Humphrys genealogy

Genealogy research by Mark Humphrys.

My ancestors - Flanagan - Contents

  The Bird's grave, Glasnevin

The Duffin eviction story

The Bird Flanagan's practical jokes

The Bird Flanagan in popular culture


Willie Flanagan, "The Bird Flanagan"

Willie Flanagan, "The Bird Flanagan".
From this picture.
Photo must be 1924 or 1925.
See larger and full size.

Willie Flanagan, "The Bird Flanagan",
the notorious Dublin practical joker,
William Joseph Flanagan, born 10th Apr 1867.
He was educ Terenure College, Dublin.
Liam Cosgrave tells the story of his first ever practical joke: A boy died at the school. Willie got the body out and put it under a bed. He was expelled.
[Watchorn, 1985] says: "In his young days, Willie the Bird set off for the United States, where he happened to bump into another Crumlin man, Paddy Cullen. "Go home, Bird", says Paddy to him, "Sure this is no place for a little fellow like you". And the Bird, taking his advice, flew" (i.e. sailed) "back across the Atlantic to Crumlin."
He generally lived the high life on his father's money.
He took part in local hunts.
He might be "W. Flanagan" at the Bray Harriers meet, Feb 1896, at Dundrum, Co.Dublin [Norton, 1991].
Can't find him in 1901 census.
[Gogarty, 1954, Ch.10] says his father the Alderman "sent the Bird to Australia twice but he flew back. Then he was sent to Canada, but he was a homing pigeon."
He and his brother Frank were founder members of the South County Dublin Harriers in Oct 1906 [Norton, 1991].

The Bird Flanagan was a famous practical joker, with the leisure to set up elaborate jokes and the money to cover the consequences.
Many stories are told about his practical jokes.
See List of the Bird Flanagan's practical jokes.
He was living Portmahon House at mar 1910.

He mar 20 Sept 1910 [him age 43, her age 25] to Esther Stafford [Esther Mary, born 1885, Co.Waterford, dau of John Stafford], no issue.
She might be the Esther Stafford, age 19 (born 1882, Waterford, Catholic) who is listed in 1901 census as drapery worker, boarder at a house in Hardwicke St, Dublin.
She was a nurse. It is thought she may have nursed his mother (died Apr 1910) in her final illness, and that is how he met her.
She was living Waterford at mar.
He proposed to her in verse.
They mar at Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. See mar cert in [GROI].

They settled in the old family property of Walkinstown House, Walkinstown, Co.Dublin.
They are listed in 1911 census at Walkinstown House. He is listed as "farmer". They live with 2 servants.
The main house has 7 rooms, and 9 windows in the front of the house alone.
There are a total of 32 out-offices and farm buildings (consisting of 20 stables, 1 coach house, 1 cow house, 1 dairy, 1 piggery, 1 barn, 2 workshops, 3 sheds, 1 store and 1 forge). The land is owned by his father Michael Flanagan.

[Watchorn, 1985] says: "He was hardly ever seen off his horse, and would ride through the village of Crumlin carrying a riding stick and wearing "half" a hard hat. He was a small little man of just over 4 feet, and had to use a ladder to mount his horse."
Joe Sullivan - "The Scholar" - the gentleman tramp - at one time stayed at the Bird Flanagan's place on the Walkinstown Road, where he "used feed the rats and mice and actually had them follow him around for the scraps of food. "Feed them", he would say, "and they won't harm you"." [Watchorn, 1985, p.140].
The Bird was a farmer and sportsman (hunting and greyhounds).
He was NOT a councillor or Alderman (this would be confusion with his uncle William Flanagan).
He is listed as "market gardener" at Walkinstown House, Crumlin, in [Thom's, 1919].
After his niece May Flanagan's husband Billy Smith died 1922, May's daughter Anne was sent to Ireland to live with The Bird. Her daughter Joanne says: "Mom said she loved Uncle Willie who bought her a horse... And anything she wanted".
He must be "W.J. Flanagan" at George Dempsey's funeral 1924.

The Bird dies, 1925:
He was living Walkinstown House at death, occupation listed as "gentleman".
He died Mon 14th Dec 1925 (within a week of Larry), Walkinstown House, age 58 yrs [GROI].
See death notice in Irish Times, 16 Dec 1925 (says died 15 Dec of pneumonia).
He was bur Glasnevin Cemetery.
See The Duffin eviction story after The Bird died.

Esther lived Carrickmines, Co.Dublin.
There is a photo of George Bernard Shaw c.1930, "taken by Mrs Willie Flannagan at Rosslaire".
She attended Sr.Padua's funeral 1936.
"Mrs. Flanagan" is first listed at Carrickmines in [Thom's, 1939].
She is listed at "Stafford Lodge" (her maiden name), Carrickmines, in [Thom's, 1940].
She is listed in [Thom's] 1941 on as living at Stafford Lodge, Station Rd, Carrickmines (see modern map).
Shay Duffin (born 1931) recalls visiting her in Carrickmines: "As a wee child I remember being taken out there to visit, and how joyful it was to be taken by her for a jaunt around the narrow country roads in the pony .. and trap. We kids were not allowed laugh when the pony farted, but we were allowed hold our nose."

Esther dies, 1969:
She died at her residence, Stafford Lodge, 23 Aug 1969 [death notice], [grave record], age 84 yrs.
See death notice in Irish Times, August 25, 1969.
Funeral 25 Aug, bur Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Bird Flanagan (in the carriage, with hat) at The Royal Barracks on 30 Apr 1915.
He and "his family" are saying farewell to "Lt. Bell and Lt. Hamilton" of the 7th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who are going off to fight in the war.
One of the women is probably his wife Esther Stafford (they married in 1910). Finola Flanagan thinks it might be the woman at the front.
This is a colourised version of a black and white original. See larger and full size.
From WWI exhibit at NMI. From the England Collection, given to the museum by Mike Lee. NMIHA 2001-25.
See photos of it in exhibit here and closer and alternative.

Right: The Bird Flanagan (died 1925).
Centre: Liam Cosgrave (front, born 1920) and Míceál Cosgrave (back, born 1922).
Left: Colonel Joe O'Reilly (aide-de-camp to W.T. Cosgrave and formerly right hand man of Michael Collins).
Photo must be 1924 or 1925.
Taken at the Cosgrave house, Beechpark, Templeogue.
The pony is "Nibby", a pony that Frank Flanagan bought for the Cosgraves from the Gogartys.
See larger and full size.

This unknown photo was found in an album belonging to two sisters who worked on the Portmahon estate.
The sisters are Maggie and Josie O'Brien, from Co.Waterford, who worked in Portmahon House, probably in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Looks a bit like it might be The Bird.
Though caution, it may be an O'Brien relative or friend.
See full size. From Mary Quinn.


The Bird's grave, Glasnevin

The Bird's grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Location: wB 60.5. Go in gate, to right, turn off to left just before the John Flanagan grave, The Bird grave on left.

The Bird's grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Gravestone must be erected after wife died 1969.
Photo 2013. See full size and wider shot. See widest shot showing location.
See 2016 photo and wider shot.

The Duffin eviction story

The Hollywood actor Shay Duffin (and IMDB and site and search) wrote to me in 2007 and 2008 (before his death in 2010) with the following story as the Duffin family knew it.

Shay Duffin was born in 1931 in Dublin, the son of George Duffin, the head groom and land steward for The Bird at Walkinstown House from about 1915 to The Bird's death in 1925.
Shay said the Duffins lived "in the gate house that is now The Halfway House". But it must be a different estate house they lived in. The Halfway House appears on the 1887 to 1913 map as already a public house, and think it was not Flanagan land anyway.
Shay said The Bird and his wife "who were childless, treated the Duffin children as their own, and wanted to adopt my oldest sister Betty and send her to France with their niece to be educated ... but my mother would not agree. The Bird always assured my father that he and the family were well taken care of in the Will, but when he died, there was no Will."

Shay said that when The Bird died in 1925, the Alderman threw his widow and the Duffins out: "The story passed down through Duffin generations is, that his father had given The Bird the property, but never officially signed it over. Factually we know that he hated Esther (a nurse). believing his son had married below his station, so he padlocked the entire estate, and threw Esther, my parents and 6-children out in the ditch."
Deirdre Flanagan did hear that the Alderman disapproved of Esther (though she got on with some other family members). The Bird was age 43 when married, and was a life-long bachelor, interested in horses, drink and practical jokes, not women. Some of the family said The Bird was drunk when he married.
Shay said there were rumours about Esther and his father George Duffin: "Some say she was very much in love with him, but I never heard of any proof. He was quite a looker in his day." If the Alderman believed she was cheating on his son it would explain his hostility.
Shay said the Alderman "hated Esther, a nurse, believing she was a gold-digger and that his son had married below his station. According to my mother, with Esther's nursing TLC, she kept the high-living Bird alive ten years longer than he would have lived without her."

The Duffins got a council house on St.Enda's Road, Terenure (see map) and (confirming the story that she got nothing) Esther moved in with them: "she slept on a mattress on the floor in our parlor (the fourth room) for almost a year before she found a few pounds to buy the small cottage in Carrickmines. ... Whatever few chattels that Mrs Flanagan could lay her hands on before the padlocks went on the doors of the big Estate house, she took with her to Terenure".
"Within weeks of the Bird's death, Esther was ordered off the property, as was my family, and everything was padlocked to prevent any re-entry. ... Before Mrs Flanagan left Walkinstown House, for a whole week, in the dark of night, through a rear unpadlocked gate, with my father's help, she loaded her pony and trap with any valuable artifacts that would fit through a window that had no latch on it".
One problem with the story of Esther getting nothing is that her house in Carrickmines was quite nice. There was a story in the Flanagan family that The Bird's widow owned part of the Leicester House estate, and the Children's Hospital was built on her land. Maybe when Leicester House estate was sold 1931 she got money.

Shay also said there was a story that The Bird did have a will. The story is that his father, shortly before his death around age 70: "was called into an old law firm's office in Crumlin, and was shown a written Will of William Flanagan who had bequeath him 25 acres, the house he lived in, and any horses that my father wished to retain. But by then, like Tara, it was all GWTW. My father died within the following year. ... The Flanagan/Duffin association was a double-edged sword to my family; wonderful I am told in the Estate years, but with The Bird's death, and the subsequent eviction debacle, it turned my once tee-total father into a very bitter man". (Although he also describes his father having quite an impressive career after 1925.)
Shay said: "when the Bird died, no will could be found; all because of instructions from the Bird's father ... On his father's instructions, the family lawyers ... suppressed the will, leaving Esther with nothing.".

The Bird Flanagan.
Picture that was in possession of his widow Esther Stafford.
Later in possession of Shay Duffin.
The caption on the bottom reads: "Waiting for the train home."

George Duffin.
See full size.
From Shay Duffin tribute album by Lorraine Chambers.
Shay said: "when I played Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons in the film Seabiscuit, I was actually playing my father".

The poker scene in the bar at the start of the movie Titanic (1997).
Shay Duffin played the barman, and has a single line at the end of the scene, where he says Titanic is leaving in 5 minutes.
Search for more.


Sources yet to be consulted


The Bird Flanagan's practical jokes

The Bird Flanagan in popular culture

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