Ignatius per ignotius: the short life and extraordinary times of Frederick Gallaher

U 7.626-30: The Great Gallaher […] that was a pressman for you. That was a pen.

1: Making his way in the world

Fred Gallaher joined the editorial staff of the Freeman’s Journal at the age of fifteen, around the year 1868, and died of heart failure on the streets of London thirty years later, at the age of just 45. Between those years he became one of the most prominent, energetic, daring, and popular of Dublin sporting journalists, always with an imaginative eye for the sensational. In addition, the burly Gallaher was a genial companion, a sound Nationalist, and an inveterate hoaxer.

Joyce scholars are indebted to Richard Ellmann for the information that the character of Ignatius Gallaher in Ulysses (and in “A Little Cloud” in Dubliners) is largely based upon the real-life Fred Gallaher.

Joyce calls him Ignatius Gallaher, and in the story "A Little Cloud" and in Ulysses gives an accurate account of him. He was a newspaperman in Dublin but because of some scandal was obliged to go to London. There T. P. O’Connor gave him a job, and he worked in Paris, where he eventually died. Joyce remembers accurately that Fred Gallaher never took water with his whiskey, and also retells Gallaher’s great scoop at the time of the Phoenix Park murders, when through an ingenious code he was able to telegraph the New York World a map of the murderers’ escape route.

Richard Ellmann James Joyce (Oxford, 1983), p. 46 note

Frederick J. Gallaher, National Police Gazette (1885), 5 September, p. 13

Much of the information above has been extracted from the text of Ulysses. Some of the additional detail, such as the fact that Fred Gallaher died in Paris, was presumably supplied by Ellmann’s informants, and is incorrect. When the Joyce family moved to No 23 Castleward Avenue, Rathmines, in 1884 they were neighbours of Fred Gallaher and his family at No 13; later on in the 1880s Fred’s brother Joseph also moved into the avenue before the Joyces moved to Bray in 1887. But as Fred left Ireland in 1890 (when Joyce was less than ten years old) to settle in London, we can assume that much of Joyce’s knowledge of the Gallaher family comes from stories told by his father and his father’s friends, and is not first-hand. It may be tempting to see some motivation for Joyce's choice of the name "Ignatius" from Fred Gallaher's superficial resemblance to Ignatius Loyola, as depicted in paintings such as the one illustrated here.

From Cork to Dublin

Frederick John [sometimes Jonathan] Gallaher was born in Cork on Tuesday 19 April 1853, the eldest son of John Blake Gallaher and his wife Sarah (Russell). He was baptized over four years later on 11 August 1859, in a joint ceremony with his younger sister Francisca (“Fannie”) and his younger brother Joseph.1 Joseph also appears in Ulysses. By the time of the baptism the family had moved from Cork to Dublin, and was living at No 7 Upper Oriel Street, a few streets north of the North Wall Quay in the centre of the city.

Fred’s father, John Blake Gallaher, was from this time and for many years Chief Sub-Editor of the Freeman’s Journal. He was widely known as the Editor of the Journal, but this title was reserved to the proprietors of the paper, the Grays. Fred’s grandfather and John Blake’s father, Patrick Frederick Gallaher (1800-63), was well-known in his day as a ventriloquist who performed a wide variety of characters on stage throughout Ireland and north-eastern England. It is likely that some of his talent for comedic soliloquy rubbed off on his journalist grandsons.

In the mid or late 1860s the Gallaher boys were coming to the end of their formal education. The midsummer examination prizing-giving at the College of the Immaculate Conception, Upper Mount Street, in Dublin in 1867 and 1868, shows us that both were good (if not stunningly excellent) at school.

In 1867 Fred gained a Certificate of Merit for Geography and Honourable Mentions in Orthography and Dictation, Irish History, Latin Classics, French, and Arithmetic.

By 1868 his journalistic streak was beginning to shine through: he took a Prize in Latin (Caesar), English Composition, and in Orthography and Dictation, with Certificates of Merit in Irish History and Writing Classes, and Honourable Mentions in Astronomy and the Use of the Globe, Arithmetic, Grammatical Analysis, and Reading and Elocution.2

By the close of the 1860s Fred’s academic skills and (doubtless) his engaging character led to his employment at the age of fifteen as an office junior on his father’s paper, the Freeman’s Journal.3 He would have to work his way up from the bottom before he could claim to be one of Dublin’s most popular and productive journalists.

A plucky rescue

If the school’s sports results had been available in the papers, we might have seen Fred shining there too. As a journalist he was mainly known in the sporting pages, and principally through his interest in horse-racing. But soon after he joined the Freeman he was back in Cork demonstrating his athletic prowess in the sea, saving a distressed swimmer from drowning:

Remarkable Rescue from Drowning. – A few days ago two young ladies, children of Mr. James Harding, Myrtle-hill, Cork, were bathing at Whitepoint, from Queenstown, and in consequence of the strength of the tide one of them was carried beyond her depth, and beyond the reach of her companions…

A gentleman who was out sailing in a yacht leapt into a small boat and attempted to reach her, but his boat capsized and he had to abandon the attempt as the sea’s swell dragged her further out to sea.

It seemed that the young lady would meet with certain death, until Mr. Frederick Gallagher [sic], son of Mr. J. B. Gallagher, Freeman’s Journal, assisted by Mr. William Baker, late of the ship Naturalist, pulled to the spot in a boat. Mr. Gallagher seized her as she rose to the surface for the third time, but in his efforts to lift her into the boat he was dragged into the water. With great exertion he succeeded in getting into the boat, and bringing Miss Harding with him.

Liverpool Mercury (1869) 14 August

She was “insensible” when rescued, but revived under the influence of “restoratives”. The Belfast Newsletter, in covering the same story, noted that she was a young lady:

not only of great personal attractions, but the daughter of one of our foremost and most estimable citizens.4

Life as a racing journalist

As time went by the Gallahers moved to No 16 Nelson Street, off Eccles Street and just near the Mater hospital. Fred’s father’s position in Dublin, as acting editor of the leading newspaper, gave him access to regular society events and John Blake Gallaher often attended balls with his wife and family at the Mansion House. At the Lady Mayoress’s Fancy Ball in May 1873 Fred went dressed as a jockey, signalling both his sense of fun and his position as sporting correspondent of the Freeman.5 Unfortunately we can identify little of what Fred (or his brother Joe, also a Freeman staff writer) actually wrote, as most articles were published anonymously, or with “By our sporting (or special, or military, etc.) correspondent” to indicate any one of a number of writers by whom an article may have been written.

Two major events occurred in 1874: Fred’s marriage to Sarah (also Sara) Martin, and the publication of his first racing booklet. The seeds of his future life were starting to be sown.

On 1 June his marriage was announced in the papers:

Gallaher and Martin – June 1st, at the Church of St. Andrew, Westland-row, by the Rev. J. O’Malley, Frederick, eldest son of John B Gallaher, 16 Nelson-street, to Sara, second surviving daughter of the late Thomas Martin, 19 Upper Merrion-street. No cards.

Freeman’s Journal (1874) 2 June

At the end of the year, Fred’s first independent publication appeared: “Our Irish Jockeys”, a small volume of one hundred pages or so. It was published by Smyth’s of Dame Street in Dublin, and seems to have been heavily advertised in advance in the Freeman’s Journal and associated papers. It was eventually published on Monday 21 December:

It contains biographical sketches of the lives of the foremost Irishmen in the saddle, with an interesting account of their principal performances. "Our Irish Jockeys" will be rendered additionally attractive by its engravings from life of such well-known celebrities as Tom Ryan, Mr. G. Moore, P. Gavin, Mr. J. W. White, W. Ryan, Mr. St. James, and Frank Wynne.

Freeman’s Journal (1874) 18 July

In its review of the booklet the Freeman’s Journal noted that:

The sketches are written in a light, agreeable, and highly appropriate vein, Mr. Gallaher’s function and experience as sporting correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal especially qualifying him in the important matters of treatment and style while providing him with all knowledge of fact and detail needful to the satisfactory accomplishment of his task.

Freeman’s Journal (1874) 23 December

Buoyed by the success of “Our Irish Jockeys”, Fred ventured on a new racing publication in the following spring. The Pocket Turf Guide was unashamedly a guide to form for tipsters, and entered a thronging marketplace. Reviews are found more widely than for “Our Irish Jockeys”. Bell’s Life in London, one of the main London sporting papers of the day, pronounced it “well-got-up and handy”:

Pocket Turf Guide (Ireland). – We have received the above well-got-up and handy Guide, for which Mr F. J. Gallaher deserves the thanks for all race-goers. It contains carefully compiled returns of Irish races and steeple chases in 1874, and up to the end of February in the present year, and seems to be carefully indexed. The printing and binding of the little record are excellent, and its size exactly fits it for pocket book of reference.

Bell’s Life (1875) 27 March

By now Fred and Sarah were living at No 37 Upper Blessington Street, a short distance from Nelson Street. On 19 April 1875 their first child, Florence Mary, was born.6 Florence was followed two years later by a son, Frederick Joseph Valentine, born at the same address.7

D 8.2-6: Gallaher had got on. You could tell that at once by his travelled air, his well-cut tweed suit and fearless accent. Few fellows had talents like his and fewer still could remain unspoiled by such success. Gallaher’s heart was in the right place and he had deserved to win.

A sporting correspondent working on the Freeman’s Journal was involved in a substantial amount of travelling round race meetings in Ireland, Great Britain, and France. There is no doubt that Fred travelled widely, and that he enjoyed the travel. In 1876 his sporting credentials took him to America on what became one of his many visits there. On this occasion he was accompanying the Irish Centennial Rifle Team:

Centennial Rifle Team. Dublin, Friday Morning. – The Irish centennial rifle team leave to-day for America, per City of Berlin, from Queenstown. The party is composed of Major Leech, Lieut. Fenton, and Messrs. Pollock, [etc.] […] Mr. F. J. Gallaher, special correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal, will also be of the party.

Freeman’s Journal (1876) 25 August

In those days travel to America was quite a commitment. He left in late August and did not return (on the SS City of Chester from New York) to Queenstown until early October. The Centennial Rifle Match took place in New York in mid September, with teams from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The Irish team was strongly supported by their fellow Irish Americans, but lost all the same. Fred, however, ensured that the event was thoroughly covered by the Freeman’s Journal both during the build-up and over the days of the rifle match itself. He had acquired a taste for international travel and for international sport which he never lost.

A quiet day at work

Life as a racing journalist was not all fun. As one of the Freeman correspondents Fred would have spent long hours in the office writing up stories and discussing life with his fellow journalists. His father was effectively editor of the paper, and his colleagues were often his friends, with whom he would go drinking, attend funerals, or generally spend time.

On Thursday 4 January 1877 Fred was present in the Public Office of the Freeman’s Journal in Prince’s Street, Dublin, when he noticed something strange. Someone “disguised in a wig and grey whiskers and moustache” entered the office to collect answers to an advertisement he had put in the columns of the paper.

But the keen eye of Mr. Fred Gallaher, who happened to be in the office, detected the disguise, and though he was unaware of what was going on he suspected something wrong and at the proper time he communicated his information to the authorities, who made use of it.

Freeman’s Journal (1877) 10 February: "The Forgeries on Ball’s Bank – the Sentence"

Unbeknownst to Fred and the other Freeman staff, James Armstrong was engaged in a scheme to steal the identity of a Dublin solicitor, Mr Elliott, and to obtain money from his bank account using forged cheques. Quick-witted Fred saved the day, and presumably was instrumental in ensuring that the story was covered by his newspaper.

Consolidating his sporting and society credentials

A month later he was in Liverpool for the Waterloo Cup, one of the “Irish division” of journalists to attend,8 and in both April and November he and his wife attended social events at the Mansion House: the Lord Mayor’s Ball in April and the Lady Mayoress “at Home” in November, followed by another Lord Mayor’s Ball (with his father as well) in February 1878.9

His reputation as a Dublin sporting journalist had grown steadily over the years. We gain some impression of his status in the racing community from a spoof letter published in the London Sporting Times on 8 November 1879. Under the heading “Talk O Dublin Town” the writer (“Paddy II”) recounts in cod Irish the story of how race-going Irishmen were laying bets on who was the “Paddy” who wrote “Paddy’s Prattle”, which tipped likely winners of Irish races:

John Lalor suggested t’other night in Corlisis that some wan ud made a book on it […]

Here [is] the latest bettin send to me be The Irish Sportsman’s special wire (it’s conneckted wud all the dailies): -

5 to 4 agin Capteen Briggs (1 & 0)

2 to 1 agin Frid Galleher (0, arter 6 to 4 had been tuck)

4 to 1 agin Captain Jay (0)

[etc., through another fifteen or so names] […]

Briggs is a hot favrite, an a hot member, too, mind ye. Many back the Freeman’s sportin riter, kause Fred and the Gineral palled when yer tainted scribe was here. I seen em mesilf, havin supper in Mooney’s, and they wor drinkin the health ave yerself and Gubbins in the Coffe Palace in Brunsick Street. Besides, Fred seemed mity plased intirely wud Paddy’s ephistles […] "No matter," sis the Bell of the Kitchen, "we’ll hav a good set-off agin that, for there’s Frid Gallaher splittin his sides lafin, and he’ll give us an illigant cray take [= critique] in the Freemin." The fact is, Frid was a redin "Paddy’s Prattle" at the time, and Bob was jist aftir redin it too.

Sporting Times (1879) 8 November

Many years later Little Chandler remembers that Fred frequents Corless’s [“Corlisis”] in “A Little Cloud” (Dubliners):

He had never been in Corless’s but he knew the value of the name. He knew that people went there after the theatre to eat oysters and drink liqueurs; and he had heard that the waiters there spoke French and German.

D 8.54-7

Family matters and another little ruse

By 1879 the Gallaher family, Fred, Sarah, Florence and baby Frederick, had made a big move from Upper Blessington Street, near Eccles Street, north of the river down to No 151 Rathmines Road, in the comfortable south of the city in Rathgar and Rathmines. It was here that Fred announced the birth of another daughter, Edith Mary, on 28 December. And yet sadly only a month later little Florence Mary was dead:

Gallaher – Jan. 16, at No. 151, Rathmines-road, Florence Mary, aged four years and eight months, the beloved child of Frederick and Sarah Gallaher. Funeral will leave on to-morrow (Sunday) morning for interment in Glasnevin Cemetery at nine o’clock.

Freeman’s Journal (1880) 17 January

This dreadful event was followed one month later by another death in the family, as Fred’s son Frederick also succumbed:

Gallaher - At No. 151 Rathmines Road, Frederick Joseph Valentine, aged four years, the beloved child of Frederick and Sarah Gallaher. Funeral will leave to-morrow (Thursday) morning at 10.30 o’clock for interment in Prospect Cemetery, Glasnevin.

Freeman’s Journal (1880) 18 February

The 1880s must have been a time of great success for the Gallaher brothers at work, but it seems that they were times of great sadness at home. Fred lost two children in the early 1880s, and his brother Joseph lost three in the course of a month to scarlatina later in the decade. Somewhere amongst this disappointment we can perhaps see the seeds of the misfortune the family suffered into the 1890s. When asked several years later how many children he had, he replied: “I have two in Heaven and three at home”.10

Not surprisingly, Fred, Sarah, and Edith left No 151 Rathgar Road behind then, moving nearby to No 13 Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines. It was here that his son John Blake Gallaher (named after his grandfather) was born on 19 December 1880.11 His last child, a daughter Aileen, was born at the same address on 24 August 1882.12

Fred’s natural sense of fun can still be spotted even in this time of great personal difficulty. Another anecdote is told of him around the time of Gladstone’s Coercion Act of 1880 (elsewhere it is told of Fred's brother Joe). Journalists from London were arriving in Dublin to cover the issue, and one of these was W. M. Thompson, “a clever barrister, a rabid Radical, an able and most conscientious editor of Reynolds’s Newspaper, and a sincere enthusiast”. At the time Thompson had been engaged by the London Standard newspaper to travel as a special correspondent in Ireland. He “put up at a certain hotel in Dublin”:

The first morning after his arrival he was much alarmed to find a card in his boots bearing the terrible symbol of the skull and cross-bones, and warning him to leave the "Distressful Country". On the following morning a tombstone appeared in the place of the emblem of mortality, and this appears to have been too much for Mr. W. M. Thompson's nerves, for he packed and departed, and was not seen again in these parts. It afterwards transpired that the thing was a neat little ruse on the part of Gallagher, who had been doing the Irish correspondence for the Standard, and who took this means of ridding himself of W. M. Thompson's company.

William Collison The apostle of free labour (1913), ch. 30, p. 301

John Simpson


1 See the Irish Genealogy database (http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/details/7035f70348354).

2 The results appear in the Freeman’s Journal for 9 July 1867 and 2 July 1868. It is likely that before this at least Fred attended St Patrick’s Collegiate Seminary in Tullow, Carlow, where the midsummer results for 1866 show an “F Gallaher” achieving first prize (shared) in French (Fables), Spelling, and Writing; second prize (shared) in English Grammar, Arithmetic, Irish History, Geography, and Reading; with an Honourable Mention in General History (Freeman’s Journal (1866) 26 July).

3 National Police Gazette, New York (1885) 5 September, p. 13.

4 Belfast Newsletter (1869), 12 August. The Freeman’s Journal was first with the news, on 11 August. Most reports were based on the account of the Cork Examiner.

5 Freeman’s Journal (1873), 24 May.

6 Belfast Newsletter (1875), 21 April.

7 Belfast Newsletter (1877), 16 February.

8 Freeman’s Journal (1877), 22 February.

9 Freeman’s Journal (1877), 28 April and 29 November; (1878) 13 February.

10 National Police Gazette: New York (1885), 5 September, p. 13.

11 Freeman’s Journal (1880), 21 December.

12 Belfast Newsletter (1882), 26 August.

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