North Cathedral Bicentenary Exhibition

James Christopher O’Flynn was born on 12th Dec. 1881 at no. 12 Mallow Lane (Shandon St.). He was one of seven children in the family of Cornelius & Catherine O’Flynn. Known in the family as Jimmy, he was a great mimic and had a deep interest in Irish history, language and culture. He recalls that as a boy his father held him on his shoulder to watch the great Parnell pass by St. Patrick’s Church on his way to address the people of Cork. Jimmy went to Blackpool national school and North Monastery. When he left school he worked for some time in the offices of Ogilvie & Moore. But he was drawn to the priesthood and so he went to Farranferris College and later Maynooth where he was ordained in 1909. His first appointment was in Farranferris College where he taught elocution – he was also chaplain to Our Lady’s Hospital. During his time in Our Lady’s Asylum, Fr. Christy became sympathetic to the republican cause. IRA men on the run knew that the asylum was a safe place to go to if in trouble. His activities came to the attention of Bishop Coholan and colleagues. During the course of an evening in the Cathedral Presbytery the Canon took him aside and advised him to be careful of his activities as Ireland had no need of any more martyrs. Early next day, Fr. O’Flynn drove to the Bishop’s residence on his ‘Red Indian motor cycle (with sidecar). Without beating about the bush he informed the Bishop “I’m for De Valera: I voted Sinn Fein last Dec. and I’ve subscribed to the loan in support of Dail Eireann”. He then produced a receipt of ?5 signed by Michael Collins, Minister for Finance. Soon after Fr. O’Flynn was moved to the Bishop’s own parish church, the North Cathedral. Fr. O’Flynn was soon immersed in the lives and struggles of the people of the north parish. They felt he was one of their own. One of his first official duties in the Cathedral was to assist at the requiem mass for Terence MacSwiney on Nov. 1st 1920. Tensions were very high. A number of incidents in 1921 left a deep mark on Fr. O’Flynn and changed the course of his life. On Sat. 14th May, while preparing his Sunday sermon, he heard a loud explosion. An ambush in O’Connell St. nearby had left four RIC men wounded and one dead. Fr. O’Flynn rushed to the scene where he gave the last rites. An angry crowd had gathered and Fr. O’Flynn quelled the tension and prevented further bloodshed by getting the crowd and forces to back down. He was offered an escort home which he refused saying he was among his own. Some time after that he got a huge blow when he heard that his close friend, Fr. O’Callaghan, had been shot by the ‘Tans’. They had been ordained together. Fr. O’Flynn raced to the North Infirmary and prayed and held his hand until he died. His friend’s death had a terrible effect him. He realised that the war had become an ‘eye for an eye’ and a terrible waste of life. Being a great orator himself and a lover of Shakespeare he gathered together a group of parishioners in the Cathedral Presbytery and instructed them in the techniques of acting. This small beginning in 1926 of An Crioch Scoil, which soon became known as the ‘Cork Shakespearean Company’, grew so much that a new premises was found in Gerald Griffin St. and later again the group moved to John Redmond St. Here in a ‘loft’ room over a sweet factory was where many of our well known actors got their training. It was here in Fr. James Christopher Flynn 1881-1962

2 . 1962, BBC documentary about Father O’Flynn

1. 1909 Photograph of Father O’Flynn as a young man

4. At prayer

3. Fr. O’Flynn and his family

humble beginnings that Chris Curran, Eileen Curran, James Stack, Eddie Golden, Edward Mulhare, Joe Lynch, etc.; people who made acting their career, began. ‘The Loft’ as it became affectionately known, held its’ first major production in the Opera House in 1927, where they performed for 5 nights. A more ambitious undertaking was in 1929 when the company gave 8 performances in the one week. This company of actors still perform today. Fr. O’Flynn was at this time was making a name for himself for helping people with speech difficulties, especially stammers. He utilised special breathing exercises which he had developed for his actors. In 1946 Fr. O’Flynn was transferred to Passage West. He formed a children’s choir in the girls’ school which had great success throughout Ireland and also broadcast on Radio Eireann. He was also a founder member of Passage Rowing Club. In the early 60’s a production team from the BBC came to Cork to make a documentary on Fr. O’Flynn. The film; called ‘It happened to me’, fascinated viewers with his speech therapy techniques and also showed the great love of his parishioners for him and him for them. Hywell Davies, who was the

7. Shakespeare Society Poster, 1927

5. Fr. O’Flynn, an active organiser of the Harriers drag hunt

narrator of the documentary, said of him “I have never met, nor think I ever shall meet, such a mixture of strength and tenderness, of purposefulness and compassion and generosity and of downright devilment and fun”. In Dec. 1961, Fr. Christy suffered a heart attack and was taken to the North Infirmary where he died 18th Jan. 1962. It is strangely fitting that he died across the road from his beloved ‘Loft’ and a stone’s throw from his birth home in Shandon St., and under the shadow of the North Cathedral where he served for much of his priestly life.

6. Fr. O’Flynn helped to set up the Cork Shakespearian Society, outing, 1931

(Special thanks to Breda O’Driscoll, whose research provided much of the material for this article)

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