In 1886, Boys Town founder Father Edward J. Flanagan was born in the township of Leabeg, County Roscommon, Ireland. But while Leabeg was his place of birth, Father Flanagan always considered the nearby village of Ballymoe, County Galway, as his hometown. A rural farming community located in western Ireland, the village was surrounded by the ruins of ancient castles and had origins that stretched back hundreds of years.
When Father Flanagan was a young boy, several long-time businesses and pubs lined the Main Street of Ballymoe. The local church he attended, St. Croans, was built in 1821. The majority of the land at that time was owned by absentee landlords who lived in London or Dublin. A strict class structure based upon a person’s faith and family status limited opportunities for a person like Father Flanagan, who was Catholic and whose father was a land agent for a landlord.
Every day, Father Flanagan’s mother, Honora, would walk young Edward and his siblings to Drimtemple School, just outside the village. After school, like many other children who had to work to help their families, he would help monitor the sheep in the fields. Daily life for many people at that time revolved around their farm chores and Sunday evening Mass at St. Croans.
In 1904, Father Flanagan left Ballymoe, immigrated to America and followed his calling to become a priest. After his departure, however, the pain of separation became so great that his parents and siblings eventually followed him, settling in Omaha, Nebraska, where Father Flanagan was by then serving as a parish priest.
When Father Flanagan left Ballymoe, the majority of the people there lived in poverty and a small group of wealthy people held all the land. This old class and wealth system would be swept away with Irish independence in 1921.
Father Flanagan returned to Ballymoe several times in the 1930s and 1940s. He praised the positive changes he saw, with farmers now owning their land and better opportunities for all people, regardless of the their faith and social status. In fact, many of the great estates had been broken up and the land distributed among the Irish tenant farmers.
Ballymoe today has about a hundred residents and still depends on an agricultural-based economy. Unfortunately, there are limited job opportunities for young people and many leave each year. One bright spot is a plan to create special historical attractions for the many tourists and pilgrims from around the world who visit the village to learn about Father Flanagan and his early life in rural Ireland. With Father Flanagan’s cause for canonization underway, even more travelers are making Ballymoe their must-see destination.