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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 Eamonn Andrews, Radio & Television Presenter

eamonn-andrewsEamonn Andrews, radio and television presenter considered to be Ireland’s first media superstar, is born in Synge Street, Dublin, on December 19, 1922.

Andrews is educated at Synge Street CBS and begans his career as a clerk in an insurance office. He is a keen amateur boxer and wins the Irish junior middleweight title in 1944.

In 1946, he becomes a full-time freelance sports commentator, working for Radio Éireann, Ireland’s national broadcaster. In 1950, he begins presenting programmes for the BBC, being particularly well known for boxing commentaries, and soon becomes one of television’s most popular presenters. He begins hosting the game show What’s My Line? in 1951.

Throughout the 1950s, he commentates on the major British heavyweight fights on the BBC Light Programme, with inter-round summaries by W. Barrington Dalby. On January 20, 1956, he reaches No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart with a “spoken narrative” recording named “The Shifting Whispering Sands (Parts 1 & 2),” which is produced by George Martin with musical backing by the Ron Goodwin Orchestra. The song later reappears on Kenny Everett‘s compilation album The World’s Worst Record Show, which is released in June 1978.

Between 1955 and 1964, Andrews presents the long-running Sports Report on BBC’s Light Programme, now Radio 2. In 1965, he leaves the BBC to join the ITV contractor ABC, where he pioneers the talk show format in the UK. He hosts a chat show on ITV, The Eamonn Andrews Show, for five years. He is known for coming up with off-the-cuff linkings that do not work such as, “Speaking of cheese sandwiches, have you come far?” This is parodied by the character Seamus Android on Round the Horne in the 1960s, performed by Bill Pertwee. In the 1960s he presents Thames Television‘s Today news magazine programme.

Andrews is probably best known as the presenter of the UK’s version of This Is Your Life, between its inception in 1955 and his death in 1987, when he is succeeded by Michael Aspel, who had also succeeded Andrews as host of Crackerjack more than two decades earlier. Andrews becomes the very first This Is Your Life subject on British television when he is surprised by the show’s creator, Ralph Edwards. Andrews also creates a long-running panel game called Whose Baby? that originally runs on the BBC and later on ITV. He is a regular presenter of the early Miss World pageants.

Andrews’ chairs the Radio Éireann Authority, now the RTÉ Board, between 1960 and 1964, overseeing the introduction of State television to Ireland and establishing the Irish State broadcaster as an independent semi-state body. About this time, he also acquires a number of business interests in Ireland, including recording studios and a dance hall.

After months of illness during 1987, originally caused by a virus contracted during an airline flight, but which is not recognised at the time, he dies from heart failure on November 5, 1987, at the age of 64, at Cromwell Hospital, London. He had recorded his last edition of This Is Your Life six days previously on October 30, 1987, surprising Crossroads actress Jane Rossington. After his death, the show, and two others that have yet to be broadcast, are postponed until, with his widow’s permission, they are broadcast in January 1988. His widow, Gráinne, whom he married in 1951, dies 18 months later. They had three adopted children.

His contribution to U.K. radio is commemorated in the The Radio Academy Hall of Fame. Andrews appears as the linking narrator who introduces the unrelated segments that comprise the portmanteau film, Three Cases of Murder (1955).