The Journey of Discovery


I’ve known all my life that I was a Flynn — well actually the seventh of nine Flynn’s born to Joe and Betty. But the knowledge of who I am and where I’m from was much deeper and much more meaningful than just my last name.

I was a child of an FOTB (fresh off the boat) Irish immigrant and the great grandchild of  Irish immigrants on my mom’s side that came to Canada before Canada was Canada. My relatives came to flee the famine or to find new fortune and opportunity in a far away and very cold new land.

So my Irish heritage was ever present in my household, every day.

But it wasn’t until my first visit to Ireland in 1973 that I truly began to understand what being Irish really meant — the place and culture from where we came. I remember my great uncle, P. John Cahill greeted us upon our arrival in Rathcormac with a warm “welcome home boys”. It was an odd greeting: as a 13-year old I knew that my home was in Kitchener, Ontario which was thousands of kilometers away.


P. John Cahill

Rathcormac was more my dad’s home than my home but I immediately understood what Uncle P. John was doing by invoking the notion of “home” — this is where ye came from (and oddly, to have found out much later, half of my mother’s family — the Farrell’s — were also from the Rathcormac area). We were in our ancestral home — the place where we were literally from.

And home it has become, with every visit that I have made over the last 45 years I return to Rathcormac. From my first visit in 1998 with my mostly Irish wife (according to her Ancestry DNA, Stephanie is 53% Irish) when P.John’s daughter, Joan Hoskins, repeated her father’s words — “welcome home,” to our 2009 visit with our three children  when they too were welcomed home, to my most recent visit in 2016 when I dragged my cousins Joan and her brother Pat and Joe O’Flynn through countless cemeteries looking for the graves of our long-gone relatives.


Pat Cahill, Joan Hoskins and me


Joe O’Flynn

I’m now preparing for my sixth visit home next week and I think of how fortunate I am to have taken the words of my great uncle to heart. To be able to go home and walk the streets of Rathcormac and County Cork — something that my grandparents (Molly Cahill and Jack Flynn) and my great-grand parents (Farrells, Browns, and Riordan) were never able to do after setting foot in Canada in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

This trip is a prelude to my much longer stay in Ireland this fall when I will be doing research with both Dublin City University and the Public Relations Institute of Ireland as part of my research leave from McMaster University.

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”.

The Journey Back to Rathcormac

On Day 2, I left Cork and my search for clues to the Denis O’Flynn families and headed back north, about 20 kilometers to Rathcormac — the birthplace of my dad and his mom. Rathcormac was originally on the main Cork to Dublin Road and I remember it to be a very well traveled roadway when we first visited in 1973. In fact my Uncle P. John’s Esso garage on Main St. in Rathcormac was well situated for passing travelers in need of a fill-up.  As a 13-year old I wanted to help out around the garage and often served the customers by filling their tanks. I remember on one occasion a Jaguar pulling up and the driver asking me to fill both tanks — I’d never heard of a car having two tanks and ran back into my Uncle and he gently explained that expensive English cars sometimes had two tanks. Who knew!

Well the main road in Rathcormac isn’t as busy now as a result of the construction of the M-8 which is a four-lane express highway through County Cork on the way north toward Dublin. In fact Rathcormac looks a little tired and in need of some revitalization. It is a small village that more recently has become a bedroom community of Cork City — by jumping on the M8 and taking the Jack Lynch Tunnel you can be in the Mahon/Blackrock area of the city in less than 20 minutes. So new homes have been built over the last 10 years but the growth hasn’t translated into a revival of the main business area — a common trait of bedroom communities.

When I drove through the town on Sunday, on my way from the Dublin Airport to Cork City, I got off the M8 to take the R639 through Rathcormac. I hadn’t been there since 2009 and wanted to see how the town looked. For the most part not much had changed but one upsetting change was at the house where my grandparents and dad lived before they immigrated in 1925.

The house is directly across the street from the Garda on what was known as Cannon St. It was a good-sized home for its day and about a 5-minute walk to his Aunt Norah Leahy’s house on the other side of the Ring Public House (now the Rathcormac Inn). It would have also been a quick bike ride or carriage ride (10-15 minutes) to Ballybrowney and for Jack and Molly about a 20 minute walk to Kilshannig House — where the both were working when they were married in 1920.


The O’Flynn Family residence on Cannon Street in Rathcormac (picture taken in 1998).

When I traveled through the village on my way to Cork, I was shocked by the condition of the house. Apparently a fire in the house in December 2012 killed the owner who, as my cousins told me, had the placed full of newspapers and junk. Here’s a link to the news story recalling the events of that fire: Elderly man dies in Cork house fire .

So this is now the condition of the home…anyone want to purchase it and preserve a little Flynn/Cahill family history?

Next up…a visit to ground zero, the homestead at Ballybrowney and the graves of my maternal great grandfather, Patrick Cahill and great grandmother, Hannah Cahill (nee Egan) — buried in two different cemeteries.


Day 1 Of O’Flynn Hunting

Today my cousin Joe and I and his wife Mary spent some time trying to make sense of the stories we heard as children and young adults. After Joe and I drove up to Old Kilcully cemetery on the north side of Cork City to search for Denis O’Flynn’s grave. I have a copy of his interment registry that states that he was buried there on 2 November 1947 and that his son Edmund was the sponsor of the registry. Here is proof that we were there but we weren’t able to find his grave:

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Joe O’Flynn pointing in the general direction of the Old Kilcully Cemetery where his grandfather and my great grandfather, Denis O’Flynn was buried in 1947.

Despite looking for over an hour in the rain, we couldn’t find the grave of Denis O’Flynn but we found these Flynn/O’Flynn graves:

Michael Flynn and Mary O’Flynn — but unfortunately no direct relationship that we could detect.

One of the amazing discoveries today was that Joe’s dad, Terence (Terry) O’Flynn was born on 23 October 1920 — now for my family, that will be a memorable date, as it is the same date that my grandparents (John Flynn and Mary Cahill) were married in Rathcormac. So what’s the big deal — well Terry was John’s half brother — so while John’s father Denis wasn’t invited to the wedding in Rathcormac — Jack and Molly eloped — apparently he would have been able to make it as Denis was busy in Cork helping his wife give birth to his second son, Terry, from his second family.

A busy man indeed that Denis O’Flynn was — and very prolific — nearly 20 children.

The second discovery of the day was at Terry’s tomb at St. Michael’s cemetery in Blackrock, Cork City. As my family and my friends know, on my official signature block I usually sign my matters Terence (Terry) Flynn — because I was once taught by a female Terry Flynn at Syracuse University, so it was a way to differentiate myself.

So as I stood at the grave of Terry O’Flynn I couldn’t help but see a similarity — see if you can find it:

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So let’s confirm a few facts to remind ourselves that Joe O’Flynn and I are related:

  1. We both have our father’s names
  2. Joe’s dad was born on the same day that my grandparents were married
  3. Terry and I use the same Terence (Terry) — even though I never met him.

Here are pictures of Chrissy and Terry in the 1970s and on their wedding date in 1944 in Birmingham England — of yes, the same year as my parents were married!

One last comparison, Terry was my grandfather’s half brother and was 25 years younger — can you see the similarities in the two?

It’s been a great couple of days with Joe and his wife Mary and his mam Chrissy and his sister Kathleen. Here is a picture for dinner tonight — Joe’s favourite, Chinese.


Tomorrow it’s off to Rathcormac to spend sometime with the Hoskin/Cahill clans exploring the Cahill family from Ballybrowney.


All My Bags Are Packed…

Well, sort of. I still have a few more hours till I have to head out to the airport in Toronto. But all the research has been organized and I’ve prepared all my technology to take my mobile office to Ireland. My overnight flight from Toronto to Dublin lands me in the emerald island mid-morning and then after picking up my rental car I’ll be heading to the Rebel County — Cork to stay with my cousin, Joe O’Flynn, and his family for a couple of days.

There I’ll have the chance to reunite with Chrissy O’Flynn — the wife of my namesake, Terry O’Flynn, who was one of my great-grandfather’s children from his second wife Madge Morey, whom he married in 1919. Interestingly Terry was born the same year (1921) as my dad (Patrick Joseph O’Flynn  — Canadianized to Joe Flynn) — and Terry would have been his half-uncle (my grandfather’s half-brother). Terry died in 1983.

In Cork I’m staying with Terry’s youngest son Joe whom I met in 1996 at a family reunion in Batesville Indiana about a month after our dad died. It was an interesting first meeting — “Hi, I’m your cousin Joe O’Flynn” he said. “Wow, that was my dad’s name” I replied. “My name is Terry Flynn” I said. To which he replied “Wow, that was my dad’s name.”

In 1998, Stephanie and I stayed with Joe and Mary at Shaneville, their home in Cork. We had a wonderful time with their son Conor and Joe’s sister’s Margaret and Kathleen.


July 1998: Stephanie, Terry, Joe and Mary.

Joe’s a very busy guy and with the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, he has a number of functions to attend, but he has assured me that we will be talking about all things Flynn/O’Flynn in the hopes of gathering more information on his grandfather and my great-grandfather, Denis O’Flynn. I’ll also spend some time in the Cork City/County Archives to get a sense of life in the area at the turn of the 20th century. I want to visit some of the places where Denis and his families lived between 1894 (the year he married Bridget O’Leary) and his death in Cork City in 1947.

Given the celebrations that will be taking place to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Rising, I may have to bend Joe’s ear to try and get a sense of his understanding of the local politics of the day.

From Cork City I’ll be heading to Ballynagore — on the outskirts of Rathcormac where my cousin Joan Hoskins (nee Cahill) leaves with her husband Pat to stay for a couple of days to do some research on the Cahill family. I first met Pat and Joan in 1973 on my first trip to Ireland — they were engaged and about to get married. In July 1998, Stephanie spent a few days with Joan, her mam (Aunt Peg) and her brother Pat Cahill and Joan and Pat’s daughter Martina. It was a lovely visit. A year later, my brothers (Pat, K.C., Larry, Sean and I) stopped by for a visit at the farm as well.


July 1998: Pat Cahill, Pat and Joan Hoskins, Aunt Peg Cahill (nee Lane) , me and Martina Hoskins.

The Cahill clan are from my grandmother Molly’s side. Molly was born and raised on a farm at Ballybrowney, just a couple of kilometers outside of Rathcormac. She met and married my grandfather John Joseph O’Flynn in Rathcormac and they were married in October of 1920 in the chapel of the Church of Immaculate Conception in Rathcormac. Their world was rather compact as Rathcormac and Ballybrowney were all within a 10 kilometer radius.

So stay tuned…the fun is just beginning.

About 40 minutes away…

While we have drawn an ancestral line from the Flynn’s of Kitchener to the Flynns/O’Flynns of Rathcormac, dating back to the birth of Daniel Flynn on 15 January 1794 in Cork City, it’s time to take a 40 minute walk from Bridgeland East to the lush fields of Ballybrowney, also known as Ballybrowney Lower.

In that area, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a small parcel of land was farmed by Patrick Cahill and his wife Hannah Egan — my great-grandparents. My grandmother, Mary (Molly), was the second oldest of 11 children that Patrick and Hannah raised on the farm at Ballybrowney — six boys (Bill, Denis, Michael, Tom, David and P.John) and five girls (Mary, Johanna (Jossie), Catherine (Kitty), Sheila and Patricia.

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Source: Google Maps

While the farm at Ballybrowney  was outside the little postal townland of Rathcormac, the world for the Flynn, Hogan, Cahill and Egan families was rather small — Fermoy was less than 10 kms away and the big city of Cork was about 25 kms from the centre of Rathcormac. For the most part, life was lived within a 5 kms radius between Ballybrowney, Rathcormac and Kilshannig (the English manor home where my grandparents worked together).

I’m looking forward to spending some time in Rathcormac with my cousins Pat Cahill and Joan Hoskins (children of P. John and Peg Cahill) in May 2016 to dig deeper into our Cahill and Egan roots. What I do have is this: it looks like my great-grandfather Patrick Cahill purchased the land they farmed from the estate of the Esther Mary Alcock Stawell Riversdale in May 1912 (this was the estate of the Viscount Riversdale that dates back to the 1700s). The record suggests that he purchased about 20 acres for about 200 pounds. Here is a screenshot of the listing from the estate proceedings:

Before Patrick Cahill married into the family in 1896, the land was farmed by Hannah’s family the Egans (Denis and Johanna) and before that, Hannah’s grandmother’s family the Callaghans (Patrick and Mary) worked the land.

Johanna Callaghan was born at Ballybrowney on 26 August 1835 to Patrick Callaghan and Mary Foley. Patrick and Mary were married in Rathcormac on 22 November 1834. Below is a screenshot of the marriage registry from the Catholic Parish Registers listing:Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.29.41 AM

Denis Egan, Molly’s grandfather, was born on 2 January 1834 in Castlelyons to Thomas Egan and Mary Mullane. I have very few details of Tom and Mary, other than that they were married in Castlelyons sometime in 1822. Mary was born in 1806 and died in 1876 in Rathcormac — although when I now look at the record I have for Mary I am less convinced that it is a correct representation of the year of her death.

In my next post, I will focus on the family of Denis and Hannah Egan and the beginnings of the Cahill Clan of Ballybrowney.

There is one interesting fact about the Ballybrowney area, that would be known to those living in the area now, that I found to me most fascinating. During the planning and construction phase of the new M8 highway, that now cuts off direct routes from Ballybrowney to Rathcormac, a middle Bronze Age settlement was discovered. Archaeologists suggest that the settlement dates back 10,100 years to a group of hunter-gathers who lived on the lands. For an excellent summary of the findings and some interesting photos/artist depictions see this article from the Archaeology News Network.

The article doesn’t state where these hunters/gathers came from but perhaps my DNA test that is now being analyzed by might give us some insights into our genetic forebearers.

This is an artist’s depiction of what the settlement might have looked like in 8,000 BC.


This picture was taken from the above article in ANN.


Bridgeland East, Rathcormac

From the 1901 Irish Census, I determined that my grandfather was living with his father’s parents, John and Hanorah (sometimes referred to as Norah or Norry), in the Bridgeland East area of Rathormac — Ráth Chormaic, meaning “Cormac’s ringfort“. It is an area that is now farmland,  just north of the River Bride on the east side of R639 as you enter Rathcormac from Cork City. The land is behind the Bride Villa and extends to behind the Rathcormac Inn.

This is a screenshot from Google Maps that show the exact area:

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Source: Google Maps

At a family reunion in Batesville, Indiana in July 1996, a month after my dad died, distant O’Flynn cousins gave us coffee mugs with a picture of the tenant housing that my great, great-grandparents lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They said that these particular housing units were located directly behind the Rathcormac Inn (which was considered part of Bridgeland East at the time). In 1998, when Stephanie and I visited Ireland, we took a tour of the Rathcormac Inn and asked if we could see their storage buildings — the same buildings that my grandfather would have lived in around 1901 when he was attending school in Rathcormac. I took a few pictures of the buildings, which were demolished later in 1998 and not available for inspection by my brothers when we visited in 1999. Here is one of those pictures


It was in these buildings that John and Hanorah/Honora Flynn raised their six children: Julia (1866-1897 — who moved to Ohio in the late 1800s); Daniel (1868 – ? who moved to Toronto and sponsored my grandfather in 1925); Catherine (1870-? — who also moved to the U.S. and maybe even married Julia’s husband Hugh O’Connor after Julia died in 1897); Norah (1873-1926 — who remained in Rathcormac); Denis (1875 – 1947 who was my great-grandfather); and Mary (1879 – ? for whom I don’t have any information).

John Flynn was born and  baptized in Glanmire Parish on 29 November 1836 and was the son of Daniel Flynn (1794-1866) and Johanna Murphy (1814-?). Here is a screenshot of John’s baptismal record from 1836:

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Source: Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 (Diocese of Cork and Ross, Baptism Place: Glanmire, Cork)

I have fewer details of Hanorah Hogan except that she was born about 1845 — this was taken from her marriage and death certificates. Her father was Daniel Hogan and I have no information on him. From the Griffith’s Valuation book, printed in 1853, you can see that a Daniel Hogan lived on Bride St. in Bridgeland East — so again, we take a great leap of historical researcher’s faith and say that this must be Hanorah’s father and this is where she grew up and lived all her life. Here is a screenshot of that record:

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Honora/Hanorah and John married in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rathcormac on 11 May 1864. Here is a screenshot of the church marriage registry:

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Source: Catholic Parish Registers, The National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04995 / 02 (1864).

John, an agricultural labourer, died between the 1901 and 1911 censuses — I have two potential years as either 1902 or 1910. Hanora died on 6 May 1920. A screenshot of the registration of her will is below. Note it lists her daughter Norah Leahy as her executor. It is interesting to note that Hanora still lived in Bridgeland East even up to the time of her death.

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I have no information on where either John or Hanorah are buried — hopefully I will locate their burial plots on my trip back to Ballybrowney. It is interesting though, that through my examination of the records of my great, great-grandparents, there never appears an “O” in front of their names. Did they give it up or did they never have it? Some Irish families gave up the “O” under British rule and joined the Anglican Church. But we have no indication of that happening to the Rathcormac Flynn clan as the marriage record of Hanorah and John are from the Catholic Parish registry. So perhaps it was dependent on the degree that you felt you needed to display your patriotism in the mid to late 1800s.

There is no doubt that these were also difficult times, both economically and politically in Ireland, especially in the south. As tenant farmers, with their small plot of rented land to house their own animals and grow their own food, they owed their existence to their landlord.  In 1901, John and Hanorah Flynn rented their 3rd class dwelling from John Ring — a local  farmer, grocer and vintner, who also owned a public house in the same area (perhaps this was the public house where the Rathcormac Inn now stands). Their house was made either of mud, wood or perishable materials and their roof was also made of either thatch, wood or also perishable materials. It had less than four rooms and had two windows in the front. John and Hanorah also had two out-buildings associated with their dwelling: a piggery and a fowl house.

In the mid to late 1800s, some of the land around Rathcormac was controlled by Viscount Riversdale, the owner of the Bride Villa and Lisnagar Estates, and leased out to Edward Barry, a local doctor. In 1912, the estate and lands of the Viscount was sold off to those who were able to afford portions of the land. I’ll have more to say about this when I discussed the Cahill family’s farm at Ballybrowney.

Politically, the Rathcormac area had a history of rising up against the local landowners and British rule. On 18 December 1834, a group of tenant farmers, who were refusing to pay their tithe to the local vicar (Church of Ireland), were killed by British soldiers just outside of the town near the Bartlemy Cross. The Rathcormac or Gortroe Massacre resulted in the death of upwards of 20 local farmers.

So perhaps even the O’Flynns, who were tenant farmers, didn’t want to rock the boat and decided simply to be known as Flynn.


Let’s Start At The Very Beginning…

The O’Flynn family is certainly not the Von Trapp family singers, so I wouldn’t expect you to start humming that tune or know where our ancestral beginning actually starts.

In 2014 I took a couple of weeks to begin playing with to see if I could make sense of the “O” no “O” Flynn family. From my scant files on the family and recalling the many stories about the  very prolific and productive Denis O’Flynn, whose first wife (Bridget O’Leary) died around the birth of their 10th child and his second wife (Madge Morey) with whom he had another 10 or so children, that was about all that I knew about the start of the O’Flynn family. And not having my grandfather or father around to check my facts, I was on my own at the start of this journey.

So my great-grandfather was ground zero for me. I knew his name was Denis Flynn or Denis O’Flynn and that his first wife was Bridget O’Leary. is great but you have to engage in some real detective work or make some calculated assumptions about certain dates — when was he born, when was he married, when did he die. The Irish census records of 1901 and 1911 are fantastic starting points.

In 1901, Denis and Bridget were living in a house at 16.3 Thomas Street (Queenstown Urban, Cork). Here is a screenshot of the census records:

Here is a copy of the original census form:

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So here is what we can conclude about Denis Flynn (no “O”) in April 1901. That he was 26 years old — putting his birth year around 1875. This is the first piece of the puzzle. The second was his birthplace; Unlike his wife, he was born not in Cork City but in County Cork. Denis was listed as a mail car driver — sounds like a respectable job. I’m not quite sure what he was driving — a motorized vehicle?, a horse drawn carriage? Not sure. But those are two important clues to the puzzle. They also didn’t live in Cork City in 1901.They lived in Queenstown (now know as Cobh) but had lived in Cork City prior to the birth of Daniel Flynn who was 4 months at the time of the census and who was their first child born in Queenstown.

The second caused me to stop and rethink whether this was indeed our Denis Flynn. Can you see what my concern would be? Doesn’t look like my grandfather is listed and knowing that my grandfather was born in 1895, he would have been nearly 6 at the time of this census and yet he wasn’t listed as part of their household. So where was he and why wasn’t he included. There was only one name familiar to me, Norah Flynn. We met my grandfather’s sister, our great-aunt Norah Leahy, in Cork City in 1973. She lived with her husband in a little house in Cork City.

The other names (Daniel and Christina) were not familiar and from quick searches of the records not much could be found.

So I focused my attention on finding my grandfather, John Joseph Flynn, who was born on 20 July 1895, and his parents were indeed Denis and Bridget. But why is he not listed and where was he living. His parent’s house in Queenstown was obviously a busy place as they had four children under the age of 6. Denis seemed to have a good job as a mail car driver, but why isn’t my grandfather listed as their son and living with them.

I recalled a story that he lived with his grandmother, but I assumed that that was after his own mother died. So the hunt for his grandmother was in order but I didn’t know her name or where she lived. Again back to the 1901 census and simple ‘time on task’ detective work. Given that Denis Flynn was listed as being born in County Cork and not Cork City, that allowed me to make the assumption that perhaps he was from Rathcormac as well. So the search for John Flynn in Rathcormac became the next step.

Bingo — John Flynn, age 5 (he was born in July and the census was taken in April) who was born in Cork City was living with his grandparents, John and Hanorah Flynn, in Bridgeland East, just outside the main village of Rathcormac and down the hill from Kilshannig — I’d say that we found him.

So what was he doing living in Rathcormac at the age of 5 with his grandparents and not living with his parents and four siblings in Queenstown in 1901? I do remember my father saying that he went to the same school as his father and his grandfather in Rathcormac during at our first trip to Ireland in 1973 — that’s why my brother Sean and I attended classes in May of that year in the local school to continue the tradition and become the fourth generation of Flynns to attend that school. It’s interesting, I found a recent online news article  that stated that the school we attended was built in 1948 but that the school that my father, grandfather and great-grandfather attended was built in 1835.

So perhaps the reason that my grandfather was living in Rathcormac in 1901 was to attend school, under the guidance of his grandmother Hanorah and his namesake grandfather John Flynn.

What I have learned from academic research is that you need to confirm or triangulate your findings with at least two other sources so that you can be certain that the findings are valid.

In my next posting I will tell you how I refocused my search to the Bridgeland East area of Rathcormac to confirm that my great-grandfather was indeed born in Rathcormac and that his parents (my great, great-grandparents),  John and Hanorah Flynn also lived in Rathormac and that my grandfather had moved from Cork City, probably at the time of his brother Daniel’s birth in 1900, to live with his grandparents in on Bride Street so that he could attend the national school in Rathcormac in 1901.




It all started with an “O” (or did it?)

And so the story goes…

On my dad’s Irish birth certificate it lists his name as Patrick Joseph O’Flynn, born 8 September 1921 in the servant’s quarters at Kilshannig House, in Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland. He spent the first four years of his life living on Canon Street in Rathcormac and attending the school that his father and grandfather attended in that village. His father, John Joseph O’Flynn was born in Cork City in 1895 to Bridget O’Leary and Denis O’Flynn. His mother, Mary Cahill (known to all as Molly) was born on the family farm at Ballybrowney in 1898 to Patrick Cahill and Hannah Egan.

So for all intent and purposes, my siblings and my cousins are “O’Flynns” — after all it’s right there on my grandparent’s marriage certificate and on my dad’s birth certificate. And yet since the time they arrived in Canada at the Port of Quebec on 5 October 1925, my dad has always been known as Joe Flynn — the same, new last name that his father, mother and younger brother Denis had apparently adopted. In fact it’s listed on Sheet No. 30, of the Canadian Government Return of the Canadian Immigration Service, from the Third Class passengers on rows 5-8: John, Mary, Joseph and Denis Flynn (see a screen shot of that register below). And while it is plausible that the immigration officer anglicized the name upon entry, it seems improbable as on line 17 of that same register it lists a Jeremiah O’Mahoney from Cork City who also became a landed immigrant on that same day.

So where did the “O” go?

When we were growing up, my dad said that during their passage across the Atlantic Ocean on the Canadian Pacific Ship “Melita”, his father threw the “O” into the ocean because being seen to be an Irish Catholic in waspish Toronto at the turn of the 20th century wasn’t a good thing — economically. The same story would recount the notion that there were signs posted in Toronto in 1925 that stated “No Irish Need Apply” for work at certain businesses. So dropping the “O” seems to make sense. ‘Don’t let the elites of Toronto know you are Catholic and all will be well. You’ll get a good job and life in this new country will be much better than at anytime under the 700-years of English rule in Ireland’.

I could buy into that story — it made sense that to ensure that my grandfather was employable after arriving in Toronto that he would use an anglicized version of our name. All my Flynn cousins can repeat the same story about the disappearance of the infamous “O” and the need to be seen to be less Irish and more Canadian after coming to Canada. It’s not a new story, many new Canadians had their names changed or spelling alternated thanks to the civil servants working for the customs and immigration department. Even my dad’s younger brother, Denis Christopher Flynn (born 17 December 1923), changed his name to C. Dennis Flynn to apparently fit with the overwhelmingly protestant Toronto.

But why didn’t Mr. O’Mahoney also feel that way? Why did he keep his “O”? The records suggest that Mr. O’Mahoney was a farmer and was heading to Western Canada as he was reporting to the Department of Colonization, c/o C.P.R. Montreal. So maybe in Western Canada, as a landowner and farmer, he didn’t have to worry about being seen to be Catholic.

But wait one second…on that same Canadian Immigration Service record, it lists two other Flynns — the firsst was Daniel who lived at 81 Browning Avenue in Toronto, who was my grandfather’s uncle and the relative to which he and his family were destined. From archival record searches, Daniel Flynn immigrated from Rathcormac in 1887 to Canada, and never had an “O” in his name when he arrived. The same is true on his marriage certificate which he listed his father’s name as “John Flynn” on 30 April 1891 (Daniel married Mary Crosson in Toronto). That same John Flynn was my grandfather’s grandfather, and Daniel Flynn was the brother of Denis, who was also John’s son, and the father of my grandfather, also named John — confusing I know.

The second name listed on my grandfather’s immigration record was  “D. Flynn” his father whom he stated was living in Rathcormac, Fermoy, Cork, Ireland in 1925. The same Denis O’Flynn that is listed on his marriage certificate five years earlier. Did he list it as “Flynn” so that he wouldn’t get further questioning by the immigration officers — ‘so your name is Flynn and your uncle’s name is Flynn but your father’s name is O’Flynn?’ — explain that one to me young man? So it seems possible that just for the sake and ease of settling in to this new country, John Joseph O’Flynn and his wife and kids, simply became Flynns on that ocean trip in 1925 — and maybe just maybe the “O” was tossed overboard in the middle of the Atlantic to help with the transition to their new lives as Canadians.

And quite frankly, even though the “O” would have given us a decidedly Irish surname, I liked growing up with my name starting with an F — this was especially important in high school where our homerooms were organized alphabetically. I got to meet and become good friends with the Fayts, Fedys, Flanigans because there was no “O” in my name.

But still, I have always been curious to know where the “O” really went and what lead to the decision to become just Flynn. Did it really get tossed overboard in 1925 or is there some alternative explanation to the dropping of the “O”.

Join me on this journey in search of the “O” – it should prove enlightening to my family and even mildly entertaining to our friends.


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The listing of new Canadians, John, Mary, Joseph and Denis Flynn. Arrived in the Port of Quebec on 5 October 1925 on board the Canadian Pacific (CP) ship “Melita”.


Canon Street, Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland (1998).


Servant’s Quarters, Kilshannig House, Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland (1998). In this picture (L to R): Hugo Merry, current owner of Kilshannig House, my cousin, Joan Hoskins, daughter of my great uncle, P.John Cahill and Peg Lane, and my wife Stephanie Flynn.


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81 Browning Avenue, Toronto (courtesy Google Maps, 2014)