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

5a Addendum: The eccentricities of a grandfather:

Patrick Frederick Gallaher

Fred Gallaher, editor of the Dublin Sport, was known for his ready wit and practical jokes. Nineteenth–century Dubliners were familiar with the ready wit and practical jokes of his grandfather, and so it may not be inappropriate to investigate the details of the life of Fred’s grandfather, the nationally acclaimed ventriloquist.

Patrick Frederick Gallaher.

The ventriloquist, who delighted audiences throughout Ireland for many years (1800-1863). He was the father of the well-known editor of the Freeman's Journal under Dwyer-Gray’s proprietorship, and whose sons inherited in turn many of the qualities that make journalism "racy of the soil".1

It is sometimes difficult to establish genealogical details. John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello, normally exemplary in their research, incorrectly refer to the ventriloquist Patrick Gallaher as the father, rather than the grandfather, of Fred and his brother Joe.2

Patrick Gallaher was born just outside Dublin in 1800, but was living in Cork when his son John Blake Gallaher (the father of Fred and Joe Gallaher) was born in the mid 1820s. Patrick performed throughout Ireland and also in England:

Mr. Gallaher was born of highly respectable parents residing in Chapelizod, and was educated for the church, but having a strong passion for the stage, he followed his inclination, and commenced as a monologue performer.

As early as 1825, at the age of twenty five, he was performing his ventriloquist act on the Dublin stage, in the theatre in Grafton Street:

On this Evening, Wednesday 24th instant, and following days, Mr. G. will repeat his new Piece, entitled

The Enchanted Household;

Or, The Randoms of a Ventriloquist.

Which includes Fourteen Characters, all acted and transformed by Mr. Gallaher alone.3

In the following January he was back in Dublin performing The Eccentricities of Dominick, or the Randoms of a Ventriloquist – in 3 Acts. This new “comic entertainment” showcased:

Visible Persons.

Mons. Delero, (An old Quack Doctor, suffering under a complication of his own Medicine, Poisons more than he cures,) Mr. Gallaher

Ald[erman] Orlington, (From Indisposition occasioned by bad Cookery, is obliged to confine himself to Fish and Beer,) Mr. Gallaher


Patrick Gallaher developed many new acts over the years, but he also achieved notoriety for his off-stage wit. On one occasion he was travelling in County Wexford when “a poor man, of the name of Finn, who was labouring dreadfully under hypochondriacism”, heard that the great ventriloquist was nearby. He asked his parish priest if he could seek a cure from Gallaher, to which the priest (knowing Finn was not really ill) consented:

Upon calling on Mr. Gallaher, Finn said that he used to be afflicted by fairies, who were constantly going into his mouth, and after capering through his stomach, would then make their exit through his ears.

Gallaher rapidly got the measure of the situation and played along:

Gallaher then threw his voice successively into the man’s mouth and ears, and at length brought it down to his stomach, and made it appear as if several people were making their escape out of the knees of Finn’s breeches.

In no time Finn was on his knees blessing the ventriloquist and ever afterwards could “read his prayer-book in peace and quietness – a thing the fairies never before permitted him to do.”4

Patrick Gallaher was an inveterate performer. His ventriloquist act graced Irish stages regularly throughout his career, which lasted until months before his death in 1863.

A favourite show in the 1830s was The Adventures of Richard the Ventriloquist, or The Biter Bit, in which he again played a host of male and female characters. This spectacle made a big impression on the Cork poet Daniel Casey, who immediately put his thoughts to paper:



ON MONDAY, SEP. 5TH, 1836.

Written immediately after his performance.

If the spirit of Momus and Proteus yet

In the frame of one mortal were happily met,

And for mirth-loving souls, by dame nature designed,

'Tis in thee, wondrous Gallaher, all are combined.

O! who that could see thee, as I have, to-night,

But must think on thee long with enraptured delight,

The poor, half-starved Richard lamenting his wrongs,

And curing the toothache, by virtue of tongs.

Thy plethoric Alderman-gouty and gruff-

Imbibing his bottles, his pills, and such stuff.

Whilst his sweet "cara sposa” behind and before,

Tottering in with the gossamer step of four score.

Then the bold dashing Captain - so fond of the fair,

So feathered, and booted, "la militaire”;

In the skirmish of gallantry, who so sublime,

A love-speech to lisp, or, a chimney to climb;

Whilst sweet Deborah, Venus-like, spring from the wave,

Thinks the fair should be ever the prize of the brave:

To be sure these were fine folks, - but Paul, oh! 'twas Paul,

Oh! glorious Paul Doherty you surpassed all.

They may talk of Jack Johnson, and some now in vogue,

But for musical richness - for beautiful brogue -

For the smack of the buttermilk, who'd not have hung

Enraptured for years, on each note from his tongue.

And whilst harmony's magic your souls would enthrall,

You'd allow, even Leonard, is rivall'd by Paul;

How delicious the tone of sweet melody drawn

When touching the fiddle with drone like strouncane;

And then - Oh! his lectures on music so fine, -

But 'tis folly to think a description like mine

Could paint half his humours. If any there be

Afflicted with tic-doloreux – gout - ennui,

Or such sweet companions, I'll give them a cure

That their quick convalescence will promptly ensure,

And shed o'er their spirits a flood of delight,

Let them go and see Gallaher every night.

Gems of the Cork Poets, comprising the Complete Works

of Callanan, Condon, Casey, Fitzgerald, and Cody (Cork: 1883) p. 306

He took this act to Liverpool, and the local paper provides a sketch of Gallaher performing amongst his characters:

Liverpool Mercury (1833) 8 March

The newspaper published a letter the following month reminding readers of Gallaher’s experience with Finn and the fairies.5

But this was not the only tale to follow Gallaher around. Another practical joke reported in 1847 shows his mischievous nature operating in the sphere of black comedy. The London Pioneer of 11 November reported an incident on the outskirts of Dublin:

The Dead Alive! – One Sunday night Mr. Gallaher the celebrated ventriloquist, observed two simple country-looking fellows carrying a coffin out to Roundtown. When they got near to the bridge at Harold’s-cross, they stopped to rest themselves.

The scene was set for the chance appearance of Patrick Gallaher and his many voices:

Mr. Gallaher pretended to be walking quietly by them, when he threw his voice into the coffin, and immediately a loud shriek of agony was heard to issue, followed by cries of “Oh! Murther! Murther! Is it the canal you’re going to throw me in?

The anecdote progressed in the expected way:

"Oh! Good Christians," cried a poor woman who was attracted by the noise, "here’s a dead man in the coffin that wants to fight his two murderers". A crowd was immediately collected, the two poor countrymen were arrested as resurrectionists, and it was not until the coffin was opened and examined that they were permitted to proceed with their burden.

Patrick Gallaher had the last laugh, though:

Just as the crowd was dispersing, a voice from the coffin was heard to exclaim, "Now boys, after all the trouble I gave you, I hope you won’t forget to bury me dacently".

The performances, including Paddy’s Knapsack or The Kit Laid Open and his Table-talk Chatology, continued regularly until Patrick was taken ill in March 1863. His death was announced in the Freeman’s Journal on 9 April that year:

Gallaher – April 7, in Amiens-street, Dublin, aged 63, Mr. P. F. Gallaher, the celebrated ventriloquist.

In the same issue the newspaper gave him a handsome obituary notice, closing with these lines:

He passed out of the world in peace with God and with all mankind, on Monday night, in the sixty-third year of his age. He acted his part well "off" as well as on the stage, and for many a long year he shall be spoken of with kind regret and affectionate remembrance, by the many whom he relieved in their want and suffering and by a circle of friends, to whom his genuine good qualities had endeared him.

Patrick Frederick Gallaher died when his grandson Frederick Gallaher (the sporting editor behind Joyce’s character Ignatius Gallaher) was almost ten. The young boy will have remembered the friendly, joking nature of his grandfather, and that nature doubtless contributed to the friendly, joking personality drawn many years later by Joyce.

John Simpson


1 R. J. O’Duffy Historic Graves in Glasnevin Cemetery (1915), p. 27.

2 John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello John Stanislaus Joyce (1998 ), ch. 12 p. 126.

3 Freeman’s Journal (1825), 24 August p. 1.

4 Bell’s Life in London (1827), 21 October, citing the Tipperary Free Press.

5 Liverpool Mercury (1833) 5 April.

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