The fight of the Irish against the British was the great theme of Mr. Flannery’s life. As a boy of 14 in Ireland, he joined the Irish Volunteers and learned to fire a machine gun behind a monastery cloister. In 1970, after 43 years in the United States, he was one of the founders of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, which says it is a charitable organisation for the children of British political prisoners. Both the British and United States Governments have said it is an arms-smuggling organisation.
In 1983, Mr. Flannery was named grand marshal of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The announcement came just four months after he was acquitted of gun-running charges. His leadership caused Terence Cardinal Cooke to boycott the beginning of the parade and some politicians declined to march, including Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former Gov. Hugh L. Carey. Others, including Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and Mayor Edward I. Koch, marched.
Before his death, friends say, he was closely watching the evolving peace process in northern Ireland. They said he remained firm in his belief in a united Ireland.
After his death, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes issued a statement saying: “Michael Flannery set a new standard for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and its grand marshals. He expanded the annual reaffirmation of our culture to include recognition of continuing discrimination against Catholics in Northeast Ireland.”
Mr. Flannery was born on a farm in North Tipperary of the parish of Clyduff in 1902 and joined the Irish Volunteers in 1916, the year of the Irish Rebellion. He saw no fighting, but stayed with the rebels after the revolt. After two years in prison, he staged a hunger strike in 1923 and was released in 1924.
In 1927, Mike immigrated to America, as there was little or no work in Ireland, especially for opponents of partition. In America, he was employed by Metropolitan Life where he worked for the next four decades. During his early years in America he met and married his wife Margaret “Pearl” Eagan who was also involved in the fight for Irish freedom. Throughout the decades, Mike assisted Republican activists who sought refuge in America including Ernie O’Malley in the late 20s, Andy Cooney in the early 50s and others in the 70s and 80s.
In 1970, he travelled around the United States, helping set up 62 chapters of the Northern Aid Committee. In 1971, he said, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British occupying soldiers.
In 1982, he was indicted with four others for arms smuggling, but they were acquitted by a jury, some of whose members said they believed defence assertions that the men were acting at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The next year, he was named grand marshal of the parade, and publicly said that the event should be considered “pro-IRA”. Banners along the route said, “We Love You, Michael Flannery.”
After returning from a visit to Ireland in 1987, Mike along with George Harrison and Joe Stynes founded Cumann na Saoirse Naisiunta – The National Irish Freedom Committee to carry the torch of Irish Republicanism in America.