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


  1. Dara, I love this! The film footage of Anita (Davidson) Martell is a gem. I can imagine Maura taking the stage at the Olympia, and the four Dublin-born nieces training as jugglers and making a life of entertainment. Such a wonderfully creative group of people to have on your family tree. Fantastic!

    1. It certainly adds a bit of colour, Jennifer. I love it too!

  2. What a fascinating story. Between Anita's flippy skirt and those hats, whew, I'm tired. I'm eager to read what more you learn.

  3. Thanks Wendy, wasn't she wonderful! - such simple entertainment then, compared to today..

  4. Hello, I have just stumbled across this page, and I have to say, my heart is beating quite fast. The Moira P. (Rita and Chrissy's sister) is my grandmother. My nana unfortunately passed when I was just 6, but I loved her, and continue to love her, very much. I have always wanted to know more about her family, and I have recently decided to gather the necessary papers to apply to the Foreign Births Registry to be granted Irish citizenship so I could visit the place she was born and possibly learn more about her. (Plus, I'm quite proud of my Irish heritage, mind you.) I'd love to hear if you know anything else about her or her family. (I suppose it's our family?) So very nice to meet you and I'd love to hear from you!

    1. Great to hear from you, Cousin !!! Do send me an email to I'll dig out what else I have on Moira and her sisters, and on her branch of the family, and send it on to you.

  5. here is a link to her obituary. I am the Carli Mapes listed as one of her surviving grandchildren.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!