Select Flanagan Miscellany

Here are some Flanagan stories and accounts over the years:

The Flanagans of Clan Cathal

This line is said to have begun with Cathal, a son of Muireadach Maolleathan and a younger brother of Inrachtach who featured in the O’Connor blood line.  It was four generations later that the Flannagan name first appeared.  Eight generations later came Diarmaid O’Flannagain.

From this line came Donough O’Flanagan who was Bishop of Elphin from 1303 until his death four years later.  Of him, it was said in The Annals of Clonmacnoise:

“He was a man famous for his hospitality, devotion, and other good parts belonging to his function throughout all Europe; one that never refused anyone whatsoever, neither for meat nor clothes; one that maintained, protected, and made peace between the inhabitants of the province of Connacht; one full of wisdom and good delivery to maintain anything he took in hand; one charitable and free-hearted towards all men."

The Flanagans of Red Hill in Virginia

According to family lore, three brothers from Roscommon left Dublin in 1732 to arrive at “some woodland and some sandy hills” at a place called Abescon Beach (apparently near present-day Atlantic City, New Jersey).  Ambrose the eldest was said to have headed for Virginia, Whittle the middle brother to North Carolina, while James the youngest remained in New Jersey.

The recorded line follows James the elder, son of Ambrose, who first appeared in Louisa county, Virginia in 1747.  The house that he built, Red Hill, is still standing.  James died there soon afterwards and his son Whittle inherited the place.  Whittle moved to Alabama with his son Ambrose in 1815.  However, the house remained in family hands through his daughter Elizabeth and her offspring until the present day.

Reader Feedback - John Flanagan in Philadelphia

I, as seems likely, am a descendant of a John Flanagan and his son also John who were in Philadelphia.  They are present in early records in this city and it states that in around the 1740's John had arrived from New Jersey (likely just across the river).  I tend to think John's family branch came through France, the family having left Ireland in 1688).  So the date of 1802 in Philadelphia is a little different. 

This is also a note about the Flanagans of Toorah of the 13th-14th century.  They were, it seems, likely to have been in this area much earlier.  This was a "headwater" and passage to the sea.  Who controlled this area controlled the trade on the island.  This seems likely to have been the family's original family seat, with later moves to Elphin and Waterford through the expansion of trade networks consolidated by monasteries along the major waterways.

Kevin P. Flanagan (

Flanagan House in Peoria, Illinois

There are two versions as to how John Flanagan Sr. acquired the land in 1824 in Peoria, Illinois on which the Judge John C. Flanagan Residence was later built.  One version was that it was purchased from the Native Indians in the area for the proverbial blankets, trinkets, and beads.  Another version has it that he simply paid cash to a local land developer.

John Flanagan Sr. contracted typhus during a business trip south and died in 1832.  It was left to his wife Jane and his son John C. Flanagan, a Philadelphia lawyer, to develop his site.  The young John became so entranced by the beauty of the Illinois River Valley that he decided to settle and become the local judge there.

His home was one of the first brick homes in the area and was the largest and grandest in Peoria at that time.  The house was commonly referred to as the “mansion on the hill” by locals.  It had wrought-iron detail at the front and rear porches that came from France.  Guests would travel up from the bluff on a tree-lined drive that encircled the house.  When the house was completed in 1847, Peoria – it should be remembered - was still a rough frontier town with mainly log cabins as homes.

John C. Flanagan and his two daughters lived there - the elder one after she had become sick with lead poisoning and the younger one after her husband had died.   Peoria Historical Society acquired the house in 1962 and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975

The Black Widows of Liverpool

Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins were Irish sisters in Liverpool who were convicted of poisoning and murdering Margaret’s husband Thomas.  They were suspected of other deaths as well.

The women would collect a burial society payout, a type of life insurance, on each death, and it was eventually found that they had been committing murders using arsenic for the purpose of profiting off of the insurance money.

Though Catherine Flanagan evaded police for a time, both sisters were eventually caught and convicted for one of the murders.  They were hanged on the same day in 1884 at Kirkdale prison in Liverpool.

Modern investigation of the crime has raised the possibility that Flanagan and Higgins were known or believed by investigators to have been only part of a larger conspiracy of murder-for-profit - a network of "black widows."  But no convictions were ever obtained for any of the alleged conspiracy members other than for the two sisters.  Angela Brabin’s 2003 book The Black Widows of Liverpool explored this possibility.

Chaim Weintrop Becomes Bud Flanagan

Chaim Weintrop was born to Polish Jewish immigrants in the East End of London in 1896.   At the age of thirteen he managed to secure free passage on a ship sailing to America.  There he worked in various jobs before returning to England in 1915 to enlist in the war.

The war was to prove the turning point in his life.  His sergeant major in the Royal Field Artillery in Flanders was called Flanagan, thereby providing him with the name he would use for his stage performances and adopt as his persona.  And it was in a café in Flanders that he met the man with whom he would form a lifelong comedy partnership, Chesney Allen.

Apparently the mean sergeant major named Flanagan seemed to have had it in for Winthop and when Driver Winthrop was wounded in 1918 and left the service, he retorted to Flanagan: “I’ll remember your name as long as I live.”  He adopted Flanagan as his stage name a year later.

The two Flanagans did meet up later in London, where sergeant major Flanagan was working as a barman, and they were reconciled.  Flanagan and Allen went onto stardom when their popular song Underneath the Arches was released in 1932. 

Arch Flanagan and the Burma Railway

Arch Flanagan was a descendant of Irish convicts who had come to Tasmania in the 1840’s. His own father Pat was a fettler.   He himself was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway during World War Two and lived to be 98, long enough to see the success of his two sons. 

He was one of Dunlop's Thousand, that now near-mythical group led by Weary Dunlop who lived and died on the Burma Death Railway.  He was a survivor of that, of cholera, of the hell ships that took POW’s to Japan, and of being a slave laborer in a coal mine under the Inland Sea at the war's end.

Arch could not in fact face recalling these horrific times until he was in his 70’s.  Then he collaborated with his son Martin, an author and journalist, in a version of his war-time experiences.  It was during the writing of the story that Arch warned his son against inflating the facts.  Be humble, he said.

In the book, Arch's war years were followed by Martin's reflections.  Standing on the Hintok cutting, the son realized he still could not imagine what it was like for his father in these prisoner-of-war camps.  And that made it even more important for Martin, when writing about that trip and the characters he encountered there, to get the shades and shadows right.  This was a difficult undertaking, one that permeated his writing in The Line.

It was Martin’s brother Richard, the Rhodes scholar and award-winning writer, who would expand on his father’s experiences in his 2013 novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  This book won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2014.

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