Thomas O’Flynn, class '35
1915 - 1984
Even as I write, more than six months after his unexpected taking from among us, it is difficult to think of Fr Tom O’Flynn as of someone who is dead. Though his appointments during the latter half of his priestly life required him to live outside the community, he was always punctilious about keeping in touch, regularly visiting the house to which he was formally attached whether it was the old St Joseph’s on Temple Road, Blackrock or the new one at Stillorgan Park. Then, of course, he “breezed in” to the other houses making some provocative statement and galvanising a sometimes jaded community into life. Perhaps this is the same as saying that he was life-enhancing.
Tom O, as he was affectionately known among his confrères, was born in Millstreet, Co. Cork and, though he spent most of his life in the Dublin area, there was a sense in which he never left it. This was largely due to his devotion to his family. But those of us who lived close to him in his earlier years heard a good deal about the Presentation Convent in Millstreet and the nuns in Drishane, and also about the local citizenry. And there was the famous occasion — I think it was at the end of the war — when Tom O, bewailing the rise in the cost of living, informed us that some Millstreet notability had to leave the neighbourhood because he couldn’t afford to stay. Tom Cashin, who with Michael Walsh and myself shared the end of the Castleknock table with him, asked sympathetically “What did he do, did he emigrate to America?” “Oh no!” replied Tom O, unconscious (or was he?) of the bizarre nature of the remark, “He came up to Dublin and bought a house in Ailesbury Road”. In a way it was his spontaneous tribute to the supremacy of Millstreet over the metropolis.
Not indeed that he did not like Dublin. He once told the writer that he intended to be a witness of every important event that occurred in Dublin during his lifetime. I am afraid this drew the obvious question “What leads you to suppose that you will spend your life in Dublin?” I have forgotten his reply but I have no doubt that he dealt more than adequately with the remark. In the event, apart from two years as spiritual director in Maynooth, he did spend his life in Dublin, where an evening paper was available — a necessary amenity for Tom O. He was also fortunate in being close to the sea at St Paul’s and Clonliffe and he was able to take a daily walk on the Bull Wall or on the pier at Howth or at Dun Laoghaire, sometimes indeed during the holidays on two of the three. How he managed to combine this with all his spiritual activities remains a mystery.
He was much addicted to the drinking of tea (weak), something that his family also noted, and I remember he once announced (perhaps by way of excuse) that Dr Johnson had made the observation that the stimulation of tea-drinking was a necessary concomitant to good conversation. He would never refuse a cup of tea and, whether as a result or not, it must be conceded that his conversation, like the tea, was always stimulating. Dr Johnson was a much-quoted author and he possessed in full measure the good doctor’s robust common sense and also some of his minor eccentricities. He loved having his leg pulled and enjoyed telling stories against himself. Tom Woods once told us that during the Christmas holidays at the end of his first term on the staff of St Paul’s when Tom O was president, the two of them met on O’Connell Street and Tom O enquired politely how Tom and the other students were faring in Glenart. Characteristically, Tom O greatly relished the story when he heard it. In early life he had been very absent-minded but was always down to earth and with the passage of time it was amazing how organised his life became. This achievement must have been a gift of God to enable him to widen and deepen his spiritual influence.
During his schooldays in Castleknock Tom O gave early evidence of his literary bent, his enthusiasm for Irish, his keenness for English and Irish debate, and his love of dramatics. He took an honours degree at UCD and subsequently gained a first class honours MA in English. These interests and accomplishments were invaluable during his teaching career but his greatest asset, then and later as a spiritual director, was his lovable personality. He was immensely popular and his unusual qualities of mind and heart, his sympathy for and understanding of the problems of those with whom he came in contact, whether boys or students for the priesthood or others he encountered during life, were greatly appreciated. He always had a deep devotion to Our Lady and this found an outlet in his work for the Legion of Mary of which he became spiritual director to the Concilium and a close friend of Frank Duff. The members of the Legion showed their appreciation of his tireless work on their behalf by their massive attendance at his funeral Mass and afterwards by their touching recitation of the rosary at his graveside.
He was, I suppose, a conservative in matters of religion and, though very open, would not take all new insights on board. But he would defend his views with disarming wit and was tolerant of the views of those who differed from him, saying cheerfully that he would “meet them on the way back”. This good humour and his great kindness in personal contact enabled him to surmount the difficulties of the late ’60s and early ’70s in his work as spiritual director. One felt that he was humanly and spiritually fulfilled as never before during the long years in Clonliffe. He often spoke of the kindness of staff and students and he seemed to have become a kind of father figure to one and all. They gave him a great “send-off” in the ceremonies and singing at Phibsborough and at Glasnevin, and afterwards Fr Brendan Houlihan, the president of Clonliffe, was the perfect host. Tom must have been pleased with his obsequies.
These are only a few of one man’s reminiscences on the life of Tom; others I know, would have more valuable things to say. Was he the last of our “characters”? At any rate, his amusing, edifying and enquiring presence will continue to be missed in our province. But my last words must be to his family to which he was so devoted, and to give our assurance to his sister Maurleen and his brothers Niall and Paddy and their families that we shall keep a remembrance of him in our Masses and prayers. May he rest in peace.
THOMAS O’FLYNN , C.M.
Born: Millstreet, Co. Cork, 18 September 1915.
Entered the Congregation: 7 September 1935.
Final vows: 8 September 1937.
Ordained a priest in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, by Dr McQuaid,
Archbishop of Dublin, 30 May 1942.
1942-1959 St Vincent’s, Castleknock.
1959-1965 St Paul’s, Raheny.
1965-1967 St Patrick’s, Maynooth.
1967-1984 Holy Cross, Clonliffe.
Died 20 February 1984.