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:

Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar street. – […] The choir consisted of Messrs. Cantwell and Mal?]in (tenori), the Misses Herbert (soprani), assisted by the Misses Flynn, Miss Keane (alto) and Messrs. Rogers and Goulding (bassi).

Freeman’s Journal (1855) 17 July

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:

Parochial Church of Our Lady of Refuge, Rathmines […] The leading vocalists comprised Miss Tracy (first soprano) […] Mr. Leahy (bass soloist) [.,,] Mr. Cantwell, Mr Mahon, the Misses Flynn, [etc.].

Freeman’s Journal (1856), 20 June

The Catholic Church. St. Augustine’s Church, John-street […] Assisted by a splendid choir, conducted by Professor Glover, and assisted by Miss Glover, the Misses Flynn, and Mr. King.

Freeman’s Journal (1856) 29 August

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:

[Patrick] Flynn, who had the starch mill in Back Lane mentioned in "The Dead", arranged for all his daughters to be trained in music.1

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:

September 3, at 5, Graham-terrace, Seville-place, the wife of Martin Lyons, Esq, of a son.

Freeman’s Journal (1856), 5 September

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:

Lyons – At his residence, 113 Lower Gardiner-street, after a protracted illness, Mr. Martin Lyons. His remains will be removed to Glasnevin Cemetery at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. R.I.P.

Freeman’s Journal (1871), 3 February

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:

Church of St. Patrick, Monkstown […] The principal professional vocalists were Madame de la Vega Wilson and the Misses Flynn (soprani); Mrs. Callanan, Mrs. Murray and Miss Eiffe (contralti) [etc.].

Freeman Journal (1866), 18 September

“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:

The Harmonic Society […] The other principal singers were Mr. Dunne, [...] the Misses Flynn, &c. […] A trio, ‘The Queen of Flowers’, was sung by Miss F. Cruise and the Misses Flynn.

Freeman’s Journal (1857) 12 May

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:

Rotundo. This (Tuesday) Evening, October 5th, Arthur Napoleon’s Second Concert […] Duets by the Misses Flynn. Overtures, &c., by the Band.

Freeman’s Journal (1858), 5 October

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”:

The Dublin Harmonic Union. The vocal corps included soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and basso voices of the amateur members of the society and their friends, aided on this occasion by Mrs. Cantwell, the eminent contralto vocalist, and Miss Flynn, also well-known as a sweet soprano singer.

Freeman’s Journal (1860), 18 December

“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:

Church of St. Saviour – opening of the great organ […] The organist, who was well assisted by the vocalists, who were the regular choir of the church – Miss E. Williams, Miss E. Thomas, Miss White (soprani), Mrs. Cantwell, Mrs. Callanan (contralti), Mr. Cantwell.

Freeman Journal (1862), 9 September

Ellen Callanan sang regularly in public under her married name with her sisters into the 1870s, as a contralto voice:

St. Joseph’s Asylum – Grand Bazaar […] The trio of ‘The Sea Flowers’ was pleasingly rendered by Mrs. Callinan and the Misses Flynn.

Freeman’s Journal (1862), 29 December

Church of St. Nicholas, Francis-street […] The members of the Harmonic Society of St. Cecilia [...] were present, and contributed largely towards the success which attended the performance of one of the finest of musical compositions – Gounod’s Messe Solenelle. Among the principal vocalists were – Miss Cleary, Mrs. O’Brien, the Misses Flynn, Mrs. Callanan, Miss Coffey, [etc.].

Freeman’s Journal (1866), 7 December

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

Julia, though she was quite grey, was still the leading soprano in Adam and Eve’s, and Kate, being too feeble to go about much, gave music lessons to beginners on the old square piano in the back room.

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:

16 [Ellis’s quay] Flynn, Patrick, starch and blue manufactory, and com. Agent, 22l./

Flynn, The Misses, teachers of the pianoforte and singing.

Thom’s Directory of Ireland (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:

Matthew Callanan, Esq, late Secretary and Accountant Royal Agricultural Society, Upper Sackville-street. His remains will leave 16 Ellis’s-quay for interment at Glasnevin Cemetery on to-morrow (Saturday) morning at nine o’clock.

Freeman’s Journal (1869), 15 January

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:

Round Room, Rotundo. A Grand Concert […] Trio – Fille de Amabile – Miss Eliza Flynn, Miss N Flynn, and Mrs. Callinan [...] Solo – Love’s Dream is O’er (Victorine) – Mr. Flynn. Duett – List, Dearest List (Keolanthe – Miss E. Flynn and Mr. Fanning.

Freeman’s Journal (1863), 23 June

In Kingstown (1865) Anne (“Nannie”) Flynn sings as a soprano, with her sister Ellen (Mrs. Callanan) as the contralto:

Catholic Intelligence. Michaelmas Day in Kingstown Church […] The soprano solos in the Gloria were exquisitely sung by Miss Nannie Flynn, and the contralto part was effectively taken by Mrs. Callanan. The service[s] of these two highly accomplished vocalists have been permanently secured for St. Michael’s church by Mr Croft.

Freeman’s Journal (1865), 3 October

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:

Mr. Leahy’s Concert. A number of distinguished artistes, professional and amateur, have kindly volunteered their services […] Madame De La Vega Wilson, Mrs. Cantwell, the Misses Flynn, Mrs Callanan, Mrs Leahy, [etc.].

Freeman’s Journal (1868), 8 August

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:

Police Intelligence – Saturday. Northern Division… Mrs. Julia Lyons, 113 Lower Gardiner-street, deposed that the defendant delivered a pair of boots at her residence. She had ordered the boots at Mr. Hutchinson’s [84 Great Britain-street], and she gave defendant £1 in payment.

Freeman’s Journal (1878), 16 December

The family is still there the next year, too:

Larceny. Mary Anna Keogh was indicted that she, on the 28th December, did steal from Frederick Lyons’ 113 Lower Gardiner street, a purse containing about £3 13s. Mr Lyons was passing through Gardiner street when the prisoner jostled him, and he immediately found that he had lost his purse.

Irish Times (1879), 15 January

But in 1880 they are in Ellis Quay, though Aunt Julia’s son Frederick Lyons is causing the family some distress:

The Abercorn Hall Meetings. In the Southern [Dublin] Police Court yesterday, before Mr. Woodlock, four well-dressed young men who gave the names and addresses of Henry Gorman, aged 21, clerk, 81 Leinster-road; Edward Murphy, alias Frederick Lyons, no business, 16 Ellis’s-quay; Michael Maloney, alias Cornelius M’Donnell, clerk, 27 Westland-row; Thomas Lee, alias Casey, medical student, 20 Curzon-street; were charged with having wilfully created a disturbance at a religious meeting in the Hall, Harcourt-road, [etc.].

Freeman’s Journal (1880), 23 November

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:

Murray – Jan 25, at her residence, 7 Upper Clanbrassil street, after a long and painful illness, Margaret Teresa, the dearly beloved wife of John Murray, Esq, of this city. Interment in Glasnevin Cemetery at [...] o’clock to-morrow (Friday) morning. RIP.

Freeman’s Journal (1881), 27 January

By 1882, Thom’s Directory lists both the Misses Flynn and Mrs Callanan at a new address: 15 Usher’s Island:5

Callanan, Mrs, teacher pianoforte, 15 Usher’s Island. [p. 1639]

Flynn Misses, the, teachers of the pianoforte & singing, 15 Usher’s Island. [p. 1676]

The newspapers advertise lessons by the Misses Flynn and Ellen Callanan at their new address in 1883:6

Musical Academy, 15 Usher’s Island, for the study of the Pianoforte and Singing; evening classes for ladies engaged during the day; principals, the Misses Flynn and Mrs Callanan.

Freeman’s Journal (1883), 2 October

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:

Royal Irish Academy of Music […] Last evening the annual pupils’ performance..took place in the Antient Concert Rooms […] Miss Callanan gave Beethoven’s Polonaise in C major beautifully […] The pupils deserve the highest possible praise for their most creditable display.

Freeman’s Journal (1876), 15 June

Almost three years later she is an RIAM prize-winner for her piano-playing:

Royal Irish Academy of Music […] [This was] followed by an excellent pianoforte performance by Miss Callanan of Mendelssohn’s ‘Capriccio in F’… [Prizes] Pianoforte. First Class [= junior form] – Scholarship, Miss Mary Callanan and Miss Ada Smith… Scale Playing. First Class – First Prize, Miss O’Neill; Second Prize, Miss Ada Smith; Third Prize, Miss Mary Callanan.

Freeman’s Journal (1879), 28 February

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):

Royal Irish Academy of Music. The pupils’ annual concert took place recently in the Antient Concert Room, Dublin, when the following programme was performed: - [...] Pianoforte solo, ‘Les Arpèges’ […] Kullak. Miss Callanan (pupil of Sir R. Stewart). Song, 'Lullaby' [...] Brahms. Miss Tallon.

Musical Standard (1880), 7 August

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:

Mrs. Maughan Henchy’s Concert. – In the notice of the above concert we accidently omitted Miss Callanan’s name. This young lady is a scholar of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and played Thalberg’s ‘Home, Sweet home’ in a very brilliant manner, and received a hearty encore.

Freeman’s Journal (1879), 22 December

Mrs. Henchy’s Concert […] A Miss Callanan, who has considerable talent, then played a pianoforte solo.

1881 Irish Times (1881), 30 December

The protagonists of “The Dead” have assembled at the house on Usher’s Island.

John Simpson


1 Richard Ellmann James Joyce (rev. ed.; 1982), p.19.

2 Freeman’s Journal (1857), 25 July; Freeman’s Journal (1858), 1 June.

3 Freeman’s Journal (1866), 1 September.

4 “The Dead”, p. 31-34.

5 Michael Morkan (see Kate and Julia’s surname in “The Dead”) is now a ‘Grocer & spirit dealer, [at] 43 Arran quay’ (Thom’s Directory for 1882, p. 1740).

6 See also - Freeman’s Journal for 25 September 1886: Academy of Music, 15 Usher’s island, for instruction in the Pianoforte, Singing; Evening Classes for Ladies engaged during the day; Tuitions also attended to. Principals,the Misses Flynn and Mrs Callanan.

Thom’s Directory (1892), p. 1723 (Dublin Directory): ‘Flynn Misses, the, teachers of the pianoforte & singing, 15 Usher’s Island.

7 “The Dead”, in Dubliners 15.27.

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