Denis O’Flynn — Prisoner #881 (1915)

Part of the intrigue of researching your family tree is finding interesting tidbits from your relatives’ pasts. Maybe it’s true about what sometimes is recounted when you ask questions about your past — “sometimes you just don’t want to know: Maybe they were criminals!”

My great grandfather Denis O’Flynn (1875-1947) had an interesting life. He was born in Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland to John Flynn and Hanorah (also known as Norah) Hogan on August 15, 1875. He was the fifth of six children and the youngest of two boys. At the time of his birth, his mother Norah was 30 and his father John was 38. The Flynn family lived on Bride Street in Bridgeland East (which is the area behind the Rathcormac Inn and the Bride Villa — which I believe was owned by Edward Barry, a local doctor).  Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 10.52.36 AM

Denis married Bridget O’Leary on August 25, 1894 in St. Joseph’s Church in Cork City when he was 19 years and Bridget was 20. Bridget was born in Cork to Bridget Kelly and John O’Leary and they lived at 4 Fair Lane in Cork City. On their marriage certificate it states that the couple lived in the Ashburton area of Cork City, which Google tells me is around Dillons Cross and the Old Youghal Road.

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Eleven months after their marriage, my grandfather, John Joseph Flynn was born on July 20, 1895 while the couple was living at 92 Roches Buildings in Cork City — a tiny row house built after the famine. I’ve linked to an interesting article about the development of these buildings. In the article it describes the houses: The buildings, known as Roche’s Buildings had one small living room, a kitchen and two garret style upper bedrooms and were built by army personnel for their own use. The dwellings were on-street and had a small rear yard which contained a toilet outhouse. There are about 150 of these type houses in the community.”

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Denis and Bridget had 10 children between 1895 and 1908: John, Denis, Norah, Christina, Daniel, Cornelius, James, Eileen, Kathleen and Bridget. They lived in a number of different locations in Cork during those years. One interesting item that I discovered early in my research was that my grandfather was living with his grandparents, John and Norah Flynn in Bridgeland East/Rathcormac in 1901 — as listed on the census of that year. Perhaps because Denis and Bridget had four other children at home at the time, they decided to ship the six-year old John to live in Rathcormac so that he could attend the national school which was located within a stone’s throw of their house on Bride St.

One of the stories that I had heard while I was growing up was that Bridget died in childbirth, during the birth of her 10th child. We had no information about my grandfather’s siblings, except from his brother James whom we met during our first visit to Ireland in 1973. The story that we were told was close to being real — Bridget, the youngest and 10th child was born in 1908 (December 20th). However Bridget (the mother) did not die during childbirth but she did die on August 23, 1909 in the Cork district hospital of Typhoid Cardiac Syncope after being in hospital for 7 days. At the time of her death Denis and the 9 other children were living on Spring Lane in Cork.

In August 1909, Bridget (the baby), was only 8 months old, and was taken in by her grandmother Norah (who was widowed in 1902) in Rathcormac where unfortunately she died on October 8, 1909 from acute bronchitis — which her death certificate states she had for 6 weeks, around  the same time as her mother died.

Imagine Denis being widowed at the age of 34 with 10 children. Unfathomable in my mind.

So where does the “criminal” come into this story.

In 1915, Denis was living on Slattery’s Lane in Blackpool with five of his children. His two oldest boys, John and Denis, had joined the war effort: John joined the Army and Denis joined the Navy. Three of his ten children had died by this time: Bridget, the baby, died in 1908; Daniel died in 1912 and Christina died in 1914. So in the space of seven years, Denis was widowed and had three of his children die and his two oldest boys were fighting the Germans in Europe. Some life I’d say.

Court records from 1915 indicate that at the age of 38, he was charged with seven counts of “Breach of School Attendance” and found guilty on each of the charges and committed to 4 days of jail for each charge (28 days). He sentence expired on December 20 1915, just in time for Christmas.

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Nora, his eldest daughter was listed as his next of kin –and probably was charged with taking care of the four young children who were still at home: Cornelius (13); James (12), Eileen (11) and Kathleen (9) — while Denis was imprisoned.

Those were extremely hard times in Ireland. I can’t even imagine the life that Denis, Bridget and their children had to endure: Death, despair and detention.


A return to Ballybrowney in 2018

2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and the end of my grandfather’s service with the Royal Munster Fusiliers.


Private John Flynn. Royal Munster Fusiliers. 1912-1918


Discharge Certificate 5 October 1918.

John Joseph Flynn (1895-1975) was honorably discharged in October of that year and returned to Rathcormac where he worked at Kilshannig House and operated a small livery company in the village.

It was at Kilshannig that Jackie Flynn met Mary (Molly) Cahill from Ballybrowney. Jack was the driver for the family and Molly was the cook. I don’t have much information for the two of them between 1918 and when they eloped and were married on October 23, 1920, except for a memory of my father telling me that Patrick Cahill, Molly’s dad, was none to happy saying “that feckin Jackie Flynn” — and wouldn’t step a foot into their house until 9 months after their marriage — my dad was born more than 10 months after the wedding.


Mary (Molly) Cahill. 1898-1983.

While I’m curious about their entire lives in Rathcormac/Ballybrowney — Jack, who was born in Cork City, first shows up in Rathcormac in the 1901 census as a 6-year old, living with his grandparents on Bride Street in Bridgeland East — a curious fact as his parents (Denis and Bridget) and his four siblings were living on Thomas Street in Queenstown (Cobh) . Molly on the other hand was born and raised and lived at Ballybrowney from 1898 until she married Jack in 1920.

Looking back and trying to make sense of family history, without the first-hand recollection of those who are under study can be difficult and frustrating. Why didn’t I ask more questions when they were alive — why 40 years after Jack’s death am I now more interested in understanding their journey then when he was alive. The simple truth is that I was just 16 when he died in 1975 and only remember sitting down and interviewing him about the Great War for a history school history class — I think it was about the Battle of the Somme.

But the years have passed and the technology to gain access to the records and uncover some of the past has only now been made more accessible to those of us who live an ocean away from their village.

I’m heading back to Ireland this year, as part of my university research leave, to research, study and teach with the public relations faculty at Dublin City University. I’ll be there in early May to set up our research agenda and then return in September for a longer period (6-7 weeks). It will be during that time that I will have a chance to spend my spare time digging through the archives in both Dublin and Cork (and maybe even London) to understand Jack’s war service and Irish military service after 1918.

The Irish Military Archives does have a file on Private John Flynn, who was a member of the Irish Army as confirmed by the Irish Army Census in November 1922JohnFlynn.1922.IrishArmyCensus.(listed as a member of the Rathcormac Reserves while undergoing medical treatment in the Union Hospital in Fermoy). But little is known of his service in Michael Collin’s national army. Molly’s brothers William and Michael were also members of the Irish army and served during that period as well.

There has been much speculation within our family on the role they played during the Irish Civil war, before and after Collin’s assassination in August 1922. This speculation has been fueled by some who believe that Jack and Molly were “asked” to leave Ireland in 1925 — just one month after Molly’s brother Michael Cahill left for Boston in August 1925. No doubt they left with their two young children in tow “to better their lives” as my great aunt Sheila Monohan recounted to me during visits in 1998 and 1999. While this may in fact be true, and they did better their own lives and the lives of their Irish-born and Canadian-born children, it doesn’t shed light on the notion that they were forced to leave by Eamon De Valera’s supporters.

So back to land of my father’s birth (and the homeland of my mom’s grandparents — the Browns, Riordans, and Farrells) this year. In hopes of opening up a few more windows into our past and the journey to find the “O”.