A Paper ‘Millionaire’



From top: 1911 Canadian dollar; Luke Flanagan

Did you know about ‘Dublin’s Newsboy Millionaire’?

Read all about it.

Esteemed historical blogger Sibling of Daedalus writes:

Young Luke Flanagan (no relation), summoned before the Dublin Children’s Court on February 8, 1911 looked just like any other Dublin tenement boy – undersized – looking 4 years younger than his actual 15 years.

Without a shirt and with a threadbare coat pinned across his chest, his crime was also typical of many tenement boys – that of selling newspapers without a licence.

But Luke differed from the average such boy in one important respect.

According to Police Constable 86C (one of Dublin’s famous Tall Constables), who had summoned him to court, he was generally known as the ‘Dublin Millionaire Newsboy’, having inherited a large sum of money from a relative in Canada, which he would come into when he reached the age of 21 years.

Giving evidence in court, Luke’s mother, Mrs Rooney, said that she had married Frank Flanagan, the son of a Dublin solicitor who had subsequently emigrated to Canada. Frank was now dead, and she had remarried.

Luke, their only surviving child, lived with his mother, her new husband, and a ‘foster brother’, also a newsboy, in a tenement flat off O’Connell Street.

Some years before, her deceased brother-in-law, John, who had gone to Canada with his father, returned bringing news of Luke’s grandfather’s death, and a legacy of £1500 (a substantial sum in 1911) left to Frank and passing to Luke as his surviving heir.

The question was, where was the money?

Mrs Rooney – described by all sources as a woman of excellent character – thought perhaps it might have been paid into the Court of Chancery in Ireland.

This caused consternation among Dublin citizens, who were outraged at the thought of a young man of such expectant fortune – described by one paper as a thin, weakly youngster with a wistful face – being neglected by the Court and left to fend for himself on the streets of Dublin.

British newspapers took up the cry of outrage, and soon the story spread as far as Canada itself, and San Diego, Texas. In fact, Luke’s was perhaps the first Irish news story to go viral.

Matters quietened down however, when the Irish Court of Chancery released a statement saying that no money had ever been lodged with it on behalf of either Luke Flanagan or his grandfather’s estate.

Luke Flanagan was convicted of trading without a licence and obliged to pay 2s 6d to the poor box. It is not clear whether he ever got his legacy.

Was the Court of Chancery being entirely honest? Did wicked Uncle John make off with the money? What happened to Luke’s newspaper business in the Rising of 1916?


Tales of Old Dublin

Luke Flanagan pic: Evening Herald

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15 thoughts on “A Paper ‘Millionaire’

  1. Brother Barnabas

    Curious as to why he was described as a ‘millionaire’. At the time, that would have been an extraordinarily rare level of wealth (literally having a million units of whatever currency). It wouldn’t have been a common term anywhere – and certainly not here. There weren’t any millionaires in Ireland then.

    1. Bob

      Possibly to do with it being an unimaginable amount of money for a lot of people, so to them he may as well have been a millionaire? They may not even have known what a million was?

    2. Count Chuckula

      There was no shortage of millionaires in Ireland at the time: The Guinness family were incredibly wealthy with massive estates and a two-hundred year inheritance. There were plenty of Guinness-like families. The construction of the upper middle class suburbs at Ballsbridge and Dun Laoghaire in the 19th century created dozens of millionaires among the large developers and builders, the still-trading Crampton family, for instance. Property development is not a new phenomenon. From the ranks of what you might call the “self-made”, consider William Martin Murphy: the son of a middle-class building contractor from Cork who started out as a journalist before becoming a press baron, politician and businessman. Not a particularly beloved or respected individual but he was very, very rich.

      1. Brother Barnabas

        Yeah, fair enough.

        Still, though, a million back then would have been just over €50 million in today’s terms. Would there have been that many individuals with wealth of that order? (The divide between rich and poor is greater now than it was then).

  2. Adam

    I’ve always really liked these posts. There was one story that stuck with me – something about an apprentice singer who was motivated to succeed by his desire to become rich enough to afford a pineapple. I can’t remember the details and it seems the old blog was deleted. Does anyone know that story or where I could find it again?

  3. Holden MaGroin

    Eh, bit of a cliffhanger! I demand closure. I need to know what happened to him. Did he die a tragic TB death before he came into his money? Did the money ever really exist? Did he pay the fine for selling without a licence?

Comments are closed.

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