John Flanagan Community Hero September 2016
Originally from Carrickmagrath, John married Marie Gallagher from Sessiaghoneill in 1968 and the couple now live in Tircallen. They reared a family of five children but sadly they lost their son Damien in 1991. Today they have fourteen grandchildren which they are very proud of.
John first got involved in community as a member of the Fianna Fail party in 1955 even though he didn’t have a vote at the time as he was only 16 years. This didn’t deter the young man who would become a pivotal figure in the development of many groups in the Twin Towns. He spent his lifetime in the party and much of his time in the early days particularly during the mid 60’s and 70’s was spent trying to helping those affected by the conflict from both sides of the border, taking many risks in the process. He regularly brought aid to families who were turned out of their homes in Derry at the time.
During the troubles John had a business in Omagh manufacturing and selling fireplaces but he was forced to close this due to the conflict in 1972. He had been in the building trade prior to this business and so, he went back into the industry as a contractor and in later years he ran building sites for other contractors, continuing in this work until his retirement in 2005.
Being a very civic minded individual, John became involved in the community from a very young age delivering envelopes for the Church and helping out generally. He also helped set up the Alcoholics Anonymous group in 1973 which was held in St. Joseph’s. He was a founder member of the St. Patrick’s Accordion Band, or the Drumkeen Band as it was more commonly known, giving his own and many other local children a new opportunity in the area, and he served for a number of years on the committee helping out and taking the band members to play in various locations. This band went on to become DMBA League Champions, All Ireland Slogagh Champions and World Manx Champions which was no mean feat for a small village in rural Ireland. Unfortunately, the band declined in numbers and disbanded in the early 90’s however, there are current ongoing efforts to fundraise and get the band up and running again.
Being involved in politics for some time John received a ministerial appointment as a Peace Commissioner in 1981 which he continues to this day. This involves him being available to sign warrants and grant submissions etc.
He also canvassed with Mary McAleese during her first presidential election campaign and was a member of the committee who brought her back as the new President of Ireland to the Twin Towns to meet with local groups along with the late senator McGowan and the late Charlie Faulkner. He was eventually co-opted through his membership of the Fianna Fail party onto the Culture, Museum and Library Committee for 15 years and he was also involved in the Donegal County Council Arts and Grants Committee tasked with approving arts and grants for the county.
In 1982 John became a founder member of Cunamh which was formed in response to a local need in the community and was designed to support families suffering a crisis. To date the group has helped many families in the community and was involved in running traditional weekends in the Twin Towns as well as organising the very last dance in the Butt Hall. Over the years John got to know many of the touring bands at the time through his role as a steward in the Butt Hall and he enlisted the help of his good friend, the late Larry Cunningham, who came along to entertain the crowd that night.
Faith has played a very important role in John’s life and he has been a member of Cursillo in the Twin Towns area since 1988. Both himself and Marie are regular visitors to Knock Shrine and he was personally invited to the rededication of the Basilica in Knock on the 16th July this year, which was officiated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley from the Archdiocese of Boston who was also accompanied by Marty Walsh the mayor of Boston for the visit.
John is an active member of the St Mary’s Church Building and Restoration group and was in charge of overseeing the building of the new parish centre and he continues to be involved in the upkeep of St. Mary’s Church which is a listed building, and as such, is required to adhere to strict preservation regulations when work is being done. Presently this group is currently working on ongoing maintenance that is required to ensure the safety and long term preservation of the structure. In the past John also was a member of a small group of local people alongside the late Fr Dan McDyer who raised funds for the Presbyterian Church windows which were vandalised. The group through their efforts were able to present a cheque to the rector at the time to help repair the damage.
Not content with just helping out on the home front John has been involved through various local groups in a bid to help those less fortunate on an international scale and he served as a member of a local committee alongside other representatives who helped the victims of the Tsunami Disaster in 2004 in Thailand which left 250,000 people dead in one day. Collectively this group raised over €200,000 for the disaster, a notable contribution from a small rural area of Donegal. He was also involved with Donegal ABC (Aid for Belarussian Children) with local businessman, Ernan Meenan and gave his backing to this group who provided a four-week holiday for children affected by radiation due to the Chernobyl disaster. Providing this holiday helped to extend the children’s life span and reduced the effects of radiation. This group set up a Children’s hospice in Mogalive and brought Belarussian nurses to Donegal to train in palliative care with the Donegal Hospice. They continue to support the hospice in Mogalive which gives much needed help to families of children who are terminally ill due to the ongoing effects of radiation.
John has also supported a child in Africa called Boalong by giving aid for her education. Boalong who is now in her 20’s trained in fine arts and Thai dance and is now able to support herself by teaching these skills.
In 2003 the Twin Towns was to be the host town for the Macau Special Olympics Team and being ever ready to lend a hand, John helped organise their stay and was instrumental in bringing the team to the Twin Towns. There was a great sense of celebration as the team was welcomed with a parade involving many local groups and the streets were lined with locals who came to welcome and cheer them on as they arrived.
It is amazing to think that anyone as busy as John actually has time for hobbies but it’s fair to say that he is a man of many talents, one of which is wine making. Not half bad for a man who doesn’t drink wine. He became a wine maker of some renown when he won the Ulster Cup in Ardara for his efforts over many years and was eventually invited along as a judge for the event. There are not many out there who can say they made the wine that was used for the toast at a family wedding, but this is exactly what John did and it became a family tradition which he repeated for all of his children’s weddings.
Being in the contracting business it’s no surprise that John would have a keen eye for detail and design so his interest in sculpture would be understandable. He has visited many places worldwide with this in mind and himself and Marie have travelled extensively throughout the world and in particular throughout America and Canada visiting many sights of notable interest.
Even though these trips were essentially holidays and sightseeing John became involved in politics on one of his trips, and while in America he canvassed for Bill Clinton during his first election campaign. Not content with viewing artistic places, John has utilised his very artistic eye and has made his own sculptures and beautiful stone clocks and he still does this work as a pastime. In the last two years he has taken up painting which he also enjoys. There’s no end to this man’s talents or interests as John also enjoys collecting old machinery and antiques such as sewing machines and farming tools.
When I asked John what his plans for the future were, he replied “lie back and enjoy life”. For someone who has spent his life fostering community spirit and harnessing community participation I think he has very definitely earned the right to do just that!