Updated: 30/01/17 : 04:59:01
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Book recalls bishop, priest row in Sligo

By Eugene McGloin

THE MANY rows between bishops and their priests in Sligo seldom leak into the media.

Fewer still make it between the covers of a local history book.

But 100 years ago a legendary 'spat' played out in Sligo between the local bishop and priest.

Some of it became public, much of it did not and for the younger 21st century generation it's sometime a shrug of the shoulders and 'so what?'

A book titled ''From Cliffoney to Crosna,' with a black and white photo of the priest, is something casual book browsers could pass by.

They would be wrong; it is the first hand account from his own (limited) papers of Sligo legend, Fr Michael O'Flanagan.

The book's prologue on the inside cover is a typed letter in 2010 from another Elphin bishop, John Clancy.

Bishop Clancy richly praises Fr O'Flanagan.....for his speaking engagements in the United States on behalf of the Gaelic League.

But it is the 'spat' with another Elphin bishop, Bernard Coyne, that has survived. Those be sparks that never quite quenched.

One Side

''It has taken a long time -- a century indeed -- for this story to emerge,'' notes this local history, now again in stock at Liber book shop locally.

It is, of course, only one side of the 'spat;' doubtless the Elphin Diocese has archives which would be a treasure trove if they were ever opened up.

Canon Doorly is an eyewitness to several of the testy exchanges between priest and bishop.

You'd love to have been a fly on the wall back then; Canon Doorly's notes would still be interesting.

What we do get in this book is an account of the bishop refusing to shake hand with his priest here in Sligo town, even leaving the room after cross words. 

Later Bishop Coyne writes to forbid Fr O'Flanagan speak in public without his express permission, in writing. The full letter is here.

There are many reasons for the series of exchanges between the two:-

*** The famed row over the bog in Cliffoney reveals origins of the respect and the value in which locals held their curate;

*** But it is hard not to see that all the concurrent nuances around conscription itself was the 'big ticket' issue which fanned the flames between priest and bishop.

Fact or fiction, views also persist that the British Authorities wanted Fr O'Flanagan off the scene because of his high-profile promotion of 'nationality.'

Some higher-ups in the Irish Hierarchy might have had roles, too; the 'Castle Catholic.'

Change Tide

But the Bishop of Elphin could never have foreseen, though, that sending Fr O'Flanagan to Roscommon would help change the tide of Ireland's history.

This coming weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Count Plunkett's bye election win for Sinn Fein in North Roscommon.

It was the beginning of the end for British rule in the South of Ireland, within 12 months Sinn Fein swept Westminster seats all over Ireland.

Winter Weather

Fr O'Flanagan had an instrumental role in choosing Count Plunkett as candidate for February 1917. 

The (Papal) Count won against all odds; the curate's role was vital in ensuring voter turnout in bad winter weather.

Much lesser material has been made into good films. There are strong threads of a script 'n' a half here in this new local history.

Locals who withheld the key for use of the church after the transfer of their curate even suggests a (serious budget) documentary should be considered.

Seventy five years elapsed before Church authorities consented, relented, to permit the name of Fr O'Flanagan be remembered at his chapel in Cliffoney.

The research, typeface and layout are top class, moreso for a book costing a mere fiver.