William Flyn, bookseller at the Sign of Shakespeare, Cork.

William Flyn worked as a printer, bookseller, stationer and newspaper proprietor at the Sign of Shakespeare in Cork for nearly forty years. He had his bookshop in the heart of the old city at Castle Street, close to the civil and legal administration.[1]


The earliest reference to Flyn is in 1764 when his name appears on the imprint of John Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther, printed by Thomas Meighan the younger in Drury Lane, London, and sold by William Flyn, bookseller in Cork.[2] The verso of the final leaf carries advertisements for Flyn’s stock of works of Catholic interest. The imprint is tantalising and presents two main possibilities. The 24 year old Flyn, newly in business, may have printed this classic work himself, but lacking confidence in the market or fearing danger due to the subject matter, decided to give it a London imprint. Thomas Meighan’s name would have been an obvious choice to use as a false imprint, and it is interesting to note that his surname is misspelt as Meaghan. Thomas Meighan the elder was a Catholic, overtly dealing in books of Catholic interest from about 1715 to 1753. His high-profile stance on political matters relating to Catholic affairs would have made his name known. His son, Thomas, continued to publish and sell Catholic books, thus keeping the name alive in Catholic circles. The second possibility suggests a reciprocal arrangement with Meighan, in which Flyn tapped the Irish market for the sale of the book and Meighan printed Flyn’s advertisement at the end of the publication. Meighan would certainly have been one of Flyn’s main suppliers of Catholic works. In either case Flyn chose to place himself at the centre of Catholic book production and distribution by associating himself with one of the chief London printers supplying the market in Catholic books.

The books advertised at the end of The Hind and the Panther, 22 in all, are Catholic works, and set the tone for Flyn’s future business. The list included a five volume Bible, works by Challenor and Blyth, An Introduction to a Devout Life by St Francis de Sales, The Catholic Christian Instructed and Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat. No publication details are given and there are no surviving examples of any of these titles printed by Flyn at this time, although he did print an edition of The Spiritual Combat in 1772. An examination of editions published in or before 1764, indicate that many could have been Dublin imprints, issued by Bartholomew Gorman, Eleanor Kelly or, after 1755, by the executors of Eleanor Kelly. Two titles, The Evening-Office of the Church in Latin and English and Challoner’s The Garden of the Soul, could have come from the press of Thomas Meighan, the first published in 1759, the second in 1751 and again in 1764. The Evening-Office was also printed by Eleanor Kelly in 1754, and The Garden of the Soul printed for her executors in 1759. Flyn set out his business plan at the end of the volume: intending ‘to keep himself well supplied with all sorts of books fit for the closet or school’, offering money for libraries or parcels of books, offering a binding service, and willing to ‘write for books by commission’.


Flyn continued to print and sell works of Catholic interest. His imprint on the publication of An Abstract of the Doway Catechism in 1774 read ‘where may be had the greatest variety of Catholick books by wholesale and retail’.[3] In it he advertised a ‘variety of Catholic books and school books, printed and sold by William Flyn’. He noted two titles ‘just published’ by him: Challoner’s Considerations upon Christian Truths in two volumes, selling at 5s.5d. bound, which he printed the previous year, and The Spiritual Combat, a new edition printed on a large type and fine paper, priced at 1s.7½ d, printed in 1772.[4] Flyn had advertized proposals for printing Challoner’s Considerations by subscription in January 1772, his subscription agents were Richard Fitzsimons and Thomas Walker in Dublin, Hugh and James Ramsey in Waterford, Edmund Finn in Kilkenny, and Catherine Long in Limerick. Volume one was completed in February 1773, with volume two due to follow shortly.[5] He printed the single sheet prospectus for the new Augistinian Catholic school, the Brunswick Street Academy, established in 1783.[6] Flyn was involved with the Catholic Committee as they sought relief for Catholics from civil and legal restrictions. He is noted as secretary to the committee in an advertisement placed in The Hibernian Chronicle in October 1792 announcing a meeting of the Roman Catholics of the county and city of Cork ‘for the purpose of signing a declaration of their sentiments’.[7] He printed a single sheet account of this general meeting, chaired by Dr Justin McCarthy. The account was also printed on the front page of the Chronicle on 18 October 1792.[8]


Flyn managed to span the religious divide in a city whose administration was Protestant-dominated at this period. In 1773, together with Thomas White, he advertised a catechism written by the Church of Ireland bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Isaac Mann, and a Bible for children, offering a discount to ‘the benevolent to buy parcels to bestow’.[9] He carried out printing work for Cork Corporation and other bodies in the city. Cork Corporation paid a total of over £762 for printing work and advertisements in The Hibernian Chronicle from 1777 to 1799, averaging just under £35 per annum for 22 years.[10] Showing a humane and charitable face Flyn was one of the founding members of The Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, to which he acted as secretary for thirty years.[11] This society was a model of religious co-operation as can be seen by the make-up of its committees. Flyn printed the accounts of the society from 1774.[12]

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Máire Kennedy, ‘At the Exchange: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork’, in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick (eds), That woman! Studies in Irish Bibliography, a Festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther (London, printed by T. Meaghan in Drury Lane, and sold by William Flyn, bookseller in Cork, 1764). ESTC T221936

[3] An Abstract of the Doway Catechism. For the Use of Children, and Ignorant People (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1774). ESTC T183672.

[4] The Spiritual Combat … Also Twelve Advantages Arising from the Contemplation of Death (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1772). ESTC T82143. Richard Challoner, Considerations upon Christian Truths (Cork, printed by William Flyn, 1773). ESTC T221720 (ESTC wrongly gives date of [1780?]).

[5] Hibernian Chronicle 13 January 1772; 4 February 1773.

[6] William D. O’Connell, ‘An Eighteenth Century Cork Manuscript. The Augustinian Academy at Brunswick Street, 1783-1787’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society,  XLV., no. 161 (January-June 1940), pp 33-7.

[7] Hibernian Chronicle 8 October 1792.

[8] At a General Meeting of the Roman Catholics of the County and City of Cork … held at the Cork Tavern, the 15th October, 1792, [Cork, Mr Flyn, printer, 1792]. ESTC N033349. Hibernian Chronicle 18 October 1792.

[9] A Familiar Exposition of the Church Catechism by Dr Isaac Mann, Bishop of Cork and Ross, and The Children’s Bible by an eminent divine of the Church of England. Hibernian Chronicle 20 April 1772.

[10] Richard Caulfield, The Council Book of the Corporation of the City of Cork (Guilford, Surrey, 1876), pp 915, 985, 1009, 1015, 1021, 1042, 1078, 1097, 1107, 1117, 1127, 1132.

[11] Cork Mercantile Chronicle 20 December 1811.

[12] A Short Account of the Institution, Rules, and Proceedings of the Cork Scoiety for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Confined for Small Debts, accounts have survived for 1774, 1777, 1783, 1784, 1787 and 1797.


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