Bella Cohen at No 82 (not 81)

U 15.2741-4: The door opens. Bella Cohen, a massive whoremistress, enters. She is dressed in a threequarter ivory gown, fringed round the hem with tasselled selvage. […] On her left hand are wedding and keeper rings.

Ellen Cohen and her disorderly houses

At the end of Popping into Lynam’s we found Maria Lynam buying or moving into a house (No 36 Lower Temple Street) next-door to an Ellen Cohen (No 35) (1884). Ellen Cohen had herself moved to this area of Dublin from south of the Liffey at around the same time. In the previous year, 1883, she had been in trouble with the South Dublin police for selling porter without a licence (a strong indicator of a brothel and one borne out by the evidence):

Police Intelligence […] Southern Division […] Breach of the Licensing Act. – Ellen Cohen was charged […] with selling porter, &c., without a licence, in the house No. 2 Palmer[s]ville-terrace, Londonbridge-road [in Irishtown]. Mr. Walsh, for the defence, contended that the porter was merely for the use of the inmates of the house at meals.

Freeman’s Journal (1883) 29 June

Ellen Cohen had unsettled the South Dublin community by her lifestyle:

The police stated that the clergy of all denominations in the neighbourhood complained of the house in question as being disorderly, and an innovation of very unpleasant character in the vicinity. Mr. Walsh asked the magistrate to deal leniently with the defendant, as she intended to leave the neighbourhood by the 20th July. Mr. Curran, in passing sentence, said that this was a very different case from a disorderly house in an already disreputable neighbourhood. The place was evidently a brothel, and liable to corrupt persons near it. He would send prisoner to jail for one month, with hard labour.

Defending counsel applied to the magistrate later in the day for leniency towards his client. Mr Curran softened and said that as long as Mrs Cohen left the area within the week he would only impose a fine of 40s (two pounds).

The defendant, who wept bitterly, thanked his worship and left the court accompanied by her friends.

Ellen Cohen seems to move around from house to house for several years in the early 1880s – but always in the same district, once she’d come north of the river:

(yellow: Thom’s; green = newspapers; orange = prison records; grey = census)

Ellen Cohen moves north to Mecklenburgh Street

By 1883/4 Ellen Cohen had moved on to No 39 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, on the south side of Mecklenburgh Street and into the street in which Joyce places her - with Mrs Mack currently further back down the street at No 20. But Mrs Cohen’s lifestyle is much the same as before. Soon she is picked up by the police for being drunk and disorderly and for damaging property. The prison register gives some new information about her:

Ellen Cohen, [age] 32, [height] 5 3, [hair] Fair, [eyes] Blue, [complexion] Fresh, [place of birth] Gloucester, [current address] 39 Lr Mecklenburgh St, [occupation] N[il], [religion] Prot[estant], R[ead and] W[rite], [crimes] I Drunk and Disorderly, II Damage property, [sentence] 1. Month, 2. Month, [fine] 40/- […] Paid fine & bailed 25.8.83.

Grangegorman Female Prison General Register (1883) 24 August

She states that she was born in Gloucester around 1850/1, has no occupation, and states her religion as “Protestant”. She has enough money to pay her fine rather than suffer imprisonment.

Thom’s Directory for 1884 (p. 1440) also locates her as “Mrs Cohen” at No 39 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, and also (as “Mrs Ellen Cohen”) at No 35 Lower Temple Street (next-door to Maria Lynam). So it would seem that she was listed by Thom’s in 1884 at two properties in the area (this is not particularly unusual). In 1886 Thom’s locates her for a single year at No 29 Upper North Cumberland Street.

A street in Monto (unidentified)

(Cleary's: Amiens St, Dublin)

By 1888 both Mrs Cohen and Mrs Mack have moved up the street and to the north side, into the houses (Nos 82 and 85 respectively) which they inhabit in Ulysses (Joyce in fact locates Mrs Cohen at No 811), and Thom’s lists them both at these addresses until 1905, when the story of the first generation of Lower Mecklenburgh Madams comes to a close.


This is a simple and attractive schema: Ellen Cohen gets into trouble with the authorities south of the Liffey in 1883 and so moves north, where she spends several years moving between properties before settling at No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street for the remainder of the century.

But we found with Annie Mack that things were not necessarily as simple as Thom’s Directory might lead us to believe. Examination of the addresses under review at the Dublin Registry of Deeds reveals a new dimension, and introduces us to the possibility that Ellen Cohen and an Ellen Cannell might be one and the same person, or that they might be at least partners in a business enterprise.

In 1886 Thom’s places “Mrs. Cohen” at “No 29 Cumberland Street North Upper” and a deed of conveyance at the Dublin Registry of Deeds places an Ellen Cannell and her husband Harry at the same address. Ellen and Harry Cannell are at the time buying the title to No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street from a Brian and Susan O’Looney.2 Once the title to No 82 is established and the property renovated or at least made more habitable, “Mrs. Cohen” moves in, for the next seventeen years or so.

Harry and Ellen Cannell: youth, marriage, and property

(yellow: Thom’s; green = newspapers; orange = prison records; blue = church/civil records; grey = census)

Ellen Cannell née Charlton married Harry Cannell on Wellington Quay on 27 March 1884. The marriage certificate was, irregularly, completed later, on 29 July 1890. Ellen’s names are given as “Ellen Cannell otherwise Charlton otherwise Reece”, and her father is said to be a Richard Reece. Harry was a Londoner who had joined the Army in 1876 at the age of 19, having previously been a compositor. By 1883 he was posted to the Portobello Barracks in Dublin with the Army Service Corps (ASC), which handled the logistics of military transportation. He was discharged from the Army after seven years’ service three months after his wedding, following an accident two years’ earlier in which he had suffered a serious double fracture of his left leg.

In November 1884, nine months after the wedding, Ellen is accused of a “serious charge of assault”:

Ellen Cannell, 25 Lr. Temple-street, was charged with assaulting a girl named Kate Owens at the address named. The prosecutrix […] stated that Cannell dragged her down several stairs, and threw her down the remainder of a flight.

Freeman’s Journal (1884) 6 November

Because of “contradictory evidence” the magistrate felt obliged to dismiss the case. (This address had been occupied as a disorderly house by Maggie Arnott in 1881, and before that by Bella Carrington.)

At the time of the 1901 census Mrs Ellen Cannell, her husband Harry, and their nephew Frank are living at No 15 Merville Avenue, Clontarf, north-east of the red-light area:

Harry Cannell, Head of Family, Church of England, Read & Write, 43, M, Ex Army Sergeant, Married, [born] England

Ellen Cannall, Wife, Church of England, Read & Write, 48, F, England

Frank Munro, Nephew, Church of England, Read & Write, 18, M, Scholar, Not Married, England

We might perhaps expect Ellen Cannell to reside at No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street on census night. But she had several properties and the presiding Madams or owners did not necessarily live at their business premises. The 1901 census shows that a Bridget Coughlan (a 49-year-old widow from Dublin: no occupation given) is managing the house at No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street.

Ellen Cannell’s earlier life

Ellen Cannell was previously known as Ellen Charlton. The name is rare in Ireland (there are only four in the 1901 census). Seven years before Ellen Charlton married Harry Cannell, an Ellen Charlton was involved in a “Shocking Death from Drink” in nearby Upper Mercer Street:

Yesterday, at eleven o’clock, Dr. Whyte, city coroner, held an inquest on the body of Patrick Moore, aged 42, who died suddenly in the house 17 Upper Mercer-street […]

Ellen Charlton, a young woman about 26 years of age, deposed that she was unmarried; she had been living with the deceased for the last three years; she had two children by him; this house was an improper house and belonged to the deceased.

Freeman’s Journal (1877) 25 January

According to the evidence of Ellen Charlton and a girl, Kate Morris, who lived in the house, Moore had retired to bed “very drunk” (as usual). The house was locked up at one, and Ellen went to bed with Moore.

It was not a quiet night in the disorderly house:

Witness […] said that persons from the opposite side of the street sent over for drink to her about two o’clock; she replied she had none; another knock came to the door about four o’clock, and she answered it by looking out of the window; she saw two gentlemen, who wanted to get in; witness went to bed, and the deceased was there till morning.

In the morning when Kate came in to say that one of Ellen’s children had been ill during the night, it was discovered that Patrick was dead:

[Ellen’s] foot touched his leg, and she found it was cold; she called him, and she got up crying “Oh, Paddy is dead!” The witness at this part of her evidence wept in a most bitter manner.

Patrick was already married when he “picked up” with Ellen; she was his housekeeper and later mistress. As a result of Patrick Moore’s death Ellen became the owner of a small amount of (rather run-down) property:

He bequeathed the house 2 Cumberland-street, and the house, 17 Upper Mercer-street, to […] Ellen Charlton.

The house in Cumberland Street was rented out for immoral purposes, if only because immorality paid:

The woman Charlton, in reply to the Coroner, said that when the house in north Cumberland-street was let to respectable tenants it only realized £15 a year, but now the rent was £50 a year.

Next year, in 1878, No 17 Upper Mercer Street was again being run as a brothel (Freeman’s Journal 12 August). From 1880 and for many years thereafter it was owned by Patrick Lynam and Maria Lynam née Nolan. Nine years later (1886) Annie McEachern acquired No 2, as well as Nos 1, 3, and 4 Lower North Cumberland Street. The incestuous web surrounding these houses continues.

Several years earlier, in 1874, an Ellen (also Helena) Charlton had married a Henry Nolan, both of 10 Johnson’s Court, in central Dublin south of the river. This may well prove to be the same woman, and Henry Nolan Maria’s brother. But this is conjectural.

Ellen Cannell back in the picture

Soon after 1886 Nos 82-5 Lower Mecklenburgh Street became the stronghold of Mrs Mack, Mrs Noble, Mrs Arnold, and Mrs Cohen. In 1886 itself the Madams are hovering around their later roost. Annie Mack was involved with Nos 1-4 and 39 Lower North Cumberland Street, with Mrs Arnott is flagged at No 4 Lower North Cumberland Street. Ellen Cohen and Ellen Cannell are both located at No 29 Upper North Cumberland Street. And Ellen Cannell is tying up ownership of No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street.

Ellen Cohen and Ellen Cannell’s (with instances of Ellen Cohen, Bella Goad, and Meg Arnott recorded at the same residence)

(yellow: Thom’s; green = newspapers; orange = prison records; blue = church/civil records; grey = census)

In the same year (1886) Ellen Cannell runs foul of the law again, for “illegal possession” of a fur coat stolen by Anne Sweeney of No 23 Mecklenburgh Street (an address sold several years later by Annie McEachern to Lizzie Arnold).

Ellen was sent to prison for two months (Anne for three), over New Year 1886/7. We can compare Ellen Cannell’s description in the Grangegorman Prison Register with that of Ellen Cohen we found earlier:

Ellen Cohen, [age] 32, [height] 5 3, [hair] Fair, [eyes] Blue, [complexion] Fresh, [place of birth] Gloucester, [current address] 39 Lr Mecklenburgh St, [occupation] N[il], [religion] Prot[estant], R[ead and] W[rite], [crimes] I Drunk and Disorderly, II Damage property, [sentence] 1. Month, 2. Month, [fine] 40/- […] Paid fine & bailed 25.8.83.

Grangegorman Female Prison General Register (1883) 24 August

Ellen Cannell, [age] 34, [height] 5 1, [hair] Bro, [eyes] Blue, [complexion] Fresh, [weight] 228, [place of birth] England, [current address] 82 Mecklenburgh St, [occupation] Pros[titute], [religion] Pro[testant], R[ead and] W[rite], [entered prison] 30 Dec, [charge] Illegal possession fur cape, [magistrate] C. O’Donel, [sentence] 2 cal mos, H[ard] L[abour], [released] 28 Febry 1887

Grangegorman Female Prison (1886) 30 December

There are enough points of similarity to sustain the possibility that Ellen Cohen is Ellen Cannell. One further point of significance may be Ellen Cannell’s weight. At 228 lbs (16 stone 4 lbs) she is considerably larger than most of the rather sylvan, light-weight prostitutes documented in the prison registers. And Joyce refers to Bella Cohen as a “massive whoremistress”.

Harry Cannell died in 1903. Mrs Cohen remains at No 82 Lower Mecklenburgh Street for a year or so longer, and then fades from the picture.3

John Simpson

This is the fifth of six related articles: Continued at:

6) Summing up the Madams

Previous articles in the series:

1) The Madams of Nighttown

2) Mrs Mack at No 85

3) Mrs Arnott at No 83

4) Mrs Arnold of No 40 Lower Cumberland Street and elsewhere


1 See Mrs Mack at No 85, footnote 2.

2 Dublin Registry of Deeds: Dublin City 1886-10-118.

3 A Henry and Anne Cohen (photographers, from the Glasgow area) lived in Upper Mecklenburgh Street/Mecklenburgh Lane at the time. After Henry’s death Anne remained in the area, and may be found in the 1901 census. She seems not to be involved in the foregoing story. It is probably also a coincidence that the Dublin (and later London) moneylender Baron J. Cohen provided funds for some of the mortgages for other houses in Lower Mecklenburgh Street. He also used a “Mrs Cohen” to offer cash loans in his regular newspaper advertisements in Dublin.

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