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

2: Fred’s Brilliant Career with Sport and the Invincibles

The Editor of Sport

Fred’s big break came in December 1880, when the Gray family, owners of the Freeman’s Journal, decided to establish a weekly sports newspaper entitled Sport. The Sport offices were on the southern end of the Freeman’s site running between Prince’s Street and Middle Abbey Street in the centre of Dublin. The first issue of Sport was published on Thursday 23 December, at the price of 1d and with a grand illustrated Supplement. As editor of this new venture, and apparently with a considerable financial interest in its success, was the leading sporting correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal (and son of the Chief Sub-Editor John Blake Gallaher), Fred Gallaher. This was a dramatic coup for Fred, and he spent the next ten years building up an influential paper which helped to shape sport both in Dublin and, nationally, within Ireland.

As time went on he was able to draw together some of the Freeman’s best sporting writers under the “Sport” banner, and he ensured that they were involved not only in reporting on sport in and around the capital, but participating in it either on the field of play or as organizers and officials. Other Joyce characters belonged to his stable at “Sport”: “Jakes” McCarthy as a long-term sporting correspondent and Mick Hart as a more occasional writer (Mick’s brother, the athlete and trainer Hugh Hart also wrote for the paper); in addition Fred had on his staff as sub-editor P. B. (“Sonny”) Kirwan and Daniel Kinsella (the tipster “Lux”). At the funeral of their proprietor Edward Dwyer Gray in 1888 almost the whole staff of the Freeman’s Journal attended to pay their last respects, and the “Sport” editorial staff of the day were present too:

Sport staff was represented by –

Messrs D Kinsella, J J M‘Carthy, P B Kirwan, T J Taylor, John Hodges, Charles Winton, M Hart, J W Baynham, P P Sutton, and Fred Gallaher.

Freeman’s Journal (1888) 2 April

The dominant sport covered by the newspaper was horse-racing. In the earlier part of the century “sport” tended to mean horse-racing or hunting (and other country activities such as fishing). But the paper was keen to report on other sports, and its coverage of athletics, cycling, cricket, football, and other games developed as the years went by. At times in its history it also branched out into theatre reviews and other commentary of Dublin entertainments, in which sportsmen were often, as it happened, involved.

Despite being Editor of Sport, Fred continued to be employed to write articles as well for its parent newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal. It is a sad fact that death cut a wide swathe through Dublin journalists at the close of the nineteenth century, taking many of the leading Sport writers such as Daniel Kinsella, Jakes McCarthy, Sonny Kirwan, Mick Hart, as well as Fred Gallaher, and doubtless adding to Joyce’s feeling that in Ulysses he was recording a past and passing Dublin.

Fred Gallaher and the Phoenix Park murders: Skin the Goat Fitzharris

Although Fred was primarily a sportswriter, he retained a strong interest in Irish national (and especially Nationalist) affairs. He was drawn into reporting about the Phoenix Park murders of 6 May 1882 and the long-drawn-out police hunts, arrests, and trials, and stories of his activities at the time fitted well with the character he had forged for himself in the Dublin media. It was said of Fred that:

When there was adventure about, that involved scheming and feverish excitement and danger, it was impossible to keep Fred Gallaher quiet. And nothing appealed to him like the most extravagant and reckless propositions.

Frederick Moir Bussy Irish Conspiracies; recollections of John Mallon (the great Irish detective) and other reminiscences (1910), p. 205

On 6 May 1882 a group of conspirators (“The Irish National Invincibles”) brought about the fatal stabbing in Phoenix Park in Dublin of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his Permanent Undersecretary, Thomas Henry Burke. Details of the individuals involved (slow to come to public knowledge), the plot itself, the getaway vehicles, and the subsequent arrests and court processes fascinated newspaper audiences across the world, especially in the latter half of 1882 and early 1883.

Joyce refers to Fred Gallaher’s involvement in these events in his role as a reporter, and “Myles Crawford”, Editor of Sport’s sister paper the Evening Telegraph, tells how Gallaher sent coded information to the New York World about details of the murders, including the route taken by one of the conspirators’ drivers, James “Skin-the-Goat” Fitzharris:

Gallaher, that was a pressman for you. That was a pen. You know how he made his mark? I’ll tell you. That was the smartest piece of journalism ever known. That was in eightyone, sixth of May, time of the invincibles, murder in the Phoenix park, before you were born, I suppose […]

New York World, the editor said, excitedly pushing back his straw hat. Where it took place. Tim Kelly, or Kavanagh I mean, Joe Brady and the rest of them. Where Skin-the-Goat drove the car. Whole route, see?

U 7.629-40

Unfortunately corroborative evidence of Gallaher’s coded message has not been discovered, though the New York World did report on the murders on its front page for several editions. Perhaps the story is true, or perhaps it circulated anyway as an example of the sort of thing Fred Gallaher might have done.

What is certain is that Fred was deeply involved in uncovering information about the murders with a fellow journalist not long after the notorious events took place. According to the account of Leander Richardson, later a celebrated American dramatic critic but then a junior reporter working for the Boston Herald and other American newspapers, Fred assisted him in obtaining an interview with “Skin-the-Goat” Fitzharris in January 1883, while Fitzharris was hiding in Dublin, on the run from the police as the net was closing in on the conspirators.

Fitzharris was identified early on as someone the police wanted to interview, because of his insider knowledge of the cabbies’ world in central Dublin. In fact he was picked up and released several times before his final arrest in February 1883. Leander Richardson explains how he became interested in the story:1

It so happened that the writer had tumbled into Dublin quite by accident upon the very morning of the Phoenix Park arrests, and was the only American newspaper man on the ground […] When it was found out that "Skin the Goat" was missing, it occurred to the correspondent that it would be an interesting thing to get hold of the much desired malefactor and interview him before the detectives could make their frantically desired arrest.

But an American reporter needed someone on the ground who knew the world of the Dublin cabbie:

He found a young newspaper man named Fred Gallagher [sic], in whose trustworthiness all who sympathized with "the cause" had the utmost confidence.

Richardson was impressed by Gallaher “an active progressive young man, considerably ahead of the prevailing newspaper ideas of that time in Europe”. Fred agreed to accompany Richardson and see if he couldn’t use the fact that he was known and trusted in the backstreets and pubs of Dublin to smooth the American reporter’s way to an interview with “Skin the Goat” Fitzharris.

They went first to the cabman who had taken over Fitzharris’s white horse and cab, and they were eventually directed to Fitzharris’s landlord. From there they reached his “cottage”, guarded by his fearsome wife. After much negotiation they were finally ushered into the presence of Fitzharris:

He was not beautiful.

Either by the gift of nature or through the attention of some person with a brick in his hand, Mr. Fitzharris’ nose had been to all intents and purposes driven far back into his countenance.

At last Fitzharris was prevailed upon to tell the reporters something, not of the Phoenix Park murders themselves, but of what had happened to him at the hands of the police since the murders:

He said the police had taken him, mounted upon his car, into the yard of Kilmainham Gaol, and had compelled him to drive around the inclosure a number of times for the purpose of having several people, male and female, look him over and see if they could identify him.

He gave such close descriptions of the people who had looked him over, that Gallagher, with his close knowledge of Dublin life, was able to identify some of them by name, greatly to the subsequent chagrin of Her Majesty’s police.

The Freeman’s Journal contains “insider” information on Fitzharris, drawn from Gallaher’s interview with the cabman with Leander Richardson:

The driver detained is James Fitzharris, whose cab drawn by a white horse is owned by a man named Farrell, the registered number being 12. Fitzharris has been no fewer than six times wanted and found since the Park murders, and he has been four or five times in what he terms "The Star Chamber of the Castle". Few cabmen are better known in the city than James Fitzharris […] He resides in one of Brady’s cottages off Lime-street […]

In a few moments after Fitzharris had entered the courtyard the informer Farrell emerged from the prison, and at once proceeded to have a really good look at the "Goat". He was accompanied in this by a tall, good-looking, fresh young fellow, whom Fitzharris did not know.

The article, doubtless by Gallaher, continues with further eye-witness accounts of the conspirators, before leading into the text of Richardson’s article in the Boston Herald.2

So Joyce was certainly correct in associating Fred Gallaher with stories circulating about James “Skin the Goat” Fitzharris. He was also correct in associating Gallaher generally with newspaper reporting about the Invincibles.

The Assassin Kelly and a sporting bet

Several of the Phoenix Park conspirators were interviewed by the Freeman’s Journal, but as the articles are written anonymously, it is not normally possible to know which were written by Gallaher. Fred was clearly on good terms with one of the Invincibles, the assassin Tim Kelly. During Kelly’s trial spectators observed some strange activity in the court room. While the prosecutor “was framing a terrible indictment against him”, Kelly:

turned to the chief warder of Kilmainham […] and rather earnestly whispered a question. The nature of it was pretty obvious, for he indicated Mr. Fred Gallaher, who had just come into court and was standing near the ordinary press-box.

A few moments later the prisoner Kelly was handed a scrap of paper and a pencil and, in full view of the court, he “scribbled a few words” and in due course handed the paper back to the warder, who in turn handed it on to Gallaher. At this stage in his career Gallaher “was very well known and generally popular throughout the length and breadth of Dublin”. It turned out that Kelly was appealing to Gallaher the sportsman, as the scrap of paper contained Kelly’s request that Gallaher put a shilling on a horse for him that day. The horse did not win, and apparently:

Owing to the strangeness of the request, coming whence it did, the transaction cost the sportsman and several members of his staff considerably more than a shilling apiece.

Frederick Moir Bussy Irish Conspiracies; recollections of John Mallon (the great Irish detective) and other reminiscences (1910), pp. 135-6

Information on an Invincible informer: James Carey

One of the key players in the Phoenix Park murder trials was James Carey. He was one of the main conspirators but, to the surprise of his co-conspirators and the people of Dublin he (along with Joe Hanlon and Michael Kavanagh) turned “approver” or informer on his confederates, several of whom were subsequently hanged. Carey’s involvement in the murders was more surprising as he was at the time a Town Councillor (Trinity ward).

Well, Gallaher formed the opinion that the great informer James Carey ought to be interviewed in prison for the benefit of the Irish people and to the advantage of the Freeman’s Journal in particular.

Gallaher devised a cunning plan. He made himself known to Carey’s wife and suggested that by smuggling a journalist incognito into Kilmainham prison with her during her next visit the newspaper would be able to put “James right” with the people of Dublin, by telling his story as it should be told. Mrs Carey agreed to this ruse and one of Fred Gallaher’s young sportswriters on Sport, P. B. (“Sonny”) Kirwan, was then dressed for the part of a “temporary brother-in-law” to Mrs Carey. The disguise was apparently such a “clever one that might have deceived his inamorata even”. The group set off for the prison, with “Sonny” carefully holding the Carey baby, and had reached as far as the waiting room when John Mallon, the detective in charge of the case, popped his head round the door, saw what was about to happen, and escorted “Sonny” Kirwan out of the prison, still holding the baby.

Fred was not downhearted by the failure of his first effort to gain an interview with James Carey. It is said he had two favourite sayings, both of which will have encouraged him in this spot:

"Faint heart never won a thrippeny-bit", was a favourite maxim of Gallaher’s, and "Once down’s no battle", was another. The success of Mallon in upsetting his calculations when they were upon the very verge of consummation gave piquancy, added flavour, to the task the sporting writer had set himself.

Unperturbed, Fred once again sought out Mrs Carey. This time he had prepared a series of around one hundred and twenty questions, each of which could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” if the respondent had no more to say. In the hands of a clever and experienced journalist these simple answers would furnish ample copy for a comprehensive sensationalist first-hand account of Carey’s side of the matter.

Mrs. Carey was to conceal these precious pages of queries about her person, together with a small piece of pencil, and to pass them on to James. The latter was to occupy his spare moments, when the vigilant eye of the watchful warder was not upon him, in marking them with "Yes", and "No", and on her next visit Mrs. Carey was once more to confide the sheets of foolscap to her bosom and faithfully deliver them to her trusted, reputation-cleansing newspaper friend.

This time the plan worked, and Gallaher obtained his copy for the Freeman.3

Back on the newspaper beat after the Phoenix Park affair

Fred Gallaher did his reputation no harm at all by his investigative journalism during the Phoenix Park affair. In Leander Richardson’s words:

This Gallagher is the only Pressman there […] who makes any attempt to gather news. The others sit about and telegraph anything they can think of, or get out of the Castle authorities.

New Zealand Tablet (1883) 27 April p. 5

But as the sensational political news sank into the background, Fred reverted to his previous occupations. Amongst these he was involved in a piece of nonsense guaranteed to excite his newspaper audience. In October 1883 Washington Irving Bishop, the celebrated American “thought-reader”, came to Dublin to demonstrate his prodigious and much-doubted powers. Joyce refers to Bishop’s “Finding the Pin” trick in Ulysses (though annotaters do not notice Bishop’s appearance in Dublin):

U 15.442-5: Do you remember, harking back in a retrospective arrangement, Old Christmas night, Georgina Simpson’s housewarming while they were playing the Irving Bishop game, finding the pin blindfold and thoughtreading?

From 10-13 October Irving Bishop (“The First and World-famed Thought-Reader and Explainer of Spirit Mysteries”) was booked to appear at the Antient Concert Rooms in Dublin.4 Bishop performed a number of turns which revealed his amazing powers. A committee of august gentlemen was normally set up to ensure fair play on these occasions. At the Antient Concert Rooms the committee included Dublin’s own newspaper showman, Fred Gallaher:

Mr. Bishop was blindfolded and taken in the custody of two of the committee into an ante-room. Mr. Gallaher was selected by the audience to hide the pin, and it should be mentioned that he was previously requested by Mr. Bishop to touch the shoulder of some person as he passed through the room, and before finally concealing the pin.

The rigmarole was followed, and the pin hidden in a place of unfathomable obscurity (“almost at the top of the wooden border of one of the entrances”). Irving Bishop re-entered the main room grasping Fred Gallaher, and walked immediately to the person previously touched by Gallaher and, after a series of “spasmodic and convulsive starts” (during which the mind of the third party was presumably “read”), proceeded to discover the pin in short order.

This entertainment was so popular in Dublin that Bishop promised an outdoor demonstration of his pin-finding powers, outside the Shelbourne Hotel in Stephen’s Green on Monday 15 October. But Bishop’s powers did not foresee that he would fall ill and the performance would have to be deferred. When it did take place towards the end of November, Fred Gallaher was again on the committee of the great and the good overseeing the action (and gathering material for the Freeman and for Sport, where Bishop’s method had been “explained”5). It was reported that a chaotic crowd of seven thousand thronged the Green to watch Bishop’s remarkable feat. Again the pin was hidden (in a shop) and again Bishop led his assistant (not Fred Gallaher on this occasion) straight to it. Honour was satisfied, the pin was found, and Fred had more sensational column inches for his papers.

John Simpson


1 The full report was published in the New York Morning Telegraph of 30 May 1900. See here for the text of the article.

2 Freeman’s Journal (1883), 27 January.

3 Frederick Moir Bussy, Irish Conspiracies; recollections of John Mallon (the great Irish detective) and other reminiscences, 1910, pp. 205-10.

4 Freeman’s Journal (1883), 6 October.

5 Sport (1883), 13 October.

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