Saturday 27 June 2015


Recently, I started working on a new branch of our 
Wynnes – that of James Wynne. James was an elder brother of my great-grandfather, Patrick Wynne. His branch promises to lead us into the glitzy world of showbiz, with its professional jugglers, circus performers and even a part or two in the movies.

How is it we have heard nary a whisper of these extraordinary cousins before now?   

It may take me a while to sort out who’s who with James, his children and grandchildren, especially as some of them adopted a stage name.  So, first things first…    

James Wynne was born on 25 November 1857, at 56 Thomas Street, Dublin. He became a brush maker by trade, same as my great-grandfather. In 1892, he married Christina Kavanagh and they had five children, John Augustin, Nora Isabella, James Percival, Mary J. and Edward Patrick – just a typical Dublin family.

By 1911, James was no longer living with Christina and the children. Perhaps he had passed away, or maybe he had taken up residence elsewhere. A man, whose details closely match his, was found ‘resident’ in Leeds, England, at the time. This James Wynne was fifty-three years old and married, a brush maker, born in Dublin. He was boarding, without his wife, in a household in the West Yorkshire town. Whether this was my great-granduncle or not, and what happened to him afterwards, remains to be seen.

Before her death, James Wynne’s niece, Pat Fagan, told my cousin Aileen that her uncle John Wynne had two daughters – Nora and Maura. Sound like a classic case for Chinese whispers? Anyway, the story goes, Nora married a tailor and immigrated to Australia, while Maura became a dancer in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.

‘Uncle John’ was the one who lived in Dundalk. He actually had five daughters, including a Nora, a Mary Agnes and a Mary Clarissa. None of them fit Pat Fagan’s description. I now suspect it was James Wynne’s two daughters, Nora Isabella and Mary J., who became the tailor’s wife and the dancer. Of course, I have no proof of this yet, either.

This month, thanks to the owner of an online family-tree, I learnt that a Moira J. Wynne married John Davidson, in London.  Moira is pronounced quite similar to Maura, or indeed to Máire, the Irish for Mary. So, was Moira our dancing Maura, a.k.a. Mary J.? Her marriage certificate confirms she was the daughter of James Wynne, a brush maker. But, her occupation, if she had one, was not recorded and if she danced under a stage name, it might be hard to ever find out.

John and Moira’s marriage proved to become the Wynnes’ gateway into the ‘limelight.’ John Davidson was better known by his stage name, Jack Martell. He had seen some success as a comedy juggler and pantomime actor, working in the music halls in England, during the first half of the twentieth century.

From 1929 until 1938, the London electoral registers show Moira Wynne and John Davidson were living together (‘in sin’, I might add… in the 1930s… just sayin’) in Doverfield Road, London. They married at the end of 1937, but seemingly had no children together.

Four of Moira’s Dublin-born nieces, the children of her brother James, travelled to London, in their teens, all eager to train as jugglers with Jack Martell. The eldest girl, Veronica Wynne (her name at birth was registered as Elizabeth C.), resided with John and Moira from about 1948. Within a year or two, she was joined by her sister Chrissy (Christine).  Their younger sisters Moira (Mary P.) and Rita (Margaret J.) soon followed suit, as they came of age. All four seemingly mastered the art of juggling and travelled the world plying their trade. They too adopted the stage name, Martell. 

To get an idea of what it was all, about, check out Anita Martell in action here, courtesy of a 1937 British Pathé film. Anita Martell, or Anita Davidson as she was born, was John Davidson’s daughter, from his first marriage.  

See more about the Martell Sisters - The Juggling Colleen.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 20 June 2015

Diary of a WWI soldier’s last days

Granda’s first cousin, Camillus Wynne, served as a rifleman in the British Army during World War One. Many of you will remember him from previous blog posts (see links below). He died in the horrific Battle at Bellewaarde, in Flanders, on 16 June 1915 - 100 years ago this week. The Army's 'war diaries' provide a first-hand account of Camillus’ final days and hours. They make for fascinating, if somewhat harrowing, reading:

14 June 1915
In Bivouac - Officers lectured by 2nd in command on the King’s Regulations. Copies of the Corps Commander’s message complimenting the Battalion on the gallantry displayed in October last at NEUVE CHAPELLE, when it repulsed the enemy with the bayonet, were distributed to companies and read out on parade.

Sports were held in the afternoon. The principle event was the high jump for the Commanding Officer’s prize. This was won by a jump of 4 [feet] 9 1/2 [inches].

15 June 1915
In Bivouac - The Battalion paraded at 5.30 pm and marched to the assembly trenches between WHITEPOORT FARM and Railway to support 9th Infantry Brigade in an attack on BELLEWAARDE SPUR. Strength - 21 Officers, 630 other ranks.

16 June1915
The bombardment of our artillery commenced at 2.50 A.M., lasting until 4.15 A.M., when the 9th Infantry Brigade assaulted, carrying the first three lines of German trenches. The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles supported the left – ‘C’ Company followed by ‘D’ Company on right, ‘A’ Company, followed by ‘B’ Company on left, with orders to consolidate the first German line.

‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, carried away by their runners, pushed through to the 3rd line, closing up with the assaulting troops under E.C. FARRAN & Lieutenant C.H.H. EALES. The companies were then reorganised and withdrawn in perfect order to the first line, which they put in a state of defence.

‘A’ Company, under 2nd Lieutenant W.E. Andrews, was similarly engaged on the left. Owing to heavy artillery fire which soon developed, ‘B’ Company was unable to follow ‘A’ Coy quickly. They were formed up on CAMBRIDGE Road, 250 yards behind, preparatory to making another effort to get through, when they were unfortunately shelled by enfilade fire, causing 30 or 40 casualties. The remainder of the company was then withdrawn and kept in battalion support for the remainder of the day.

During the day, from early morning to nightfall, the Battalion was subjected to terrific artillery bombardment.

The non-commissioned officers and men of all companies distinguished themselves by the discipline, coolness and steadiness, under most trying circumstances.

At no time during the day can it be said that they were at any time shaken by the ordeal. For instance, at 3.30 P.M., after hours of bombardment, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, with very short notice, were called upon to attack. It possessed just as much spirit and dash as their early morning attack. Both of these attacks were gallantly led by E.C. FARRAN, who was wounded and became missing, and 2nd Lieut. C.H.H. EALES, who was uninjured.

‘A’ Company consolidated and held in a most determined manner, the left flank of the German trenches, and handed them over intact to the Royal Scots who relieved them at midnight. 2nd Lieut. W.E. Andrews, who commanded this portion of the line, deserves the highest praise for able way in which this difficult operation was carried out. The Battalion was relieved at 1.29 A.M. having acquitted itself in a manner which has called forth praise from the Corps Commander.

The following officers and about 300 other ranks [including Philip Camillus Wynne] became casualties:
  • Capt. C.M.L BECHER, slightly wounded
  • Capt. E.C. FARRAN, 3rd R. Ir. Rifles, wounded and missing
  • Lieut. W.E.S. HOWARD, 4th R. Ir. Rifles, wounded
  • Lieut. D.M. ANDERSON, 5th R. Ir. Rifles, wounded
  • 2nd Lt E.J. HOARE, wounded
  • 2nd Lt J.G. BLAND, wounded
  • 2nd Lt F.C.P. JOY, 3rd R. Ir. Rifles, killed
  • 2nd Lt E.B. KERTLAND, 4/R Irish Fus., wounded and missing
  • 2nd Lt R.L. VANCE, 4/R Irish Fus., wounded
  • 2nd Lt T.J. CONSIDINE, 5/R Dub Fus., wounded
  • 2nd Lt C.H. WALE, Special list, wounded
  • 2nd Lt J.M. MC INTOSH, killed
  • 2nd Lt A.A. RAYMOND, slightly wounded, remained at duty.

Transcribed from the ‘War Diary’ of the Second Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, June 1915, ‘UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920’,, citing First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries, WO 95/1096–3948, The National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew, Surrey, England.

Link to other posts about Camillus:
In remembrance Philip Camillus Wynne
Philip Camillus Wynne -Killed in action in World War I

Saturday 13 June 2015

Three little vignettes: ghosts, apparitions and porter

When I wrote the blogpost ‘Uncle Michael married Aunt Kate', my uncle Colm said it solved one the great mysteries of his life. That mystery was - ‘who the hell was the Uncle Mike?’ Colm had always believed Uncle Mike was a Byrne, but he could never quite place him. My blogpost confirmed Mike was actually Michael McGrane, Colm's maternal great-granduncle.

Last year, shortly before he passed away, Colm shared with me three intriguing stories concerning the long-gone Uncle Mike. Here they are in my uncle's own words:

Three Little Vignettes [by Colm Wynne]
The first made a great impression on me. The Wynne family moved to 3 Lower Jane Place from Leinster Avenue around 1950, shortly after Anne's [my aunt's] birth. Auntie Kay [my grandaunt, Kathleen Byrne] had been living there on her own, following her parent’s deaths. We opened (or re-opened) a small corner shop there called Kathleen's. It was very much later, when I was an adult, I realized that following my father’s first heart attack around 1947, his business failed as he was unable to pursue it, and we needed the income from the shop to survive.

Aged around six, I used to sleep on a chaise longue in the kitchen/ dining room. That's a fancy description of a small general use room with an iron range, a gas cooker and a very mean table, some equally mean chairs and a bench. There was also an old fashioned dresser and a wardrobe! in the room.

One night I awoke to find an old man, in a jacket and cap, hunched up on a chair in front of the range, warming himself. I knew he should not be there so I picked up a toy to throw at him. For some reason, I could not move my limbs freely. The attempt to throw was like moving my arm through treacle. When I finally released the toy, instead of flying through the air and clouting the intruder, it just dropped harmlessly beside the bed.

I knew this shouldn't have happened and got frightened at this point so I started screaming. Mammy and Daddy came from their bed in the next room and turned on the light. My visitor vanished. They did not see him. They tried to persuade me I was seeing things and it was all in my imagination. I insisted I was not, so they changed tack and tried to persuade me I was just awaking from a bad dream. I know to this day, I was not.

The upshot was I was taken into their bed for a few nights and then transferred to the front bedroom with my sisters, where I slept for several years. The following evening the adults were gathered around the fire in what nowadays would be called the lounge. I don't remember what it was called then, probably the parlor. It was a big room with a section curtained off shielding a double bed where my parents slept. It had previously been where my grandparents slept. I had already been put to bed there. Although I wasn't supposed to be, I was wide awake and listening.

I heard them discussing the events of the night before with Auntie Kay. It transpired that from my description the apparition was clearly the deceased Uncle Mike, and that I was not the first to have seen him. I can't remember now who else had the dubious pleasure.

Number Two: A very short one, this. Apparently when living in number 31 Lower Jane Place, the Uncle Mike worked on the docks. When he came home each evening he never had to knock or use a key. The door was always opened for him by some previously deceased family member. I don't think I ever heard who it was. I certainly don't remember if I did.

Number Three: Also short. The Uncle Mike was very fond of his porter. His bosom drinking buddy and working companion became very well known in later life and indeed his afterlife as Blessed Matt Talbot. When Matt forswore the drink, he tried very hard, and I understand unsuccessfully, to persuade Uncle Mike to do likewise. Despite his best efforts, the Uncle Mike remained a toper. Matt gave Uncle Mike his prayer book in the hope that it would help. I don't know if he ever read it, but it was still around when I was a small boy. I have no idea what happened to it afterwards.

Michael McGrane died of heart failure on 23 December 1929, at 3 Lower Jane Place, the house he shared with my great-grandparents. He had suffered from bronchitis for seven days before his passing. On Christmas Eve that year, my great-grandfather and Michael's nephew, James Byrne, registered his death.

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 6 June 2015

Genealogy Saturday: How did ‘Yellow Walls’ get its name?

Many of my ancestors, on both sides of my family, came from a place called Yellow Walls, a townland of about 400 acres situated in Malahide, in north county Dublin.  As you might imagine, my colourful address - ‘Black Raven, Yellow Walls’- often piqued the interest of my young city friends and I was frequently asked where it originated. 

My stock answer and the explanation once believed colloquially was that flax used in a local mill was hung out to bleach in the sun, staining the walls in the area yellow. This is what we learnt as children. But, when I was a child, there were few suitable old walls, only hedges, in the rural townland, so it was the old grey stone walls of a bridge at Barrack Bridge where I imagined the flax had been hung. This made some sense as the bridge was adjacent the ruins of an old mill. Little did I know then, though, this was a cotton mill and cotton would hardly have stained the walls. 

About 1990, when histories of Malahide first appeared in print, I read the yellow hues were caused by hanging textile products, stained with vegetable dyes, on the walls to dry. Presumably, by this time, the history of the mill had been researched, and the flax theory was deemed less likely. However, while vegetable dyes might well have been used in local industry, it raises the question - why did they only use yellow dye, or was yellow a custom of the times? 

The name ‘Yellow Walls’ is seemingly not particularly ancient and the area was not referred to as such during a tithe (land tax) inquisition, held nearby, at Swords, in January 1547.  The 400 acres making up the townland today were surely included in this survey, though presumably under a different designation. So, the name is likely a more recent development. At that time, Malahide was said to have consisted of ‘the Courte de Malahyd and Balregan.’[1]

The ‘Courte de Malahyd’ refers to Malahide castle and demesne, the seat of the Talbot family, who owned pretty much all the land in Malahide, until the twentieth century. Balregan is today situated in far Yellow Walls, at the end of Estuary Road, close to where I grew up. Perhaps the area now known as Yellow Walls was once part of Balregan. 

Estuary Road, Yellow Walls, Malahide, 1982

The earliest mention, so far found, of the name ‘Yellow Walls’ is dated 1762, when the area was reflected on a map drawn by the English cartographer, John Rocque.[2] 

‘Malahide Mills’ was recorded on this map, near what became known as Barrack Bridge. This is the same area where the Talbots later established their cotton enterprise, as well as a military barracks. 

Yellow Walls, Malahide (extract from Rocque’s Map, 1762)

The only other old mills found to have been located in Malahide were tide mills, referred to as the ‘mill that goeth by ebb tides’ in the notes appended to the Down Survey of the mid-1600s.[3] These mills were probably used for milling corn and corn would not have stained the walls yellow, either. Possibly, these were the same mills depicted by John Rocque, a hundred years later. 

My favourite story of how Yellow Walls obtained its name was told by a local boy named Christopher Mahon, my third cousin once removed. In September 1938, when Chris was thirteen years old, he took part in a scheme initiated by the Irish Folklore Commission. Chris had three handwritten essays included in their School’s Collection and they have now been published on the Dú website.[4] 

In his essay entitled ‘Local Place Names’, Chris wrote: ‘it is said that Yellow Walls got its name from a public-house that always had its walls painted yellow.’ If such a pub ever existed, it was probably a mud cabin with a thatched roof. It was unlikely to have survived as much more than a distant memory when Chris was a lad, and it is not remembered at all today. 

We may now never know for sure how Yellow Walls got its name, but this seems as good a theory as any other.

[1] William Monck Mason, The history and antiquities of the collegiate and cathedral church of St. Patrick near Dublin, from it foundation in 1190, to the year 1819, (Dublin, 1820), p.79, accessed at Google Books.
[2] John Rocque, A Map of the County of Dublin Divided in Baronies by John Rocque 1762 (Dublin, 1990).
[3] Weston St. John Joyce, The Neighbourhood of Dublin: its topography, antiquities and historical associations (Dublin, 1921), p. 280, accessed at Ask about Ireland.
[4] www.dú

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy