The Misses Flynn, their other brothers, and Mary Ellen Callanan
There is a cruel irony in the fact that the earliest references to the Misses Flynn as singers in the Dublin newspapers come at the time in the mid 1850s when their father’s starch business was finally failing:
Earliest public performances
Their earliest singing engagements are as choristers or at church concerts, such as one in Rathmines, Dublin and another closer to home, both in 1856:
But which of the Flynn sisters constituted the Misses Flynn when they were on stage, or did a different permutations of the sisters appear under this name? Similarly, is it possible to identify which Flynn sisters appear in “The Sisters” (where they are named “Eliza” and “Nannie”), and in “The Dead” (where the Misses Flynn are Kate and Julia Morkan), or do these characters include features of several of the sisters?
There are five possible candidates for the Misses Flynn, the final Flynn sisters born between 1829 and 1835: Julia Clare, Ellen, Elizabeth Josephine, Margaret Theresa, and Anne. In 1856 their ages ranged from 21 to 27.
Richard Ellmann states that:
With so many Flynn sisters now known, it is not possible to gauge whether Ellmann’s statement refers to all of these sisters, or simply to the younger sisters, who are the ones subsequently associated with musical performances.
Julia Flynn and Martin Lyons
Julia Clare Flynn, Joyce’s great aunt Julia, was born in or about 1829. At the time that the Misses Flynn were first singing in public, Julia Flynn and her husband Martin Lyons, a commercial traveller, were having their first child, Frederick Martin:
Frederick was followed by James Joseph, Margaretta, and Martin, and maybe others, as the years passed before their father’s untimely death aged 55 in February 1871:
Although Joyce uses her name as one of the two musical aunts in “The Dead”, Julia Flynn does not seem, from the available evidence, to have been involved in the singing appearances of the Misses Flynn.
Margaret Theresa Flynn and John Murray
Margaret Theresa Flynn was Joyce’s maternal grandmother. The newspapers do not unambiguously identify her as singing with the Misses Flynn. She married around 1855, and had her first child, John, in the following year. Thereafter she had at least four other children, and lived with her husband at the Eagle House, Tenerure. However, if “Mrs. Murray” in the following extract refers to her, then she could certainly have at some time sung alongside or as part of the Misses Flynn:
“Mrs. Callanan” in this quotation is Julia’s sister Ellen (see below).
Which are the Misses Flynn?
The following review from
the Freeman’s Journal of May 1857
helps to narrow down the search for the Misses Flynn:
Here the song “The Queen of Flowers” is sung by the trio of Miss Cruise and the Misses Flynn (implying that here there were two of them). After other performances, in the Peoples’ Concerts and at the Antient Concert Rooms,2 the Misses Flynn appear at the Rotundo:
Here they sing duets with the band, and so again we have two Misses Flynn. One Miss Flynn is said, in another review, to be “well-known as a sweet soprano singer”:
“Aunt Julia” was noted in “The Dead” as a soprano singer, where she "was still the leading soprano in Adam and Eve's" ('The Dead', p. 30-1). It seems clear that the “Misses Flynn” who performed throughout Dublin, and later in their own concerts, were primarily Elizabeth and Anne Flynn.
Another married sister
By autumn another of the Flynn sisters, Ellen Flynn, was married – to Mathew Callanan, secretary and accountant to the Royal Agricultural Society in Dublin. Under her married name she sings with the Misses Flynn:
Ellen Callanan sang regularly in public under her married name with her sisters into the 1870s, as a contralto voice:
From Ellen Callanan’s obvious competence as an “eminent artiste”,3 she might clearly have sung as one of the Misses Flynn before her marriage. After her marriage she used her married name when performing. From the mid-1870s she fades from the newspaper reviews as her daughter Mary Ellen’s competent piano-playing takes the limelight.
Schools for musicians
In “The Dead” the aunts Kate and Julia are known for their musical abilities:4
Their father Patrick moved to No 16 Ellis Quay in Dublin after his business collapsed in the 1850s. Thom’s Directory shows him there with at least two of his daughters, the Misses Flynn, in 1862:
These listings continue for many years in Thom’s. At this time Julia Lyons was living elsewhere in Dublin with her families, and it seems reasonable to assume that she was not then involved with the musical tuition. Ellen Callanan may well have been living with them at 16 Ellis Quay, though, as when her husband Mathew Callanan died aged 49 in 1869, his body was removed to Glasnevin from that address:
The remaining unmarried sisters are Elizabeth (also Eliza) and Anne (also Nannie).
By 1863 the newspapers occasionally distinguish between the Flynn sisters, and so at this stage both Eliza(beth) and “Miss N” (i.e. Nannie, Anne) are performing at the Rotundo:
In Kingstown (1865) Anne (“Nannie”) Flynn sings as a soprano, with her sister Ellen (Mrs. Callanan) as the contralto:
The evidence, however, shows that at this period we should identify Elizabeth and her younger sister Anne as the Misses Flynn, living at 16 Ellis Quay and spending their days coaching young musicians. During the 1860s they lived with their father Patrick, and perhaps also with their sister Ellen, her husband Mathew, and their gifted musician daughter Mary Ellen. Just before Patrick’s death the three sisters sing together with their sister Ellen at Mr Leahy’s concert:
Julia’s husband Martin died in 1871. At some point Aunt Julia moved into 16 Ellis Quay too: she was certainly living with her sisters in her declining years. But she did not move there immediately, as in 1878 she is still living at 113 Lower Gardiner Street:
The family is still there the next year, too:
But in 1880 they are in Ellis Quay, though
Aunt Julia’s son Frederick Lyons is causing the family some distress:
Their sister Margaret Theresa, who married John Murray, did not live at Ellis Quay. She died in 1881 at home at 7 Upper Clanbrassil Street:
By 1882, Thom’s Directory lists both the Misses Flynn and Mrs Callanan at a
new address: 15 Usher’s Island:5
The newspapers advertise lessons by the
Misses Flynn and Ellen Callanan at their new address in 1883:6
James Joyce is now 18 months old. He only knows his aunts from their time at 15 Usher’s Island (the location of the dinner party of “The Dead” many years later). All of his knowledge of the Flynn family but to this point and for some years to come derives from his parents and relatives and cannot be first-hand.
Ellen Callanan’s daughter Mary Ellen
Ellen Callanan’s second daughter, Mary Ellen, was born about 1868. Her mother was a piano teacher, and she herself had an exceptional talent for the instrument. The Royal Irish Academy of Music took students at an early age, and in 1876 a very young Mary Ellen Callanan is praised for her performance:
Almost three years later she is an RIAM prize-winner for her piano-playing:
The character Mary Jane in “The Dead” is generally acknowledged to be based in many aspects on Mary Ellen Callanan, Joyce’s first cousin (once removed). Joyce notes there of “Mary Jane” that “She had been through the academy”.7 When at the Academic she had studied under Dublin celebrated Professor of Music, Robert Prescott Stewart (1825-94):
Whilst she was still at the Academy, Mary
Ellen began to play at some of Dublin’s well-known regular concerts. In 1879
she performed at Mrs. Maughan Henchy’s Christmas concert at the Antient Concert
Rooms on Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, as she did again in 1881:
The protagonists of “The Dead” have assembled at the house on Usher’s Island.
Richard Ellmann James Joyce (rev.
ed.; 1982), p.19.
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