A Poet and Inventor’s Last Will, 1906

From the Nottingham Journal, 17 December 1906:


The extraordinary will of a Dublin poet, which was made as far back as 1882, was before Mr Justice Barton on Friday, when an action was brought to have the estate of Henry Edward Flynn administered.

The deceased, who had lived at ‘The Retreat’, Ranelagh, County Dublin, and died in 1884, having given various directions in his will as to his property and directed that out of the proceeds of some of it, his two nephews should pay the expenses

‘of publishing at least 500 copies of my manuscript work, Come hither, and I will show unto thee the condemnation of the great – that sitteth on many waters. A duty and an obligation that I owe to the Supreme Eternal who created me, and to the Holy Ghost who inspired me and gave me power to write it.’

The testator went on to say:-

‘I do hereby direct and request that my executors shall provide a plain, solid oak coffin at least one full inch thick in the bottom and every other part thereof; and therein at my head to place a copy of the said work if the same shall be then published, and that the said copy shall be properly and securely encased in glass.’

Amongst the property enumerated in deceased’s will was a promissory note of Isaac Butt, QC, MP, for £130 lent by the testator. The Chief Clerk’s certificate, which was the only matter before the Court on Friday, having been considered, Mr Justice Barton directed that the form of the decree should be settled by consent.”

Although no copies of his poetry are available online, Mr Flynn appears to have been a most interesting person. During his lifetime, he not only ran what appears to have been a small farm in Ranelagh, known as ‘Retreat,’ but also held the position of Inspector of Buildings for the Patriotic Insurance Company of Ireland. During the Famine, he suggested that pest houses should be constructed of iron rather than wood as less likely to spread cholera. He also patented a number of inventions relating to railways.

A mid 19th century map showing the location of ‘Retreat’ off Ranelagh Road and directly across from Mount Pleasant Square.

The great Isaac Butt may have been a friend of Mr Flynn’s, or perhaps the latter met him in the course of one of his trips to the Four Courts. Not only is Mr Flynn recorded as giving evidence in legal proceedings as an expert witness, but in 1852 he brought his own case against the Dublin, Dundrum and Bray Railway Company for deprivation of access to his farm during the period of construction of the Harcourt Street Railway Line.

All that remains of ‘Retreat’ today is a small modern house by that name off Ranelagh Road situated on a laneway known as Orchard Lane. There is a headstone in St Nahi’s Cemetery, Dundrum to Mr Flynn’s wife Eliza Avice, who predceased him in 1855, and, beside it, another headstone with the following inscription: “This Ground belongs to HENRY EDWD FLYNN, Retreat, Ranelagh, Co of Dublin.”

Was the body of Mr Flynn ever buried in this plot? Did the terms of the settlement approved by the court provide for disposal of his remains elsewhere? And did his poetic life’s work ever get printed, never mind buried with him? What is certain is that he never got repaid by Isaac Butt, who died debt-troubled in 1879.

As a conveyancing expert, Mr Butt would have appreciated how the application of the maxim Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos to the inscription on Mr Flynn’s tombstone raises an intriguing ambiguity as to this eccentric pioneer’s final destination!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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