again’ – aptly reflects O’Flanagan’s somewhat jaundiced view of the established leaders at home and abroad.
This 2016 reissue of Denis Carroll’s They have fooled you again: Michael O’Flanagan (1876 – 1942) Priest, republican, Social Critic represents a small but important attempt to capture the contribution of one controversial churchman to that period of Irish history.