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Fr Nicholas Flavin - Extended Obituary

26 January 2019

The sudden death of Fr. Nicholas Flavin while on holiday in Spain on September 24 2018
brought to an end a remarkable life as student, scientist, athlete, teacher, headmaster,
community administrator and pastoral priest. His ministry on the staff of St. Kieran’s
College for almost two decades, and then in parish assignments in Rathdowney,
Dunamaggin and (on an interim basis) Windgap ensured that he was known to thousands
in every part of the diocese of Ossory, north and south. As if that were not enough, he was
also a respected administrator of athletics at both county and national level, and helped to
mastermind and support the huge resurgence in interest in track and field events in
Kilkenny and beyond in the latter part of the twentieth century.
Nicholas Anthony Pacelli Flavin was born in Mullinavat, Co. Kilkenny on August 10
1950, one of four children of Maurice (Mossie) Flavin and his wife Kathleen (Kitty, nee
The Flavins had originated in Fenor, Co. Waterford, where the family operated a
forge, and one Nicholas Flavin was the first to locate in Co. Kilkenny, establishing himself
in business at Templeorum around the turn of the twentieth century. He married Brigid
Aylward of Harristown, Mullinavat, one of the ‘Gabha’ or ‘Blacksmith’ Aylwards. Many of his
siblings had emigrated to the United States and settled around Boston, but Nicholas’s own
family remained in the home area, where he brought up his four sons to the trade (his son
Pierce continuing the farrier tradition into the 1980s at Oldcourt). His daughter Margaret
(Mrs. McGrath) taught at the one-teacher school then operating at Garrygogue.
Maurice came to the Kilmacow area as a youth with his brother Mick, who operated
a forge at Narabane for a period before moving to England, but Maurice returned to the
Rossinan area of Mullinavat after his marriage to Kitty Ryan.
She was a native of Waterford whose mother Hannah came from Graignamanagh,
and whose father Jim, a butcher who worked for Dennys, was from a Wexford family
connected to the Ryans of Dunganstown (Kitty was a guest at the celebrations
surrounding John F. Kennedy’s visit to the area in 1963).
In 1957 the Flavin family moved to the Kilmacow area, setting up home in Dangan
while Murice worked as an industrial fitter at the National Board and Paper Mills in
Grannagh. He died suddenly in 1971 at the age of fifty-eight.
Of the four children of Maurice and Kitty (who died in 2001), a son Thomas died as
an infant. All of the others chose science of one sort or another as their area of interest,
Jim becoming a laboratory technician, first in Wexford, then in Dublin and later in England,
where he became a director of a national testing company; Bea becoming a nurse who
underwent specialist training, including almost a decade in Dallas before returning to her
native area, where she married Dick Dunphy; and Nicholas, who, after a promising
secondary education at St. Kieran’s College from 1963 to 1968, went on to study Science
at NUI Maynooth alongside his early seminary studies.
He thus became part of a tradition of scientific scholarship in the diocese that
included Fr. Joe Dunphy, Fr. Gerry O’Sullivan, Fr. Joe Delaney, Fr. Seamus Henry and Fr.
Fergus Farrell, a contemporary of Nicholas, who obtained his M.Sc at Maynooth before
completing his priestly education in Rome, where he was ordained in 1974. Maynooth had
an impressive history of achievement in scientific studies since the time of the pioneering
physicist Nicholas Callan, featuring major figures in research and education down to the
late 1960s, when Joseph Spelman (Maths Physics), Gerard McGreevey (Experimental
Physics), Michael Casey OP (Chemistry) and James McMahon (Mathematics) were still
single-handedly managing their respective departments of study (science classes were still
small and confined to seminarians in those years before the development of NUI
Maynooth as a separate entity in the late 1970s).

Nicholas Flavin was ordained priest by Bishop Peter Birch, himself a prominent
athlete as a youth, on Sunday June 8th. 1975 in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, alongside
three students of St. Kieran’s College (including Fr. Michael Campion of Ossory, and later
Hexham and Newcastle) and Fr. John Greene of Ballycallan, a student for the Archdiocese
of Dublin (currently on missionary assignment in Chile).
He returned to Maynooth to study for his Higher Diploma in Education under the
then professor Brother Seámus V. O’Súilleabháin, a pioneering figure of Clare family
background, New York birth and Irish education (he had returned to his mother’s native
country in 1933 at the age of 12). He had been appointed in 1966, in effect to succeed
Bishop Birch, who had held the position of Professor of Education at the national seminary
from 1951 to 1962. The Higher Diploma class was the first to be opened to lay
participation in 1967, setting the foundations for the further expansion of the NUI college
into a full university; Br. O’Súilleabhain until his early death at age 65 in 1986 (today the
Education faculty in Maynooth University has two professors and ten full-time lecturers).
In 1976 Fr. Flavin joined the teaching staff of St. Kieran’s College secondary school,
then under the direction of Fr. Seamus McEvoy, who had succeeded Fr. Joe Delaney as
Headmaster the previous year. Fr. Delaney had also been a pioneering teacher of
Mathematics, and Fr. Flavin now replaced him on the science staff alongside Fr. Seamus
Henry, Art Anglim and Seamus Knox, who went on to become a Department of Education
inspector in Science. Under the leadership of college president Fr. Tommy Maher,
appointed in 1973 and himself a science graduate, the college was about to complete a
new teaching complex which it would share with the Vocational School and the facilities for
scientific and technical education in both old and new buildings were vastly improved.
Over the next seven years Fr. Flavin would establish a teaching style that defined a
new generation of educators in this emerging field: direct, knowledgable, encouraging of
student initiative, but also firm, disciplined and focused on results.
Throughout his secondary, university and seminary education, and in his early years
as a priest, Nicholas Flavin was a prominent athlete locally and in college competitions,
helping to build up the winning record of Kilmacow entrants in track and field events that
resulted in the establishment in 1977 of St. Senan’s AC where he was a committee
member from then until 1984. On the track 1978 was his best year: he won first place in
the County Intermediate Cross Country and third in the Senior Cross Country, helping his
team to win first place in each and the club win the competition for best overall senior team
in the county in that year (something it would not achieve again until 2008). It was also his
worst year - he had a knee injury that sidelined him from competition for the next two
years, but after a brief return a recurrence forced him to retire. He then turned his attention
to administration, becoming secretary of the county athletics board from 1980 to 1983,
Vice-President of Leinster BLOE (the junior athletics board) during the same period and of
National BLOE in 1983 and 1984, and registrar of the Leinster BLE (senior board) in 1982
and 1983. In all of these positions, he promoted principles that were to be adopted on a
national basis in junior athletics, particularly the ban on juveniles running of marathons or
road races longer than their established cross country distance.
It was no surprise that when Fr. McEvoy was appointed Parish Priest of Lisdowney
in 1983, Nicholas Flavin became Headmaster at St. Kieran’s, at the same time as the
presidency of the college passed to Fr. Martin Campion. They would lead the college
through one of the most dynamic periods in the history of Irish education, embracing the
new emphasis on computer learning in a serious manner that culminated in the opening of
the college’s computer centre by Donal Creed, Minister of State at the Department of
Education, in March 1984.
During his twelve-year tenure as headmaster, the College maintained its high
standards of academic achievement, expanding its staff by over 30% and introducing a
variety of new curricula and support services. The college also maintained its dominance

in championship hurling, winning the Dr. Croke Cup in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993 and
1996 and featuring in the All-Ireland final in 1984, 1987 and 1991. He would continue his
support for Gaelic games in his parish appointments, at one time serving as a selector for
Laois senior hurling teams.
In 1995 Fr. Flavin was succeeded as headmaster by his colleague and the college’s
first lay headmaster, Micheál Ó Diarmada. He took a sabbatical by attending Trinity
College to study for a Master’s Degree in Education. This was followed by appointment to
a curacy in Rathdowney, where his parish priest was the former longtime college dean and
spiritual director Fr. Timothy O’Connor.
In Rathdowney he found a community that had survived the economic downturn of
the early 1990s with its main industry (meat processing) intact, and would soon benefit
from the construction of a major retail outlet complex, which opened in 2001. He worked
with local interests to create a greater community support system with an emphasis on
facilities and services, including the promotion of the credit union.
In the same year he was appointed parish priest of Dunamaggin, succeeding Fr.
William Dalton on the latter’s appointment to Callan. Here he took over one of the
diocese’s most rural parishes, with its three villages of Dunamaggin, Kilmoganny and Kells
at the heart of the south-west part of the diocese alongside the neighboring parishes of
Aghaviller and Windgap (where he would also assume responsibility as parish priest from
2012 to 2016, following the death of Fr. Martin Cleere).
Here once again Fr. Flavin threw himself into the dynamic role not only of spiritual
guide and pastoral minister, but also of community activist, going so far as to become the
local correspondent of the ‘Kilkenny People’, where he became the channel for
communicating all of the local happenings and events.
Despite the onset of a debilitating illness, he maintained his energy levels and
involvements, supervising single-handedly the activities at four churches and four national
schools at the height of his responsibility for the two adjoining parishes. He also had a
great pastoral and community interest in St. Joseph’s Home in Kilmoganny, and was
thrilled when it achieved a sparkling positive report in a HIQA inspection in February 2018,
which contained the remark ‘Many (residents) told the inspector this was like home, only
better. All residents spoken with said they felt safe and cared for.’ (the only complaint was
that the radiators were too hot and a possible danger to unguarded contact).
Though he sometimes courted controversy (as in his blessing of the local hunt
meeting), he was also at the forefront in supporting community campaigns, as in the
movement for the restoration of the post office service in Kilmoganny, and, among leisure
activities, was an enthusiastic member of the local Bridge group.
There are many models of priesthood in evidence in these uncertain times, and Fr.
Flavin adopted one which was based on a solid faith underpinned by his scientific and
organised approach to every task, as well as a commitment to service in the community
and to the individual and the family. He played a significant role as one of the three elected
priest members of the diocesan Pastoral Council and a board member of Kilkenny Leader
His recreations were sports, history, Spain and current affairs, though not always in
that order. He had an extraordinary ability to crunch polling numbers before during and
after elections. He was writing a history of Dunamaggin when he died, and learning
Spanish so he could better communicate with his neighbors around the holiday villa owned
by his family. And he found in Dunamaggin the perfect story of striving for GAA glory - in
both hurling and football - even though sadly he would not live to enjoy the results of their
2017-18 season, when they won county and Leinster club honours.
‘Strict but fair’ and ‘a stickler for detail’ were some of the phrases that were used in
his regard as an educator and a sports administrator down through the years, but in the
area of priestly commitment he had one focus only, and that was the service of the People

of God. His commitment was total. No distraction or personal priority would interfere with
his dedication to a liturgy, a visit to the sick or troubled, or a pastoral task.
To his bereaved sister Bea, brother Jim, sister-in law Jana and his extended family,
the deepest sympathy must be extended, and the record of his unique contribution to the
history and well-being of the diocese, the community and his individual parishioners
preserved. May be rest in peace.