Ellen Maud O’Shea was born on October 29, 1882, in Soho, London. Both her parents were Irish. They had five daughters, and each sister had a stage name: Sarah Emily was known as Eily Adair, Alice Mary as Norah, Julia Blanche as Monie Mine, Ellen Maud as Nell, and Constance Gladys as Connie. Eily and Norah, the two eldest sisters, had a specialty act that was a version of the Alexandre Dumas classic The Corsican Brothers. Their mother worked as manager for “The Sisters O’Shea, Irish Duettists and Comedy Dancers.” Ernest De Vere, the manager of the Cambridge music hall, finally changed their name to “The Emerald Sisters,” and they became regulars on the Moss and Stoll Theatre circuits and toured abroad. All the sisters, apart from the youngest, Connie, took turns in the act.
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