My Favorite Irish Ancestor, Grandpa Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997)

Flanagan Hayes, Leprechaun
Little John’s bar on St. Paddy’s Day. My grandparents are on the left.

My 11th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015. The theme for week 11 is — Luck of the Irish. Do you have an ancestor who seemed particularly lucky? Do you have a favorite Irish ancestor? This is their week.

My 11th ancestor is my maternal grandfather, Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997).

This week’s theme was a no-brainer for me. When anyone in my family thinks of St. Paddy’s Day, they always and automatically think of Grandpa.

I have blogged many times about him. Grandpa was orphaned as an infant, and then again as a toddler, never getting a chance to know his parents. He became separated from his siblings while in foster care, and spent his adult life trying to find and learn about his family. He is the reason I became a genealogist. Yet, regrettably, I did not take an interest in family history until after he died. Grandpa never knew the real names of his parents or his grandparents. He wasn’t even sure of his middle name until after he married.

What Grandpa did know, was that he was Irish. And he was very proud of that heritage. Obsessively so. Perhaps because it was the only part of his heritage of which he was confident. Knowing absolutely nothing about his immediate or extended family’s history, Michael clung desperately to his Irish roots.

Michael John Flanagan, Leprechaun
Grandpa (on the left) cooking up corned beef and cabbage at the bar.

Michael John Flanagan’s proud Irish heritage never shone brighter than on St. Paddy’s Day each year. I can only attest to his behavior the years I was alive, but Mom tells me that the holiday was always a big deal in their home. By the time I was a little girl, Grandpa owned (or co-owned, I am not sure) a bar called Little John’s in Pico Rivera, Los Angeles County, California. On St. Paddy’s Day, he decked the bar out in everything Irish and had corned beef and cabbage cooking all day. Mom didn’t want us little kids visiting the bar, but my brother, cousins, and I thought it was a super fun place — especially on St. Paddy’s Day.

Grandpa didn’t stop at decorating the bar and serving Irish faire all day.

His favorite part of St. Paddy’s Day each year was dressing up as a leprechaun. This 6-f00t-plus tall New York-born tattoo-sporting World War II Navy veteran would proudly don green tights, under an all green homemade outfit, and strut his stuff around town. Not just around the bar. Around town. Grandpa had a huge sense of humor and loved to make people laugh, especially at him. It was a big time kick for him to go out in his leprechaun suit and make people stare and laugh.

Michael John Flanagan, Leprechaun
Grandpa and an employee, outside of the bar that Grandpa owned.

Grandpa also loved to embarrass people. Especially Grandma. She didn’t mind him wearing the leprechaun suit at the bar, but she put her foot down to wearing it out and about town. I remember going to the grocery store with them once as a little kid, with Grandpa wearing regular clothes. He waited in the car, while Grandma and I headed in to do the shopping. While we were inside, Grandpa changed into his leprechaun suit in the car, and surprised us inside of the store. Grandma didn’t find it all that funny. I of course (along with everyone else in the store), thought it was hysterical.

So, you see, St. Paddy’s Day continues to be a very special day for me and my entire family. Because of Grandpa. We miss him terribly, but this holiday makes us all laugh and cry — mostly laugh. I post the leprechaun photos on Facebook each year, and we all share happy memories about Grandpa. He was definitely one of a kind. Every kid needs a grandfather like my grandpa.

What I wouldn’t give to have just one more St. Paddy’s Day with my grandfather, in his leprechaun suit.

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