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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town

Edward Joseph Flanagan, Irish-born priest of the Catholic Church in the United States, dies in Berlin, Germany on May 15, 1948. He founds the orphanage known as Boys Town located in Boys Town, Douglas County, Nebraska, which now also serves as a center for troubled youth.

Flanagan is born to John and Honoria Flanagan in the townland of Leabeg, County Roscommon, near the village of Ballymoe, County Galway, on July 13, 1886. He attends Summerhill College, Sligo.

In 1904, Flanagan emigrates to the United States and becomes a US citizen in 1919. He attends Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1906 and a Master of Arts degree in 1908. He studies at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York. He continues his studies in Italy and at the University of Innsbruck in Austria where he is ordained a priest on July 26, 1912. His first parish is in O’Neill, Nebraska, where from 1912 he serves as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. He then moves to Omaha, Nebraska, to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s Church and later at St. Philomena’s Church.

In 1917, Flanagan founds a home for homeless boys in Omaha. Bishop Jeremiah James Harty of the Diocese of Omaha has misgivings, but endorses Flanagan’s experiment. Because the downtown facilities are inadequate, he establishes Boys Town, ten miles west of Omaha in 1921. Under his direction, Boys Town grows to be a large community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities where boys between the ages of 10 and 16 can receive an education and learn a trade.

Boys Town, a 1938 film starring Spencer Tracy based on Flanagan’s life, wins Tracy an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. Mickey Rooney also stars as one of the residents. Tracy spends his entire Oscar acceptance speech talking about Flanagan. Without confirming it with Tracy, an overzealous MGM publicity representative announces incorrectly that Tracy is donating his Oscar to Flanagan. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hastily strikes another inscription so Tracy keeps his statuette and Boys Town gets one as well. A sequel also starring Tracy and Rooney, Men of Boys Town, is released in 1941.

Flanagan himself appears in a separate 1938 MGM short, The City of Little Men, promoting Boys Town and giving a tour of its facilities. The actor Stephen McNally plays Flanagan in a 1957 episode of the ABC religion anthology series, Crossroads.

Flanagan receives many awards for his work with the delinquent and homeless boys. Pope Pius XI names him a Domestic Prelate with the title Right Reverend Monsignor in 1937. He serves on several committees and boards dealing with the welfare of children and is the author of articles on child welfare. Internationally known, he travels to the Republic of Ireland in 1946, where he is appalled by the children’s institutions there, calling them “a national disgrace.” When his observations are published after returning to Omaha, instead of improving the horrid conditions, vicious attacks are leveled against him in the Irish print media and the Oireachtas. He is invited by General Douglas MacArthur to Japan and Korea in 1947 to advise on child welfare, as well as to Austria and Germany in 1948. While in Germany, he dies of a heart attack on May 15, 1948. He is interred at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Boys Town, Nebraska.

In 1986, the United States Postal Service issues a 4¢ Great Americans series postage stamp honoring Flanagan. He is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

On February 25, 2012, the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska opens the canonization process of Flanagan. At a March 17, 2012 prayer service at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church, he is given the title “Servant of God,” the first of three titles bestowed before canonization as a Catholic saint. The investigation is completed in June 2015 and the results forwarded to the Vatican. If the Vatican approves the local findings, Flanagan will be declared venerable. The next steps will be beatification and canonization.

There is a portrait statue dedicated to Fr. Edward J. Flanagan in Ballymoe, County Galway.


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Birth of Éamonn Ceannt, Irish Republican

eamonn-ceanntÉamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.

Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.

In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.

In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.

As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.

The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.

After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.

Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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Executions of Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, & Con Colbert

colbert-ceannt-mallin-heustonIrish patriots Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, and Cornelius “Con” Colbert are executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916, as the executions following the 1916 Easter Rising continue.

Éamonn Ceannt, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, is born in Ballymoe, Glenamaddy in County Galway in 1881. Prior to the Rising, Ceannt is an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities is complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he is also an accomplished uilleann piper. Ceannt is appointed Director of Communications of the Provisional Government and is Commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, who are stationed at the South Dublin Union, now the site of St. James’ Hospital. Ceannt has about 100 men with him, including his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W.T. Cosgrave who goes on later to become Taoiseach. Ceannt and his men at the South Dublin Union take part in some of the fiercest fighting in the rebellion and hold out against far superior numbers of British troops.

Michael Mallin, a silk weaver by trade, is born in Dublin on December 1, 1874. Mallin is the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), second in command only to James Connolly. He trains and drills the ICA, and is the Commandant of the St. Stephen’s Green Royal College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz is his second in command. This location sees less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrate their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the General Post Office (GPO) and Four Courts. Mallin surrenders on April 30.

Seán Heuston, born in Dublin on February 21, 1891, is responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston is involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. Heuston is the Officer Commanding of the Volunteers in the Mendicity Institution on the south side of Dublin. With 26 Volunteers under his command, they hold their position for two days. With his position becoming untenable against considerable numbers, and the building almost completely surrounded, Heuston sends a dispatch to Connolly informing him of their position. It is soon after sending this dispatch that Heuston decides to surrender. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.

Con Colbert is born on October 19, 1888, at Monalena in Limerick, and is one of the younger generation of Irish republicans who take part in the Easter Rising. Prior to the Easter Rising he is an active member of the republican movement. He is one of the founding members of Fianna Éireann. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert is known not to drink or smoke. During the Rising, Colbert is the commander of a group of Volunteers stationed at Watkin’s Brewery on Ardee Street, and later at Jameson’s Distillery on Marrowbone Lane. They hold their position until receiving the order to surrender from Patrick Pearse.