Fahy, John (1893–1969), priest, republican, and agrarian radical, was born 8 June 1893 in Burroge, Killeenadeema (Kilnadeema), Loughrea, Co. Galway, one of at least four sons of John Fahey, a small farmer who had been a fervent land leaguer, and his wife Honoria (née Davock). After attending Killeenadeema national school, he trained for the catholic priesthood at the diocesan seminary of St Joseph's, The Pines, Ballinasloe, and at the national seminary, St Patrick's, Maynooth (1911–19). Ordained for the diocese of Clonfert (28 September 1919), he was seconded to the diocese of Dunkeld, Scotland, serving in Dundee at St Joseph's (1919–20) and St Andrew's cathedral (1920–21). Signalling the militant republicanism and social radicalism that would punctuate his career, he served as an IRA battalion chaplain, attended communist public meetings, and was involved with Scottish nationalists. He defended against clerical critics the morality of the fatal hunger strike undertaken by Terence MacSwiney (qv), and travelled home to Loughrea to attend the funeral of Fr Michael Griffin (qv), killed by Black and Tans (November 1920). Recalled to Clonfert, he served as curate in the Co. Galway parishes of Eyrecourt (1921–3), Closetoken (1923–5), and Bullaun (1925–9).
In 1928 Fahy joined leftist agitator Peadar O'Donnell (qv) in an expansion into east Galway of the latter's campaign – thitherto confined to the Rosses of Donegal – against payment of land annuities. Under a pseudonym, Fahy wrote a widely circulated anti-annuities catechism (‘What is rent? Rent is a tribute of slavery enforced by the arms of the robber landlord . . . Who pays rents to landlords? Only slaves.’ (O'Donnell, 95)). In April 1929, after repudiating a court summons, he was arrested on charges of obstructing a bailiff and rescuing cattle seized from an annuities defaulter. Refusing on legitimist republican grounds to recognise the court or to post bail, he was remanded to Galway jail. Attracting national attention, the case raised important issues of church–state relations, and the secular or confessional character of the Irish Free State, when the bishop of Clonfert, John Dignan (qv), invoked the medieval privilegium fori, and expressed reluctance to concede complete legal authority over his clergy to the civil authorities. Submitting to episcopal authority as ultimately determined by Dignan, Fahy at his trial pleaded guilty, was sentenced to the seven weeks’ imprisonment already served, and released. Transferred back to Closetoken (1929–32), and bound by Dignan from discussing politics when two or more persons were present, he shared his shabby curate's residence with O'Donnell as a base for the continuing agitation. By 1931 his suspected IRA activities included recruitment and attempted arms purchase. Transferred to the curacy of Ballynakill, Co. Galway (1932–45), during the January 1933 election campaign he appeared on a Fianna Fáil platform alongside Éamon de Valera (qv). It is thought that Dignan's own republican sympathies, combined with the influence of Fahy's uncle, Monsignor John Bowes, a popular parish priest in the diocese, shielded Fahy from more serious repercussions.
Maintaining absolute public silence on political matters for over two decades, Fahy was appointed parish priest of Lusmagh, Banagher, Co. Offaly, in 1945. In the late 1950s he returned to national notice as founder and president of Lia Fáil, a radical populist movement of smallholding farmers. Launched in November 1957 at a Lusmagh parish meeting, within a year the movement boasted a national organisation with branches in eleven counties and a reputed membership of some 11,000. Aroused by the precipitate post-war decline in the smallholding population, and asserting that prevailing emigration levels threatened the very survival of the Irish as a people, Fahy stridently opposed acquisition of land and other sources of wealth by foreigners, and prescribed thorough land appropriation and redistribution, and limitation of individual ownership to 100 acres. The movement's journal, Lia Fáil – written largely by Fahy – excoriated the Fianna Fáil leadership for abandoning agrarian reform, embracing free trade, and betraying the party's traditional small-farmer base. Scorning both capitalism and socialism, Fahy, in sectarian and millenarian tones, envisioned ‘a Gaelic pastoral society of rural, catholic, arcadian values cut off from the insidious modern world’ (Murphy, 218). Lia Fáil agitations in the Lusmagh area against big farmers and graziers included land seizure, cattle driving, and burning of farm outbuildings (May–June 1959). When activists freed five persons from arrest in Lusmagh garda station, Fahy's parish house was raided by gardaí in search of the escapees. After delivering an inflammatory speech in defiance of a diocesan pastoral letter condemning the agitation, Fahy, presumably under episcopal pressure, resigned as president of Lia Fáil and as parish priest of Lusmagh. Moved to the curacy of Abbey, near Portumna, Co. Galway, in the parish of Duniry and Abbey (1959–69), he remained active in republican politics. Noted for work among travellers and for personal generosity to the poor, in 1968 he donated his entire estate of £200 to the Biafra famine fund.
Fahy's career was a stormy duality of radical politics and orthodox catholic belief and practice, accentuated by an eccentric personality. In O'Donnell's estimate, his ‘great gift of leadership’ was flawed by ‘occasional incoherence’ (O'Donnell, 95). His sole published volume was a devotional tract, The sacrifice of the Mass: the greatest thing on earth (1957); unpublished writings include an anti-annuities play performed in 1928, and an utopian novel denied an episcopal imprimatur. A lifelong passion for hunting led to friendships across class and sectarian divides. He died 19 July 1969 in Abbey, and was interred in Abbey churchyard with an IRA guard of honour. In later years a commemorative plaque, unveiled by O'Donnell, was erected by parishioners inside St Cronan's parish church, Lusmagh.