Ignatius per ignotius: the short life and extraordinary times of Frederick Gallaher
3: More practical jokes and international sport
Another publication and a sensational hoax
Fred’s publishing ventures had been well received ten years earlier by the racing fraternity in Ireland and now he brought out another racing guide for Irish tipsters. This time it was planned, it would seem, as a half-yearly publication:
It seems to have been less widely reviewed
than his previous Pocket Turf Guide.
The first printing of the new guide was touted as containing:
Gallaher was committing himself to a lot of work if this was all going to be written and researched by him. He would have liked the idea, but how would it sit alongside his other extensive commitments? On 5 June the Freeman was advertising a “Third Edition of this valuable retrospect on Irish Racing”, available from “all News Agents, price 6d, or from Sport Office”. By 24 July 1883 the Freeman (perhaps even Fred himself) was claiming that:
But with no one else to promote it, the booklet sadly appeared to run out of steam.
Fred seems to have enjoyed having one major project on the go at any one time, with his general sports-writing carrying on in the background. At same time that “How They Ran” was fading into obscurity, Fred’s publicity machine was ramping into action yet again with a remarkable and sensational hoax. This hoax must have pleased him, as it took place over several weeks, gradually rising to a crescendo with the eventual “collapse of stout party” (in this case the British establishment in the form of Scotland Yard).
Fred’s sister Fannie, a novelist and prominent Land Leaguer, was on holiday in London in mid 1884. While she was there she decided to visit the Ladies’ Gallery at the House of Commons, and made the acquaintance of a “Lady in Black”, an apparently well-to-do London lady “desperately in love with the Irish cause” and keen to finance revolutionary action. Fannie and the Lady in Black became friends, meeting for dinner several times and agreeing to meet up in Dublin.
Not long after, Fannie and the Lady in Black met in Dublin at the TCD College Sports, and the Lady was introduced to James O’Connor of United Ireland. They all had an enjoyable afternoon, followed by dinner and the theatre, before retiring to the Lady in Black’s suite of rooms for more radical conversation. During the Lady’s “temporary absence from the sittingroom” they noticed a torn-up telegram in the grate of her fire. Piecing together the torn pieces, O’Connor was able to discover that far from being a “friend of Ireland”:
Armed with this information, O’Connor conceived
the idea of an elaborate hoax to embarrass the Lady and her employees, Scotland
Yard. He needed help with his plans, and:
Needless to say, this was Fannie Gallaher’s elder brother Fred. The hoaxers promised to introduce the Lady to several prominent revolutionaries. They spoke about “the merits and demerits of the schemes (imaginary) to blow up Dublin Castle, the GPO, the House of Commons, and the Home Office”. The Lady in Black was even persuaded to visit a member of their “London Branch” several times (in fact a medical student dressed up for the part), and eventually O’Connor set up a hotel meeting on the evening of 2 July when she would meet the firebrand son of old Fenian O’Donovan Rossa (in fact, impersonated by “a prominent executive officer of the late Land League”); Fred Gallaher, just returned from Paris and therefore sure to “know all about the [dynamite] factory” at Calais, and the operations of the boys in Paris”; “Mr. O’Neill”, apparently an Irish trading agent of the Dynamitards; and “Long Jack Reilly”, travelling with “Rossa” (and in fact a leading Nationalist member of the Dublin Corporation).
The Lady was beside herself with excitement, trying desperately to elicit information about revolutionary schemes, especially the one “grand go”:
Fred Gallaher lived up to his usual character:
As the evening wore on it became apparent that the police had been tipped off and were scouting around the ground floor of the hotel. The hoaxers faded into the background and never again saw the Lady in Black, who returned to “headquarters”, where she had to report that:
Whether the story is true or false, Fred Gallaher was again cast in the genial, fun-loving, sporting character for which he was so well known at the time in Dublin.
Athletics, shipwreck, and America
Fred’s other interests did not sweep sport from his horizon. Since the founding of Sport in 1880 it had been involved in promoting sporting contests in Dublin. Fred himself was Vice-President of the Irish Homing Pigeon Society2 and the paper coordinated pigeon-racing competitions. It became more and more involved in local amateur athletics as the 1880s wore on.
By the mid 1880s Sport editorial staff were often involved in the organization and management of sporting events. They were naturally called in to assist at the annual Freeman’s Journal Athletic Club sports. In 1884 all of the officials were from Sport, with Fred Gallaher, Daniel Kinsella, Mick Hart, and “Sonny” Kirwan all lending a hand:
Fred himself was in and out of Kingstown on the Royal Mail steamer for England to attend race meetings. In early November 1884 he was over in Liverpool for the Autumn meeting at Aintree, and in early December he and “Sonny” Kirwan left Kingstown for another racing jaunt. In early March 1885 he was down in Queenstown, near Cork, with crowds awaiting the arrival of the Bothnia with the celebrated jockey Fred Archer on board. As usual he was in search of a story:
Then, in early June he was one of many Irishmen and women on board the Banshee, which left the North Wall, Dublin at 7 p.m. on 5 June for Holyhead. He and others:
At around 11 p.m. the ship struck rocks outside Holyhead and for a while the fate of the Bothnia was in doubt. There was panic on board; another ship passed by and did not seem willing to offer assistance. The papers in Dublin and Liverpool covered the near-disaster, and when Fred landed he rushed to compose a quite sensational “personal narrative” which was published the next day in the Freeman’s Journal. On this occasion racing and sensation coincided, and Fred could have been describing scenes from the last moments of the Titanic almost thirty years in the future:
Fortunately the rocks only breached one of the watertight compartments below sea level and the ship eventually edged off the rocks and into harbour with no lives lost.
Fred was gradually turning his attention to
athletics at this point in his life. He and his staff were out helping again with
the Freeman’s Athletic Club Sports in
August 1885, in front of an audience, apparently, of 20,000, at the Royal
Dublin Society’s grounds at Ball’s Bridge:
But almost immediately after this Fred was
on his way to America. He had achieved his greatest coup under the banner of Sport: to organize an “Irish-Canadian
Athletic team”, containing some of Ireland’s greatest amateur athletes, and
take them over to Canada. Fred appointed himself non-playing captain of the
team for the purposes of the trip:
The athletes (Barry, Purcell, Walsh, Sproule, Harte, Bulger, Christian, Hayes, Hussey) were all well-known track and field competitors from the amateur circuit in Ireland, and well-known to readers of Sport. Fred’s vision in using his position to form a national team was breath-taking, but typical of the way he now started confidently to organize things. Later in the decade, as we shall see, he was almost single-handedly responsible for regenerating boxing in the capital, and for creating the conditons in which Irish national boxing champions could be crowned.
To the surprise of many Irish people the
team had a certain amount of success in the Canadian Athletic Championships
held on 25 September at the Rosedale Grounds in Toronto, winning five events (Throwing
the 16lb Hammer, Three Miles Walking, High Jump, Long Jump, and 120 Yards
Hurdles) and coming second in four.3
Constant reports wired back to Ireland and elsewhere ensured that Fred and Sport gained continual international
celebrity. The Irish-Canadian of 1
October was much taken with what it saw of Gallaher (whose name is invariably
spelt incorrectly outside Ireland):
Canada was not Fred’s only objective; he planned to win over the United States, and to that end he took his team on to the American All-Round Championships in New York on 3 October. In the tough environment of American athletics Fred’s team did creditably, with “Honest” John Purcell of Dublin Civil Service Harriers coming second overall, six points behind New York’s W. Ford.4 The team arrived back in Dublin in late October 1885, and spend the rest of the year toasting themselves and being toasted in dinners held in their honour throughout the country. Sport’s Xmas Annual this year was full of Fred Gallaher and the success of the Irish Athletic team, with portraits of the Irish heroes, and even a tale from Fred’s sister Fannie, under her novelist’s pseudonym “Sydney Starr”.5
A Dublin mover and shaker
Fred’s captaincy and management of the Irish Athletic team’s tour to North America probably represented the high point of his achievements in the eyes of the sporting media. By now he was a well-known name on the British as well as the Irish sporting pages, as is witnessed by the fact that he was one of several racing correspondents asked by the Sporting Times of London to list their “Ten Best Horses of the Century”. Fred’s contribution is engagingly chaotic:
In other words, they were all winners. Fred was also amongst a small group of celebrated British and Irish sports writers to have their portraits sketched and published as prints by Blake and McKenzie of Liverpool in mid July 1886.6
He maintained his active sponsorship of
high-level athletic meets, acting as referee in the Caledonian Games and Sports
in Dublin in June 1886 and sending Sport’s
“Shamrock Team” to the English Athletic Championships at Stamford Bridge in
early July 1886. The Shamrock team did creditably again, with J. S. Mitchell
winning the hammer and shot-put and “Honest” John Purcell of the Dublin Civil
Service Harriers taking the crown in the long jump. The sort of media highlight
that Fred appreciated can be found deep in the Freeman’s report of proceedings:
Fred Gallaher was also Referee at the Haddington Harrier Sports in July 1886. It is possible that he is the bearded gentleman sitting on the left in the group photograph included in the article Gallant Mick Hart on this web site (Purcell is probably seated middle centre).
Just gradually Fred started to see new opportunities. He always enjoyed a new challenge, and at the 1880s drew to a close he can be seen working to revive the flagging sport of boxing in Dublin. Irish boxing had not been successful as the bare-knuckled prize-fighting era came to an end. The sport was dominated by boxers from Britain and America, and before Gallaher’s time they were little regarded on the world stage. Fred was not able to change this single-handedly, but he was instrumental in putting Sport’s influence behind the Irish game, sponsoring national competitions and laying the groundwork for latest Irish success.
On 17-19 March 1887 he organized, through the offices of Sport, a “Great Boxing Tournament” at the Round Room at the Rotunda in Dublin, with fifty guineas in prize money and “five splendid challenge cups” to be awarded to the victors of the various divisions from bantamweight up to heavyweight.7 Gallaher was keen to ensure that the boxing events were formal “gloved” contests not illicit bare-knuckle skirmishes that typically took place in the countryside around major cities. The contests were cunningly promoted as the “Irish Amateur Championships”, and so the winners could be designated “Irish Champions”, although not recognized by a boxing board of control. Peter Maher won the middleweight class, and subsequently went as a shining example of Irish boxing to America to make his name. Gallaher left Sport just too early to see the rise of Myler Keogh (Joyce’s “pet lamb”) through Dublin contests organized by Sport.8
As ever, Fred’s personal life developed
alongside his career. In February 1887 his wife Sarah had given birth to
another son (though it seems that the baby did not survive):
In March that year Fred rushed to the
correspondence columns of the Freeman’s
Journal with another dramatic eyewitness account of a shipwreck in the
dangerous seas between Ireland and England. Writing from the Sport office, he spoke in justification
of the Captain of the Dublin steamer Longford, of which he was a passenger. In
the dense fog, the Captain of the Angola halted his ship so as not to risk an
accident, but while waiting safely the Angola was struck by the Waterford
Steamship Company’s Reginald. The
Longford had steamed past the stricken Angola, without offering any assistance.
Fred wanted to point out that:
The crew and passengers of the Angola managed to clamber aboard the Reginald, so there were no fatalities. On a lighter note, the following correction appeared next day in the Freeman’s Journal:
Fred was increasingly busy these days promoting sport, especially boxing and athletics. In mid 1877 he and his wife sailed on the City of Rome to New York, apparently just for a holiday, but doubtless providing Fred with another opportunity to solder contacts.9
When they returned from the States, Fred followed up one of his latest enthusiasms, the career of the lightning-fast Irish runner Tommy Conneff, who had recently come to prominence in Dublin as Ireland’s great hope in one-mile and longer races. Joyce includes Conneff in a list of Irish heroes: see Wondrous Little Tommy Conneff for a brief biography of the runner. In August Fred accompanied him to the North of England Championships where Conneff pulled off a remarkable victory in the Two Mile Championship against the “red-hot favourite” Carter, the English and American champion.10 Conneff had started the race quietly in last place. Towards the end, the Freeman (and in all probably Fred himself) writes:
The “tiny” Irishman won by almost twenty yards, in nine minutes, forty-four and four-fifths seconds. Fred Gallaher was beginning to appreciate the marketing possibilities of the sort of head-to-head contest that was becoming popular at the time. And so he negotiated with Carter to visit Ireland for a return match with Conneff. On 18 August Fred and his deputy editor “Sonny” Kirwan were on the landing stage at Kingstown awaiting the arrival of E. C. Carter, whom Conneff beat once again over four miles a few days later.11
Conneff was becoming too big for Ireland, and wanted to test his skills on the biggest stage, in America. Until he set sail in early 1888 he was ushered about and publicly dined and toasted by Fred Gallaher, and each of these events was carefully transcribed for the Freeman’s Journal and for Sport. Eventually about eighty people sat down in the Burlington Restaurant in Dublin for the farewell “Conneff Supper”, hosted by Fred Gallaher and his colleagues at Sport.
While all of this was going on, Fred was busy entertaining a visitor who had taken the trip the other way. John L. Sullivan was the self-appointed heavyweight boxing champion of America, and there were few who would disagree with his claim to his face. His most celebrated fights were probably still ahead of him, against Jake Kilrain and Charley Mitchell, but when he and his entourage landed in Liverpool he began a tour which fascinated the sporting world in Britain and Ireland. Many people just wanted to see the great American hero, the “Boston Strong Boy”, and so there was plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs such as Fred Gallaher to capitalize. In addition, Sullivan would watch local amateurs fight, and would himself engage in exhibition matches and sometimes all-comer contests. He travelled from Liverpool to London, and eventually out to Dublin and Belfast. In Dublin Fred introduced him to the people, took him to the Sport office, and generally made sure that he was feted by sports-going Irishmen. By the time Sullivan left Dublin, everyone had benefited from his stay.
Fred’s showmanship was growing. Some of his journalists on Sport, notably Jakes M’Carthy and Mick Hart, had second hats under which they wrote for the Dublin stage. This principally took the form of material for pantomimes, but entertainment reviews started to appear in Sport and the newspaper was almost in danger to adopting a new profile. Relations with James Whitbread, manager of the Queen’s Theatre and Michael Gunn of the Gaiety were close: a spoof article in Sport published on 22 December 1888, and probably written by Mick Hart, was entitled “The Gaiety Theatre Pulled Down”, allegedly as a result of irregularities in the lease. “J. W. Whitboard” and M. M. Hart speak on behalf of the defendant Michael Gunn and the reader soon recognizes that the article is effectively an advertising feature for Dublin’s latest pantomimes. The Gaiety was about to introduce its audience to “The Fair One with the Golden Locks”, co-written by Sport’s Jakes M’Carthy.
In addition, Gallaher introduced a successful run of stories headed “In Queer Places”, in which journalists told curious tales of unknown Dublin: “No. 1. A Night on Nelson’s Pillar”, after which Jakes M’Carthy was apparently arrested after spending the night secreted in Nelson’s Pillar, only to be released after a (mock) trial in which Fred Gallaher spoke earnestly in his favour;12 “No. 3. ‘At Home’ with Four Hundred Lunatics. (By the editor himself.)”, with Fred Gallaher at the Richmond Lunatic Asylum; “No. 4. ‘On the Cadge. Low Life in Dublin. A Night’s Experience amongst ‘The Lowest Five’ ‘Two Sport Specials on the Tramp”; etc. In February Fred was called upon to make several presentations at the Gaiety Theatre, to James Whitbread and Hugh Hart. Sport, at least on some of its regular pages, was becoming a newspaper of popular entertainment as well as sport.
After the pantomime season for 1887-8 Fred
Gallaher turned his mind back to his sporting priorities. He had hosted John L.
Sullivan in Dublin, and now he made his way into France to report upon
Sullivan’s unofficial rematch with Charley Mitchell, to whom he had lost in a
single round in 1883. The location of the fight was uncertain. Fred received
Stealing out of his hotel with Sullivan at 6.13 in the morning, Fred took the train south from Amiens to Creil, on the way to Paris. Once there Fred has his hair cut at the hands of Creil’s “crimping barber […] of the gentle sex, and, to boot, a rather saucy lady of 35 summers”. Soon it was known that the ring would be pitched at Apermont “the private training ground of Baron Rothschild”, and everyone headed there.
“Sullivan”, the Freeman’s Journal declared “proves a fizzle”. The match was a turgid draw, unsatisfactory to everyone. Sullivan said he might as well retire. The protagonists and the spectators began to make their way home when yet more newspaper copy presented itself to Fred as the French police, finally aware of the location of the illegal fight, proceeded to attempt to arrest whoever they could find. The police drew their revolvers and fired warning shots. Then they fired in earnest at least once (missing the intended escapee). Both fighters were arrested and Fred had a very close brush with the French law:
Fred’s Boy’s Own adventure came to an end as he made his circuitous route back to London, arriving there in the early hours, in time to cable his story on the Freeman Special Wire.13
Final years in Dublin
As March turned into April a hint of bad news came Fred’s way. The great and the good of Dublin turned out to attend the funeral of Edward Dwyer Gray, proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal and MP for the Stephen’s Green division of Dublin (and formerly a Tipperary MP). But Fred’s father, John Blake Gallaher and Gray’s Chief Sub-Editor, was not present. It seems that he had left the paper quite suddenly in 1886/7 and retired to London. Fred was present, as was his brother Joseph, a large number of newspapermen, Corporation officials, parliamentarians, and others. A roll call of many Joyce characters (or their real-life counterparts) was there: the Nagles, Spencer Harty, John Clancy, Pat Meade, Monks, Caprani, Gilligan, Law Smith, etc. But maybe it marked the end of an era for Fred.14
There was worse news over the next two weeks. In early 1880 Fred and Sarah had lost two children within a month. On 3 April 1888 Fred’s brother Joseph and his wife Louise lost their daughter Agnes Frances Mary (“Gypsy”) to scarlet fever at the age of two years and eleven months. Joseph’s family was now living in the same road at Fred and his family: Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, in southern Dublin. Little Freddie succumbed to the disease aged six months, and on 9 April Joseph and Louisa’s only surviving child Russell John (“Russie”) was also taken. Two years later the family placed this tragic memorial notice:
The family had been torn apart by misfortune, and misfortune had not done with them yet. Everyday life continued for Fred: the funerals (another cast of Ulysses characters turned out for Alderman Nagle’s funeral in May 1888, and John Joyce joined them), more athletic meets with Conneff beating Carter once more; involvement in the design of parts of Leopardstown racecourse; and celebrations held to mark the departure of Mick Hart’s brother Hugh for America (to continue as Conneff’s trainer in New York). But it seems that the focus had temporarily dropped out of Fred’s life; he was going through the motions, but without any big ideas or big plans. His former success seemed to be seeping away from him.
In December Daniel Kinsella (“Lux”), his
major tipster on Sport, died in
December, and Fred was one of the “chief mourners”.15
Fred was still travelling frequently, and found time to contribute to A Guide from Dublin
to the Paris Exhibition of 1889, with a passing glance at London, which also included short papers by his sister
Fannie and Charles Dawson. The bumper Christmas Sport special was published, and in March 1889 Fred was a member of
the party welcoming the “American Baseball Players” to Dublin. But the Gallaher
flair seemed to have left him. On 1 August 1889 he acted as a steward at the Dublin
Suburban Pony Races at Clonturk Park, in Drumcondra, Dublin. At the very end of
his time in Dublin he did at least act as “cicerone” or guide to the boxer
Peter Jackson, the visiting “coloured champion of the world”. On 11 January we
find him representing the Sport
office at the funeral of M. J. Doyle, manager of the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin,
but a month later the newspapers are noting:
Next section - 4: Life and death in London
Freeman’s Journal (1884), 12 July, p.
3: “The Lady Detective”, reprinted from Sport
of the same day. The names of the hoaxers were not given in the Irish
papers at the time, but were known in America (see, for example, the Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, 27 July, p. 3).