Flannery, Michael (1902–94), Irish-American republican activist, was born in January 1902 in Knockshegowna, near Roscrea, in north Co. Tipperary, the sixth of seven children. His paternal grandfather was evicted three times during the period of the famine, his father was active in land agitation, and an uncle was imprisoned for obstructing a foxhunt. Flannery was educated at Mount St Joseph's monastery, Roscrea. He left school at sixteen, but in later life studied for a BA at Columbia University in New York. Flannery joined the Irish Volunteers at the age of fourteen in 1916, shortly before the Easter rising. (His three elder brothers had been members since 1914; he was accepted because he was tall for his age.) During the war of independence he was an active member of Tipperary no. 1 brigade, IRA, and was imprisoned for six months in 1921. He opposed the treaty and fought on the anti-treaty side in the civil war. He later said that though he had not knowingly killed anyone during the civil war he once put a gun to the head of a Free State soldier: ‘to this day I regret that it misfired’ (Boyne, 200). This bitterness was fuelled by his presence in Mountjoy prison on 8 December 1922, when Rory O'Connor (qv) and three other republican leaders were executed in close proximity to his cell. Captured on 11 November 1922 he remained a prisoner until 1 May 1924. During his imprisonment he spent twenty-eight days on hunger strike, which left his stomach permanently affected. After his release he remained active in the IRA and Sinn Féin. He disliked Éamon de Valera (qv), whom he thought ‘too dogmatic and humourless’ and regarded Fianna Fáil's entry into the dáil as a betrayal of the republic.
In February 1927 Flannery emigrated to America, having been sent by the IRA to carry out organisational duties; he settled in New York and found work with the Metropolitan Insurance Company. Within a few years he became the dominant figure in Clan na Gael. He was acquainted with Dan Breen (qv) during Breen's stay in New York and attempted to dissuade him from returning to Ireland to become a Fianna Fáil TD. Flannery had originally intended to return to Ireland after a few years, but decided to stay in the United States because of the difficulty of finding employment at home during the depression; he became an American citizen in 1933. In 1928 he married Margaret Mary (‘Pearl’) Egan (d. 12 November 1991) of Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary, a chemistry graduate of UCD and a member of Cumann na mBan during the war of independence. They had no children but helped to bring up and educate fourteen nephews and nieces (seven in America, seven in Ireland). Flannery attended mass daily, and was a lifelong teetotaller and Pioneer. He was active in numerous catholic and Irish-American organisations, and in 1957 he was chairman in New York of the GAA.
In 1970 Flannery founded the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid), which was generally regarded as an IRA front group, though it claimed that its activities were confined to raising funds for the families of IRA prisoners. He had been surreptitiously contacted during the intrigues leading up to the 1970 arms crisis, but opposed the idea of cooperating with an Irish state which he regarded as fundamentally illegitimate. In 1971 when Noraid was obliged to register as a foreign agent, Flannery as trustee had to supply six-monthly financial reports to the US treasury department. At its height in the early seventies Noraid had between seventy and ninety chapters and about 10,000 members; thereafter numbers declined owing to government surveillance and the alienation of mainstream Irish-American opinion by IRA violence, but the organisation retained a hard core of members in traditional Irish areas. Flannery also helped to found in 1974 the Irish National Caucus, a political lobbying group, but denounced it after it distanced itself from IRA violence.
From 1976 onwards Flannery was at the centre of court proceedings by means of which the American government aimed to establish that Noraid was directly linked to the IRA. In September 1981 Flannery was charged with gun-running after American authorities ‘turned’ George DeMeo, a gun dealer who had supplied arms to the IRA since the 1950s; Flannery had raised funds for the arms-smuggling ring which gunrunner George Harrison operated. Flannery's arrest as he was leaving mass and a drastic search of his house were criticised by republican sympathisers. During his trial with four other republican activists (September–November 1982) the defendants admitted gun-running but claimed that DeMeo was employed by the CIA and that they had therefore believed themselves to have government sanction. They were acquitted despite CIA denials: Flannery used the witness box to publicise his career, and his views on Irish history and Northern Ireland. In the aftermath of the trial he made numerous media appearances. He was elected grand marshal of the 1983 New York St Patrick's Day parade; this was seen as a gesture of support for the IRA and the parade was boycotted by the Irish government and several prominent Irish-American politicians.
The raised profile of Noraid and its increased involvement in political lobbying created tensions between younger activists and traditionalists like Flannery. In 1986 he opposed the abandonment of abstentionism by Sinn Féin, left Noraid, and founded Cumann na Saoirse, a support group aligned to Republican Sinn Féin; in his remaining years he donated most of his financial assets to the cause, and in November 1993 he became official patron of Republican Sinn Féin. He died of heart failure 30 September 1994 and was buried at Mount Saint Mary's cemetery, Flushing, Queens. A fragmentary memoir written by Flannery, Accepting the challenge (edited by Dermot O'Reilly), was published in 2001. Flannery's self-sacrifice and commitment were respected even by some who thought him misled by futile ‘arcadian’ nationalism. Others might summarise his career in his response to the bomb deaths of London civilians: ‘Innocent people get killed in all wars’ (Holland, 57).