Michael Thomas Skeahan - 1928 -- 2008
Long time Irish Republican activist Mike Skeahan was laid to rest in Saint Charles Cemetery (the cemetery of the Diocese of Brooklyn) in Farmingdale (Long Island), New York on 28th August; he is in Section 103, Range N, Grave 138, not far from the graves of his parents. He was a long-time personal friend of Mike Flannery, of George Harrison and of Joe Stynes; he was Mike Flannery's driver for a while in the early '70s.
Like "Mack the Knife" in the song from Berchtold Brecht's Three Penny Opera, Mike Skeahan had always been the strong, silent type, operating in the background. But unlike Brecht's character, Mike Skeahan was never in it for himself, but always served a higher cause.
One of many examples of this is found back when the recent troubles began; the Republican movement at home produced a book called Freedom Struggle, which was promptly banned on the other side of the pond. Having obtained a bootleg copy of same, Mike took it upon himself to produce an American edition of the same (typeset and all, from scratch). The distinguishing difference on the cover was a photograph of some IRA men armed with US Rifle, calibre .30, M1. [Mike had a love affair with the M1 Rifle that went back to the end of the Second World War, when he volunteered for the 82nd Airborne Division.] While maintaining his daytime job, Mike (with the occasional assistance of a friend or two) put in more nights than he would care to remember making Freedom Struggle happen -- much to the chagrin of Brits and Free Staters alike.
A native of New York City, Mike comes of good Fenian stock. His father, also named Michael, was an IRA man (and an Irish Volunteer before the Rising) from Kilkee, County Clare (a town once served by the famous West Clare Railroad). While on the run during the "Tan War", the senior Michael Skeahan met his future wife, Christina Barton (a member of Cumann na mBan) in a safe house in Garryowen, Limerick, operated by her father, Michael Barton - an IRB man.
Mike graduated from Saint Sebastian's school in Woodside, Queens, and attended Power Memorial Academy under the gentle tutelage of the Irish Christian Brothers, where he majored in football and track. He graduated from St. Michael's High School and then, with two buddies, joined the US Army for World War II. A bricklayer by trade, he was an officer of Local 34 of the Bricklayer's Union, in Manhattan.
Whenever there was trouble at home in Ireland, Mike was there, always behind the scenes, lending his own special support to the Cause of Irish Freedom. He worked very closely, and always very discretely, with the late Martin Madden of Oranmore, Co. Galway, and others, during the recent Troubles.
After the parting of the ways in 1986, Mike Skeahan was one of seven men who met in Mike Flannery's parlor to found Cumann na Saoirse. It was Mike Skeahan who came up with the name "Cumann na Saoirse", and who insisted, to avoid being embarrassed by back-sliding politicians at home in Ireland, that Cumann na Saoirse would have no foreign principal, but rather would be an independent American organization devoted to furthering the bright dream of the men and women of 1916.
Mike could always be counted on to do the heavy lifting, all the while shunning publicity. The only thing that he couldn't be counted on to do was to stand still long enough to be photographed. He did break with precedent, however, at the Cumann na Saoirse Testimonial on 26th January 2007, probably the first time Mike ever consented to be photographed at a public event; he had already been diagnosed with Cancer, but did not mention it that night. Republican Sinn Féin was represented by Vice President Mary Ward of Donegal at the Testimonial.
The funeral Mass was in Saint Sebastian’s Church in Woodside, where Mike grew up. It was well attended both by friends and family. John MacDonagh of Radio Free Éireann and Bob Lochmann and Mike Costello (of An Spidéal) were there for Cumann na Saoirse.
A year ago Mike had asked Martin Lyons of Glenamaddy, Co. Galway to speak at his grave. While acknowledging the impossibility to do justice to Mike in 5 to 10 minutes, Martin did make the point about Mike’s volunteer service both to the United States and to Ireland. The same flags which were present for the dedication of the new stone on the grave of Colonel Thomas Kelly of the Fenian Brotherhood were on either side of the grave of Mike Skeahan. He also pointed out that Mike had said that, for him, the two most inspiring Irishmen were Cathal Brugha and John Mitchel. Tommy Enright of Dublin brought copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the family, which Liam Murphy read aloud. Kathy Mooney thanked everyone for their prayers and support for Mike.
Mike Skeahan was the genuine article, a true practitioner of the Fenian Faith, but discreetly, in a very compartmented, but extremely effective manner.
Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal