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 Ancestry.com 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.

Ancestry.com 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)