The Misses Flynn’s grand annual concerts

U 8.417: There is not in this wide world a vallee. Great song of Julia Morkan’s. Kept her voice up to the very last. Pupil of Michael Balfe’s wasn’t she?

In November 1883 Mary Ellen Callanan played at another of the celebration concerts in Dublin. This time it was a concert arranged by her aunts Elizabeth and Anne Flynn, doubtless with the assistance of her mother Ellen. It is well-known that Joyce’s father, John Stanislaus Joyce, also sang at this family-arranged concert for the people of Dublin, held at a venue they all knew very well, the Antient Concert Rooms:

Antient Concert Room […] Miss Flynn has the honour to announce a Grand Concert […] By the following Artistes – Miss Mary Russell, Miss Tizzie M’Grath, Miss M O’Farrell, Mr J S Joyce, Mr B M’Carthy, Mr Fairfield Magrane, And Mr W H Wood. Solo Pianoforte – Miss Callanan, RIAM.

Freeman’s Journal (1883), 17 November

Amongst the list of artists performing that night is also listed another old friend of the Joyce’s, Bartle M’Carthy (see Harald Beck, “The man behind Mr Bartell d’Arcy”), who also sang at the musical evening recorded in “The Dead”. It seems that the evening was a reasonable success, with Bartle toasting his host with “Annie dear” and Mary Ellen performing admirably on the piano:

Miss Flynn’s Concert. – Last night Miss Flynn gave a very successful concert at the Antient Concert Room, which was tolerably well filled […] 'Annie dear' (Mr. M’Carthy). Miss Callanan performed two solos on the pianoforte, 'La Trieste' and 'Erin', with much finish and effect.

Freeman’s Journal (1883), 20 November

Many of the same artists performed at the next of the Misses Flynn’s concerts, in November 1884. The Freeman’s Journal lists some of them:

Antient Concert Rooms, Great Brunswick Street. The Misses Flynn Have the honour to announce A Grand Concert on Monday Evening, November 24th, 1884, By the following Artistes – Miss Kate Kean, RIAM, Mr Bartle M’Carthy, Mr W H Wood, Mrs Ward Moriarty, Mr J O’Farrell, Mr J S Joyce. Solo Pianoforte – Miss Callanan, RIAM.

Freeman’s Journal (1884), 12 November

Mary Ellen Callanan performed regularly in the city. In late September 1885 she gave a piano recital at the Irish Artisans’ Exhibition, and a month later she was performing again (with Bartle M’Carthy) at another of Mrs Maughan Henchy’s concerts.1

The next Misses Flynn’s concert seems to have moved from November to mid-year – May 1886. It was well-advertised with multiple adjacent small ads in the press:

Antient Concert Rooms: the Misses Flynn’s Concert, Monday, 17th May; the following distinguished artistes will assist, Miss Russell, Miss M’Bride, and Mrs Ward Moriarty.

Antient Concert Rooms: the following eminent artistes, Mr Bartle M’Carthy, Mr Marks, Mr Beardwood, and Mr Joyce will sing at the Misses Flynn’s Concert on Monday, 17th May.

Antient Concert Rooms: Miss Callanan, the distinguished pianist, and Mr Healy, the eminent violinist, will perform at the Misses Flynn’s Concert, 17th May; the talented professor, Mr Houghton, will conduct.

Freeman’s Journal (1886), 12 May

The Misses Flynn’s concert for 1887 (now in late April rather than May) is now an “Annual Benefit Concert”:

Antient Concert Rooms, Great Brunswick Street. The Misses Flynn’s Annual Benefit Concert Will take place on Wednesday Evening, April 27th, At Eight o’clock. – Artistes: Miss Mary Russell, Miss Lucy Kernan, and Miss Annie Geale (who has kindly consented to sing), Mr Bartle M’Carthy, Mr. J. Beardwood, Mr P Macfle Wright, Mr M Barry, Mr L Flanagan, Mr P Whelan, Mr J M’Bride. Solo Pianoforte – Miss Callanan […] Tickets may be obtained at the principal Music Shops and at 15 Usher’s island.

Freeman’s Journal (1887), 23 April

This time John Joyce is not in the advertised cast list, but Mary Ellen Callanan and the Joyce’s family friend are praised for their performances:

The Misses Flynn’s Benefit Concert […] Miss Callanan, a distinguished pupil of the Royal Academy of Music, created a most favourable impression by her beautiful playing on the piano of Weber’s difficult composition, 'L’Invitation a la Valse' […] Mr. Bartle M’Carthy gave a very nice rendering of 'Marguerite', and his singing of 'Come into the garden, Maud' was a really fine piece of vocalism.

Freeman’s Journal (1887), 28 April

John Joyce joins several other well-known local singers again for the Misses Flynn’s Annual Concert in 1890 (still in April), with “Miss Callanan” now well into her twenties:

Antient Concert Rooms, Great Brunswick Street. The Misses Flynn’s Annual Concert, This (Monday) Evening, April 28th, 1890. The following Artistes will appear – Mrs Keane Lynar, Miss Mordaunt Byrne, Miss Esther Knowles, Miss Gretta O’Farrell, Mr J S Joyce, Mr Vincent O’Brien, Mr John Beardwood, Mr J Butterly, Mr L Flanagan, Mr Rathbone […] Solo Pianoforte, Miss Callanan, Ex Sch RIAM.

1890 Freeman’s Journal (1890), 28 April

Perhaps the last of these annual Misses Flynn concerts took place in 1892, this year in January:

The Misses Flynn’s Concert. Last night the Misses Flynn gave their annual concert in the Antient Concert Rooms […] Mr. Bartle M’Carthy, who is well known in Dublin musical circles, sang 'Stay, Darling, Stay', a song which gave him full opportunity for the display of his fine tenor voice […] Miss Callanan’s pianoforte playing was a very interesting portion of the concert.

Freeman’s Journal (1892), 19 January

As the old century drew to a close…

In “The Dead” Mary Jane “had the organ in Haddington Road”2. Her real-life counterpart, Joyce’s first cousin (once removed) Mary Ellen Callanan “had the organ” at the local church in Meath Street, where so much Flynn business had been conducted in the past:

St. Catherine’s, Meath Street […] The music was beautifully rendered by a select choir, under Miss Callanan, organist of the church.

Freeman’s Journal (1892), 21 May

References to Miss Callanan “presiding” on the organ at St Catherine’s continue throughout the final decade of the nineteenth century.3

But time was running out for the older generation of Flynns. Since the early 1880s the sisters Julia, Ellen, and Annie, along with Ellen’s daughter Mary Ellen, had lived together at 15 Usher’s Island overlooking the Liffey, giving music lessons and sharing in the musical life of the city. On 25 January 1895 “Nannie”, one of the original Misses Flynn, and the youngest of the Flynn children, died there after a long illness:

Flynn – Jan 25, 1895, at her residence, 15 Usher’s Island, after a tedious illness, Nannie, youngest and dearly loved daughter of the late Patrick Flynn, Thomas street, deeply regretted by her sorrowing relatives. Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on her. Mother of Go[o]d Counsel intercede for her. RIP. Interment in Glasnevin on this (Monday) morning at 9 30.

Freeman’s Journal (1895), 28 January

The magical life that Joyce and others remembered there was coming to an end. It was no longer the young Miss Callanan who performed as a pupil in the Royal Irish Academy of Music concerts. These days her own pupils performed there:

Miss Callanan’s Pupils’ Concert [...] in the Antient Concert Rooms […] 'The Bohemian Girl' [...] was rendered in excellent style by Miss O’Connor Glynn and Miss Callanan […] The attendance was large.

Irish Times (1896), 24 April

As it says in “The Dead”, she “gave a pupils’ concert every year in the upper room of the Antient Concert Rooms”.4 Soon it was Aunt Eliza’s time to go, aged 70:

Flynn – July 31st, at her residence, 15 Usher’s Island, Elizabeth Josephine, third surviving daughter of the late Patrick Flynn, Thomas street. To the intense grief of her sorrowing sisters [..]. RIP. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have […] on her. Mother of Good Counsel intercede for her. Interment in Glasnevin to-morrow (Friday) morning, at 9 o’clock.

Freeman’s Journal (1900), 2 August

Within six weeks the Flynns ended their association with the majestic old house on the quayside on Usher’s Island. They saw an advert – perhaps this one in the Freeman’s Journal – for a “choice house” to let at 41 Aughrim Street, back in Stoneybatter between Manor Street and the North Circular Road, and convenient for the tram service into town:

Choice House to let; 41 Aughrim street, next Park tram; newly decorated, perfect condition; rent £44. Apply Mr Judd, Hendrick street.

Freeman’s Journal (1900), 18 September

and within months Mary Ellen Callanan was advertising her piano lessons from her new home:

Miss Callanan, RIAM, ISM, receives pupils for Pianoforte at her residence, 41 Aughrim street.

Freeman’s Journal (1901), 5 February

The 1901 Ireland census shows the two sisters, Julia and Ellen, with Ellen’s daughter, at 41 Aughrim Street. By now Ellen is 60, the “head” of the household, and describes herself as a “teacher of pianoforte and singing”, whereas her elder sister Julia (75) is of “no occupation”. Mary Ellen gives her age as an optimistic 29, though she is now in her mid thirties, and a “teacher of pianoforte and organ”. Later that year Mary Ellen Callanan meets up with another family friend, Mervyn Browne, also outlined as “Mr Browne” in “The Dead”, aged 48, a “professor of music”, organist and choirmaster at Christ Church, Blackrock, and also the leader of a string band in Dublin:

The Coffee Palace. The Sunday evening temperance meetings are being well attended [...] Tomorrow evening the programme will be arranged by Mr. Mervyn Browne, who is assisted by Miss Callanan, Sch., R.I.A.M., organist of Meath street Chapel, [etc.].

Irish Times (1901), 26 October

Aunt Ellen was the next to leave. Joyce, clearly not enamoured of this aunt, wrote to Nora from 7 St Peter’s Terrace in Cabra on 1 September 1904: “You will be sorry to hear that my great-aunt is dying of stupidity” (Letters, vol. 2). She died on 4 December at 41 Aughrim Street, aged 72:

Callanan – December 4, at her residence, 41 Aughrim street, Ellen, relict of the late Matthew Callanan. R.I.P. Interment at 9.30 to-morrow (Tuesday) morning. Sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on her.

Irish Times (1904), 5 December

In the next year the last of the Flynn sisters passed away, with the death in mid-year of Aunt Julia, aged 75. She too was buried in Glasnevin with her sisters. With the death of his own mother in 1903, and Ellen and Julia soon after, the old Dublin was crumbling. It was at this time that Joyce began to record aspects of its passing in Dubliners. On 10 March 1909 Mary Ellen Callanan died, too, of "valvular disease of the heart" at the age of 38, at Dr. Steevens' Hospital in Dublin, and the last of the old Flynn inhabitants of 15 Usher’s Island had departed.5

John Simpson


1 Freeman’s Journal (1885), 22 September; Freeman’s Journal (1885), 21 October.

2 “The Dead”, in Dubliners 15.26-7.

3 Freeman’s Journal (1893), 3 April; similarly e.g. on 27 November 1894, 15 November 1895, and at the “Centenary celebration” on 27 May 1899.

4 “The Dead”, in Dubliners 15.27-9.

5 When she died, Mary Ellen Callanan was living at 2 Hume Street in central Dublin (death certificate).

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