O'Flaherty, Thomas (1890–1936), journalist, writer, and socialist, was born 30 December 1890 in Gort na gCapall, Inishmore, Aran Islands, Co. Galway, one of two sons and seven daughters of Michael O'Flaherty, smallholder, Fenian, and Land Leaguer, and Margaret O'Flaherty (née Ganly), originally of Mainistir, Inishmore. He was educated in the mandatory English-language curriculum at Oatquarter national school, where the master, David O'Callaghan, an avid Sinn Féiner and Gaelic Leaguer, recognising his precocity and that of his younger brother, Liam O'Flaherty (qv), taught the brothers to read and write Irish and encouraged their voracious reading in both languages. When Roger Casement (qv) visited the school (c.1902) he was so impressed by Thomas's recitation and translation of an Irish text that he awarded the lad a half-crown and subsequently posted him books. Casement intended sponsoring his further education, but ‘fate intervened’ (O'Flaherty's own inscrutable phrase) and the plan was abandoned. Emigrating to America (1912) and settling in Boston, O'Flaherty pursued an increasingly peripatetic career in journalism and socialist politics. Correspondent with the Boston Globe, he was active in both the Socialist Party (SP) and the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He helped organise James Connolly Clubs in Boston and New York, and assisted James Larkin (qv) in launching an American edition of the Irish Worker (1918). Aligning with the SP's pro-Bolshevik left-wing, he was a founder-member, with Larkin, John Reed, and others, of the Communist Labor Party (August 1919), one of two competing American bodies seeking Comintern recognition. Urging his brother Liam, who visited him in Boston in 1919–20, to adopt a more settled life, he gave him a typewriter and encouraged him to write his first short stories, based on his wanderings. In Two years (1930), Liam O'Flaherty sketches a subjective portrait of his brother at this time as a sober personality, sincere in his communist convictions but detached from actual contact with working people and their experience.
After a short time in New York (1920), Tom O'Flaherty moved to Chicago, where he was founding editor of the pro-communist weekly Voice of Labor (1921). Member of both the reconstituted, underground Communist Party of America (1921–3) and its legal, public arm, the Workers Party (WP) (1921–8), he served on the latter body's central executive committee (1921–2, 1925–7). He was among the thirty-one ‘Bridgman [Michigan] defendants’, arrested and charged with criminal syndicalism after a secret CPA convention (April 1922). Working on the Chicago editorial staffs of the official WP organs, the weekly Worker (1922–4) and its successor, the Daily Worker (1924–8), he attracted a large and enthusiastic audience in American leftist circles for his regular column, ‘As we see it’. He launched and edited an Irish-interest paper, the Irish People (1923–4), to which Liam O'Flaherty from England contributed stories and articles, including ‘The sniper’ (June 1923). Tom O'Flaherty contributed to the WP theoretical journal Political Affairs and to the pro-communist Labor Defender. Delegate to the International Red Aid Congress, Moscow (1925), he also travelled to Moscow in 1926, on both occasions visiting Liam in Ireland and England en route. Supporting the pro-Trotsky Left Opposition, he was expelled from the WP (November 1928) and was a founding member of the Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) (Jan. 1929) and contributor to its organ, the Militant. Interested increasingly in agrarian issues and active throughout the northwestern states, he edited Producers News in Plentywood, Montana (1929–31). Estranged from the CLA in his support for a farmer–labour party (1931–2), he was close to Al Weisbord's Communist League of Struggle and edited a satirical leftist monthly, the Wasp, in Cleveland, Ohio. He rejoined the CLA in 1932.
Returning to Ireland in poor health (1934), he lived several months on Inishmore, then alternated between Dublin and England, contributing to the Irish Press and British leftist publications, and assisting in the launch of the first Irish-language weekly, An t-Éireannach, several issues of which he edited. Linked to the leftist Irish Republican Congress and aimed at a working-class and gaeltacht audience, under O'Flaherty's influence the journal's politics were socialist, anti-fascist, and internationalist. He reported frequently (1934–6) on local gaeltacht issues, arousing controversy for his anti-clericalism and contempt for language-movement pieties. He published a collection of autobiographical sketches and stories, Aranmen all (1934), treating much the same features of island life as Robert Flaherty (qv) in his recently successful film Man of Aran, but in a more restrained, homely tone. A similar collection, Cliffmen of the west, followed (1936). Some pieces in both volumes were English versions of copy originally contributed to An t-Éireannach. While O'Flaherty in his journalism was seeking to illuminate the desperate poverty of such communities as those of Aran as a stimulus to radical social reform, his two books fail to break out entirely from the hoary tradition that depicted the islanders’ lives as romantically picturesque adventure.
O'Flaherty married while in America (c.1925). In severely declining health he returned to Inishmore, where he died of heart failure on 19 May 1936.