Ballymoe and Boys Town closer than ever

Last week the Roscommon People reported on the visit of Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney and his wife Jan to Ballymoe. They were in the village as part of the beginning of  90th birthday celebrations for Boys & Girls Town, the renowned organisation which serves severely at-risk, abused, abandoned and neglected children. It was established by Ballymoe native Fr. Edward Flanagan. A number of representatives of Boys Town in the USA were present in Ballymoe including Fr. Steve Boes, the fourth successor to Fr. Flanagan.    Huge crowds were present in Ballymoe for the historic occasion. The official proceeding began with Mr. John Griffin, chairperson of the Ballymoe Boystown Association welcoming all present and pointing out how honoured the people of Ballymoe were that the village was kicking off the 90th birthday celebrations of Boys Town.    John Mollison of the Boys Town Alumnus introduced the guests from Boys Town. Introducing Fr. Steve Boes, Mr. Mollison said that today children in Boys Town run to him as children once did to Fr. Flanagan.    Fr. Boes spoke warmly of the early years of Fr. Flanagan in Ballymoe and recounted how it was said that the enfant Edward Flanagan was fortunate to make it through his first night on earth. However his grandfather had held the future Fr. Flanagan close to his chest at the fireplace and this had helped the baby survive.    Fr. Boes said that Fr. Flanagan learnt the values of family in Ballymoe. When he emigrated he set up Boys Town and while his initial stewardship there did not meet with political approval Fr. Flanagan survived being evicted and went on to set up his own monastery.    Fr. Boes said that Fr. Flanagan’s work now touches the lives of about four millon people. He believed that Fr. Flanagan should be canonised. ‘God bless you for the greatest gift you ever gave America – your own Fr. Flanagan.’    A painting of Fr. Flanagan by artist Paul Otero was then unveiled. Mr. Otero said he was resident in Boys Town from 1964 to ’68. He had been orphaned at the age of twelve. Boys Town helped shape his core values. He was greatly enjoying his visit to Ireland and it was his experience that the ‘soul of Ireland is rich, deep, beautiful.’    His painting was, he felt, not just a painting of one man but ‘a portrait of a nation, of its children.’    Legendary Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney was introduced as a man who has been ‘a friend of Boys Town’ for almost 70 years.    As reported last week Mickey Rooney made a stirring speech during which he reminsced about his acting career, changes in the film industry and the need for children to follow their dreams.    ‘Everywhere I go in the world people mention the picture, Boys Town. They say they remember be in the film. I say to them there’s a real place, Boys Town is real!’    Rooney went on to reminsce about his acting career and roles with Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and others, in a film business which can involve ‘songs, entertainment, tragedy and fun.’ He recalled his roles in ‘National Velvet and ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.’    Paying tribute to Fr. Flanagan, the actor said he was delighted to be in his home place and went on to quote the Boys Town founder’s famous motto: ‘There’s no such thing as a bad boy.’    John Griffin said that Ballymoe had seen many great days since 1300. Fr. Flanagan had set the standard in childcare based on courage and dignity.    He extended ‘a thousand, thousand Irish welcomes and blessings’ to Mickey Rooney.    ‘You are a hero, a Hollywood legend,’ Mr. Griffin said, before going on to bestow the title ‘character’ on the guest of honour.    Bishop Christopher Jones said he wanted to extend a special welcome to the visitors from the USA. Welcoming Mickey Rooney, Bishop Jones said that the impact the film ‘Boys Town’ had made was amazing. It was known ‘all over the world.’    Referring to a recent visit to Boys Town by a ‘Ballymoe delegation,’ of which he had been a part, Bishop Jones said that he came away from Boys Town with a sense of guilt as he felt ‘we’d forgotten about this man (Fr. Flanagan).’    ‘In the United States his work has blossomed,’ the Bishop said, explaining that thousands of kids benefit from the work started by the Ballymoe native. Referring to the kids in Boys (and Girls) Town encountered by him, he said ‘there’s a bestseller in each life (there).’