Flynn


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O'Flynn and Flynn are Irish surnames that derive from the Gaelic flann or floinn meaning "ruddy" and originally given as a nickname to someone with reddish complexion.   The O'Flynn name cropped up in a number of locations, most notably in Waterford, Cork, and Roscommon.  There were also Ulster O'Flynns near Lough Neagh in southern Armagh.  However, due to the local pronunciation, these O'Flynns became O'Lynns.

O'Flynn generally gave way to Flynn under English rule.

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Ireland.  There ere early reports of the O'Flynns of Ulster.  Cu Muighe O'Flynn, lord of Uladh, was recorded in the Annals as being treacherously killed by his brother in 1158.  However, these O'Flynns later became O'Lynns.

There were two unrelated O'Flynn septs in Cork.  One was based at Ardagh castle near Skibbereen in west Cork.  They were the lords of Arda and Ui Baghamma:

"O'Flynn Arda of the blooming woods,
A tribe of the purest degree;
Heir to the lordship is each man,
They are the clan of Ui Baghamma."

The second sept in Cork, the O'Flynns of Muskerry, were based in East Muskerry in land extending from Ballyvourney to Blarney.   One of the Flynn legacies in Cork is an Irish jig known as Top of the Cork Road or Father O'Flynn.  Another is O'Flynn's sausages.

Then there was an O'Flynn sept in Roscommon, seated at Kiltullagh and Kilkeevin near Castlerea.  These O'Flynns were erenaghs of the Church of St. Dachonna near Boyle.

The largest number of Flynns are in the Dublin area today.  The O'Flynn spelling has enjoyed a revival in Cork.

America.  Captain John Flynn from Roscommon in Ireland came to America via New Brunswick in Canada where he had arrived in the early 1830s.  His son Patrick was a noted lumber dealer in Tyrone, Pennsylvania.  Patrick and his wife Avesia raised thirteen children, many of whom became lumbermen themselves.  Flinton in Pennsylvania was named after the family.

Many Flynns arrived in America at the time of the potato famine in Ireland.  William Flynn from Cork came with his five children in 1847 after his wife had died.   They settled in Troy in upstate New York.  There is a fictional account How I Survived the Irish Famine: The Journal of Mary OFlynn which described for younger readers the daily life of twelve year Mary and how she and her family survived the famine and the subsequent journey by ship to America.

There were two notable Flynns in America who existed on opposite sides of FDRs New Deal in the 1930s:
  • Ed Flynn, the son of Irish immigrants who ran the Democratic party machine in the Bronx.  He was with Roosevelt when FDR was Governor of New York and was one of his most important advisors when FDR was in the White House.
  • John T. Flynn, the son of strict Catholic parents in Maryland who became a journalist.  He was initially a supporter of FDR and his policies.  But after 1936 he became a critic, one of the first from the left. He later bitterly attacked Roosevelt in his book The Roosevelt Myth.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn stood to the left of these political operatives.  She was a trade union activist and IWW union supporter during and after World War One.  Later she joined the Communist Party.  This led to her imprisonment in the McCarthy era.  When she died in 1964 she was granted a state funeral in Moscow.

Australia.  Jeremiah Flynn was a Catholic priest from Kerry who seemed to have spent his whole life arguing with the British authorities.   He arrived in Australia in 1817 but was ordered to leave within six months.  The fuss he made, however, convinced the Government in London in 1820 to allow the first official Catholic missionaries to be sent to Australia.

Threre were later two famous Australian-born Flynns, the actor Errol Flynn and the flying doctor John Flynn:
  • Errol Flynn was said to be the descendant of an Irish convict in Tasmania.  His father, Theodore Flynn, became a prominent professor of biology at the University of Tasmania.   Errol made his name when he departed Australia for America and Hollywood.  
  • John Flynn's grandfather was an Irish schoolmaster who settled in the Victorian goldfields; as was his father Thomas as well.  John Flynn started out as a Presbyterian minister in the outback before founding the Flying Doctor Service, the world's first flying ambulance.
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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Fiacha O'Flynn, Archbishop of Tuam, was one of the first recorded of that name.  In 1255 he was the emissary of the Irish church to England.
Edward Flynn
was a prominent American Democrat polititician of the 1930's, a close associate of F.D. Roosevelt.
John Flynn was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded the Flying Doctor Service, the world's first air ambulance.
Errol Flynn was an Australian-born actor who starred in Hollywood swashbuckling roles from the 1930's to the 1950's.

Select Flynns Today
  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts) 
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)



PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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