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Pat O'Looney who lives in Loughrea, but is originally from Kilfenora has written a book about the murder in 1920 of Fr Michael Griffin, whose family was from Corofin. Photograph by John Kelly

New book reveals murdered cleric’s Clare links

THE story of a Catholic priest who was brutally murdered during the War of Independence has been compiled in a new book by a Kilfenora native with a passion for history.

Retired teacher Pat O’Looney, who lives in Loughrea, has painstakingly researched the history of Fr Michael Griffin, a man who himself had strong Clare links. The cleric’s death is one of the most notorious incidents of the dark year of 1920 and send shock waves around the world. Pat’s book A Zealous Priest tells the story of the young junior curate. As the war was reaching its height, Fr Griffin was a junior the parishes of Bushypark and Barna. A known IRA sympathiser, he was just 28 when he was taken from his home in Galway city and murdered by crown forces.

“He had a number of Clare connections, though he was born in Ballinasloe,” explained Pat. “His grandfather was from Corofin and when Fr Griffin was ordained, his was first sent as a curate to Ennistymon. The year 1920 was probably the most brutal in Irish history, aided in no small way by the arrival of the Black and Tans in March of that year. Despite their relatively short time in the country they left behind a legacy of hatred and bitterness which successive generations have maintained to this day. Many innocent people were killed by these forces but one of the most shocking was Fr Griffin.”

The circumstances of Fr Griffin’s death generated international condemnation. He was abducted and taken to Lenaboy Castle where he was shot dead. His body was found buried in a bog near Barna a week later. The young man became the first of three priests to be murdered by the crown forces in a six-month period during a tumultuous phase of the war.

During his Local History studies at the University of Limerick (UL), Pat began to research the story. “My sources included books written by Fr Patrick Lee and Geraldine Plunket,” he explained. “I also had access to the archives of the Bureau of Military History which are now online. I ended up with around three times more documentation than I needed for the course work, my supervisor pointed out last year that Fr Griffin’s centenary was coming up and suggested I write a book. We had almost wrapped up the course when the pandemic hit and I set about compiling the research. I got the book to the printers in August. By the time, it was ready, there were only a few weeks before the return to lockdown, so people have been buying it from me directly.”

The current publication is not Pat’s first foray into publishing. A teacher of Maths and Irish, around 30 years ago, he wrote two short novels in Irish for the new Junior Cert curriculum. “I left the writing aside until 2018 when I wrote a memoir At Least Once A Year,” he said. “It was my supervisor’s suggestion that I write this book and the interest has been huge. The first print run sold out in three weeks. I’ve had requests from Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland as well as huge interest across this country.”

Because of the pandemic restrictions, A Zealous Priest is currently available directly from the author who can be contacted on 086-1785729 or by email to oluanaighp@gmail.com.


About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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