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

5b Addendum: Newspapers in the blood: John Blake Gallaher

Fred Gallaher’s grandfather was a celebrated ventriloquist, from whom it is often said that Fred inherited his easy-going sense of humour and penchant for practical jokes. The same cannot be said of Fred’s father, John Blake Gallaher, who was a dedicated political newspaperman.

John Blake Gallaher was born in Cork around 1825. He and his wife Sarah (née Russell), whom he married in 1852, still lived in Cork until the mid 1850s. Their eldest son Fred was born in Cork in 1853, and his sister Fannie was born there in 1854, but in the following year Joe first saw the light of day in Dublin. John Blake’s two sons Fred (“Ignatius”) Gallaher and Joe (by way of “Mrs Joe Gallaher”) are referred to in Joyce’s writings, and Fanny was herself an independent writer from the late 1870s, also publishing under the pseudonym “Sydney Starr”.1

Presumably J. B. Gallaher gained experience as a journalist in Cork; by the late 1850s he had begun his long, twenty-eight-year stint on the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin,2 and was appointed Chief Sub-Editor of the paper by its proprietor, John Gray (1816-75). John Gray was a prominent Dublin politician who was knighted in 1863 and from 1865 was M.P. for Kilkenny City. Gray was succeeded as proprietor and Editor-in-Chief of the Freeman by his son Edmund Dwyer Gray (1845-88), successively Home Rule M.P. for Co. Tipperary (1877–80), Co. Carlow (1880–5), and St Stephen's Green, Dublin (1885–8). The Grays led the paper editorially with a strong nationalist political streak, but they were sometimes slow to change with the times. J. B. Gallaher’s loyalty was firstly to the paper and only secondly (so it was said) to the political world outside.

The first contemporaneous reference linking J. B. Gallaher to the Freeman’s Journal occurs in 1860, when subscriptions for the Irish Brigade were collected amongst the parishes in Dublin: “Mr Gallaher, Freeman’s Journal” subscribed £1.3 In 1860 thousands of Irishmen answered the call by Pope Pius IX for an Irish Papal Brigade to defend the Vatican City against the reunificationist forces of Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel.

From this point until he left the Journal in the late 1880s J. B. Gallaher seems to have been respected rather than loved. He is seen representing the paper on formal occasions (banquets, funerals, etc.), and sits on the relevant committees concerned with the improvement of Dublin and Ireland. Most significantly, he leads the editorial staff of the Freeman with force and dedication.

J. B. had much more of a political “feel” than his two newspaper sons. In 1864, during discussions over the erection of a monument in Dublin to Daniel O’Connell, the idea arose that St Patrick’s Day would be a fine opportunity to raise funds for the proposed monument. The Freeman’s Journal carried an article on the possibility. The writer gives credit for the idea to J. B. Gallaher in a subsequent “Letter to the Editor”:

I fear I cannot take to myself the credit of having originated the idea of adopting St. Patrick’s Day for a general collection among Irishmen at home and abroad for the O’Connell Statue. It is only right that its merit should be given where it is due. The article in which I put forward the project was suggested to me by Mr. J. B. Gallaher, of the Freeman, to whom the merit of originating the idea belongs […]

William Kenealy4

The Editor of the Freeman responds immediately on behalf of his “brother journalist” in gentlemanly fashion:

We have the authority of the gentleman named by Mr. Kenealy to say that, whatever may have passed in the form of general conversation, the first to give force and vitality to the idea, and to bring it as a practical working project before the public, was Mr. Kenealy, and to him, therefore, the credit is due.

When Sir John Gray died in 1875, J. B. Gallaher led the mourners from the Freeman’s Journal at the large funeral:

Then came the literary and reporting staffs of the Freeman’s Journal, comprising – Mr. J. B. Gallaher, sub-editor; Mr. E. T. Lefroy, Mr. Richard Adams, Mr. W. B. Guinnes [sic], Mr. T. M'Weeny, [etc.].

Note that here he is referred to by his own paper as “sub-editor”, not “editor”, though he was often popularly referred to as the paper’s “Editor”. His sons “Mr. F. Gallaher” and “Mr. J. Gallaher” were also in attendance.5 J. B. Gallaher states that he is “sub-editor of the Freeman’s Journal as a witness in court in 1878, when speaking on behalf of Edward Lefroy, one of his senior editorial colleagues on the paper.6

He was a forceful personality. Timothy Healy’s biographical Letters and Leaders of my Day (c1928) recalls one example of his style:

Gallagher [sic], the Freeman editor, was a remarkable person. When a correspondent complained to him that his letter had been stuck into a dark corner of the paper, he thundered, "Sir! There are no dark corners in the Freeman’s Journal!"7

Edmund Dwyer Gray and J. B. Gallaher were slow to accept Charles Parnell:

When first Mr. Parnell was a candidate for the County Meath [in 1875], he, with another friend, interviewed Mr. Gallaher, to see if it were possible to enlist in his favour the advocacy of the great Irish Home Rule and Whig organ, as it was then called. The cold reception Mr. Parnell received is still fresh in the memories of those who witnessed the scene, and it is amusing to contrast it with the treatment the Leader of the Irish Party now receives at the hands of not only Mr. Gallaher, but of every official connected with the paper.8

Gallaher’s political nous, and also a caustic sense of humour, come across when he explains when and how the Freeman shifts its opinion, as recalled by the Parnellite politician William O’Brien:

For a quarter of a century Gallaher steered the Freeman through a thousand dangers with an instinct akin to genius. Its interests were his supreme law. Once, when the Freeman began to coquet with Land League doctrines [support for tenants and the abolition of landlordism], a veteran Whig journalist raised a voice of remonstrance. "What is the Freeman coming to," he remarked, "to play the game of a gang like that?" "My dear Ferdinand," was the solemn reply, "the country is going to the devil, and the Freeman is bound to go with the country."9

Tim Healy particularly remembers J. B. Gallaher’s blacker side. One day in April 1880 Healy was walking to the Freeman offices with a Land League proposal which he had emended slightly without Parnell’s agreement:

I knew that Parnell, although he would not yield to Davitt, would accept the fait accompli. The Freeman editor, Gallagher [sic] (whom we called "Black Jack"), received the MS. with a scowl, and questioned me about the change. The draft was all in my handwriting, and I had been careful completely to obliterate the figure "twenty-five", so he was compelled to accept it as the decision of the Land League Executive.10

In 1883 the Kildare Observer published a series of articles on “Dublin Newspapers and Their Editors”. This series included a long article (“The ‘Freeman’s Journal’ – Mr. E. Dwyer Gray, M.P., and Mr. Gallaher”) comparing the roles of Edmund Dwyer Gray as proprietor and Editor-in-Chief of the Freeman and John Blake Gallaher as his second-in-command:

I now come to the person most of importance in the direction of the literary and political department of the Freeman’s Journal immediately following Mr. [Edmund] Gray – this is Mr. Gallaher. For many years this gentleman has filled this onerous and responsible position. How well, it were needless to ask, the success of the newspaper giving a meet and ample reply to the query.11

The Kildare Observer marvels at J. B. Gallaher’s devotion to his paper, even at the expense of political opinion outside:

I know of no editor who, like Mr. Gallaher, seems so engrossed in the immediate concern of his literary work. He seems only to live for the Freeman’s Journal. The stolid indifference with which he appears to view the various political opinions and characters of those with whom he is constantly brought into contact was always a psychological study of the intensest interest to many. It has always been a source of wonderment to me to know if he ever voted at an election in his life, or if he had really any political world outside the door of his room in Princes Street.

Throughout his tenure at the newspaper J. B. Gallaher would frequently be seen at formal social events, and at these he was often accompanied by his wife, and his two sons and his daughter. “Lady Mayoress’s ‘At Home’” in the Freeman’s Journal for June 1884 at the Mansion House in Dublin shows a typical listing:

[…] Mr and Mrs J B Gallaher, Mr Joseph and Miss Gallaher, Mr and Mrs Fred Gallaher, [etc.].12

Soon after this J. B. Gallaher resigned from the Journal, though the circumstances of his departure are not clear. In October 1884 he was still referred to as the paper’s “sub-editor”,13 and he remained in Dublin for at least another eighteen months. When he left, Edmund Dwyer Gray brought in Edward Byrne from the Belfast press as Editor.14 Gallaher gave the customary fourteen days’ notice and “was not thrown out”. This comment derives from a report in the Journal eight years later, in 1892, on the occasion of the merging of the Freeman and the National Press. The merger meant that Byrne’s successor William M’Dowell of the Freeman left, and William Brayden, editor of the National Press, took over. The Freeman reports:

Mr. Healy – […] When we came to deal with this business we were told in the time of the late Mr. Gray a fortnight’s notice was the custom, and we were told that Mr. Gallaher, an ex-editor of the "Freeman", had got the same notice.

Mr. Wyse Power – Mr. Gallaher, I may remark, resigned also. He was not thrown out.15

J. B. attended a funeral in Dublin in April 1886, but is not listed as attending either the funeral of Lady Gray on 31 April 1887, or that of her son Edmund Dwyer Gray a year later. By 1889 the paper refers to him in the past:

Do you know who was the editor of the "Freeman" at the time? Mr J. B. Gallaher at the time was the editor.16

After J. B. Gallaher resigned from the Freeman’s Journal he moved with his wife and daughter Fanny to London, retiring from the newspaper business, but doubtless retaining a great interest in the subsequent careers of his sons. At the time of the 1891 England census they were living at No 16 Westcroft Square, Hammersmith, along with an “Invalid Attendant”. In 1890 his son Fred also moved over to London with his family, having left the Freeman paper Sport. Sarah Gallaher died in August 1891.

John Blake Gallaher survived the deaths of his two sons Fred and Joe in the 1890s, dying himself in London on St Patrick's Day, 17 March, 1904. He was buried on 21 March, alongside his wife, at St Mary’s Catholic cemetery, Kensal Green.

John Simpson


1 Fannie Mary Gallaher was born in Cork on 30 May 1854. Her literary output (published under the pseudonym “Sydney Starr”) includes: Katty The Flash: A Mound of Dublin Mud (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1880), A Son of Man (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1880), Thy Name Is Truth (John & Robert Maxwell, 1884), The Dawn of Day (London: John & Robert Maxwell, 1885), and Children’s Chums (London: 1888), as well as various articles for the Irish Monthly, etc. Her Lessons in Domestic Science (Dublin: Browne & Nolan Ltd., 1885, revised and enlarged 1894), published under her own name (F. M. Gallaher), was immediately adopted in 1886 as a text-book for the Middle and Senior grades of Domestic Economy by the Intermediate Education Board (Freeman’s Journal (1885), 1 May) and enjoyed considerable success over many years. Miss Gallaher assisted the Education Board in examinations for domestic science, worked as a supervisor and Sunday teacher for the Dublin Ladies Sanitary Association, and lectured on domestic issues. She moved with her parents to London in the mid 1880s, where she worked (amongst other things) for many years as Secretary to the Duchess of Bedford. In her latter years she lived in St John’s Wood in London, and died on 22 December 1935 at St George’s Retreat, Ditching, Sussex, leaving an estate of £7,879 net.

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

3 Freeman’s Journal (1860), 30 October p. 1.

4 Freeman’s Journal (1864), 30 January.

5 Freeman’s Journal (1875), 16 April.

6 Freeman’s Journal (1878), 1 April.

7 Timothy Michael Healy Letters and Leaders of my Day (c1928), vol. 1 ch. 6 p. 76.

8 Kildare Observer (1883), 8 February p. 2.

9 William O’Brien Recollections (1905) ch. 9 p. 182.

10 Timothy Michael Healy Letters and Leaders of my Day (c1928), vol. 1 ch. 7 p. 93.

11 Kildare Observer (1883) 8 February p. 2.

12 Freeman’s Journal (1884), 5 June.

13 Freeman’s Journal (1884), 15 October.

14 Edward Byrne’s editorship is dated from 1884 by Felix Larkin: http://www.nli.ie/blog/index.php/2012/08/21/thefreemansjournal/.

15 Freeman’s Journal (1892), 18 May.

16 Freeman’s Journal (1889), 26 June.

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