Galloping Gallagher Deserves the Gallows

The Irish Rogue on the Silver Screen: Captain Blood to The General

Steven Gerard Farrell M.A.

Edited by Jeannie Morris, B.A.

Talking Pictures alias






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Hollywood has employed many tried and true formulas since it created itself in the earliest days of

the silent era.  The American film factory situated just outside of Los Angeles, California has also used

the same story-lines and stock characters, over and over again, ever since it started cranking out film

with sound for mass consumption in the latter part of the Twenties.  It could be argued that the

American movie-going public has been educated in the science of movie watching by Hollywood

creating familiar images that are easily understood and relatable.

In my last essay,
Mickey Machine Is Back: The Return of the Irish-American Gangster to the Silver Screen.

 (Celtic-Badger Press, 2008), I examined the evolving characterization of the Irish-American

gangster from James Cagney as Tom Powers (PUBLIC ENEMY) to Jack Nicholson as Francis Costello (THE

DEPARTED).  In this follow-up essay, I shall be examining a close cousin of “Mickey Machine-Gun”. I call

this creation “Galloping Gallagher”.  Galloping Gallagher is another rascally Celtic type who has had a

life span of over seven decades.  As James Cagney and Jack Nicholson provided the bridge for Mickey,

Errol Flynn and Kevin Spacey have done likewise for Gallagher.

Hollywood’s Irish rogues are the linear descendant of the “Stage Irishman”, a popular feature on the

English stage for hundreds of years.  This Stage Irishman was a popular figure in English literature of the

17th, 18th and 19th century. Henry Fielding’s Captain Fitzpatrick (TOM JONES) being the epitome of

the breed.  However, I contend that the Irish rogue type traces its’ origins even further to the 12th

century when the Norman-English began their slow conquest of their western neighbors.  Throughout

the Middle Ages and well past the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, it was common for the English                                              

author to represent the Irish as the “Other” to the upright Englishman and Englishwoman.

In his book, INVENTING IRELAND , Declan Kiberd wrote: “If Ireland had never existed the English

would have invented it, and since it never existed in English as anything more than a patch-work quilt of

warring fiefdoms, their leaders occupied the neighboring island and called it Ireland.” It was felt by

scholars over the centuries that the Irish people peculiar behaviors were the by-products of their Gaelic-

Celtic blood.  The English, on the other hand, were a steadier people because of their Germanic strain.

Recent advancements made in the field of DNA testing indicates that the Irish and the English, as well

as the Scots and Welsh, probably trace their original roots to wanderers from what is now known as

Spain and Portugal.  The people of the British Isle, due to later invasions by the Celts, Saxons, Vikings and

Normans, have long become a hybrid race.  In spite of the mingling of bloods, 80% of the modern Irish

and 67% of the contemporary English Y chromosomes can be traced back to the ancient wanderers. In

short, there’s very little biological difference between the Irish and the English.

However, the English have long felt that the hodgepodge that produced sturdy John Bull in England

went haywire with the Paddies in Ireland.  Galloping Gallagher was the wayward mutation   of a

variety of healthy genes.  From the very start the English have had a love-hate relationship with this

stock Irish character.  Galloping Gallagher was a murderous brute yet a lovable cuss who just couldn’t

keep himself from wallowing in self-made mayhem and chaos.  The Irishman, on stage and in novels,

was rapidly polished into a gallant duelist who was torn apart by his noble impulses, failed ambitions

and flawed thinking.  Galloping Gallagher was a drunkard, deep in debt, who took out his sword or

brace of pistols at the merest hint of an insult.  In the name of historical accuracy, it should be noted

that the vast majority of Ireland’s notorious duelists like Fireball McNamara, were Anglo-Irishmen with

more Saxon Protestant inside of their souls than Catholic Gael.

George Shaw and Oscar Wilde, both Anglo-Irishmen, were two of Ireland’s greatest writers, and they

held the notion, according to Kiberd, that the Irishman living among the English was compelled to live

behind “the mask” in order to survive.  The mask instilled in the Irish a sense of the theatrical in order to

keep the Saxons on their guard.  This “mask of the theatrical” worn by the stage Irishman provided the

English theatre-attending   and novel reading audience with countless hours of entertainment and

enjoyment.  The English and the Irish transplanted the stage Irishman to the New World where, I

contend, he mutated even further, on the silver screen in Hollywood  into what I have labeled as

“Mickey Machine-Gun” and “Galloping Gallagher.”

Obviously the Hollywood moguls, producers and directors, many of whom were of Eastern European

and Jewish stock, wouldn’t have been carrying the same racial baggage as the English playwrights and

novelist, but they would have been indirectly influenced by the baggage.  Many of Jewish film-

makers, indeed, would have added their own stereotypes from their own encounters with Irish-

Americans on the shared mean streets of New York City, Chicago and Boston.  However, since the Jewish

elite of Hollywood would have been more sympathetic to the underdog overtones of the Irish rogue,

they felt no qualms in subjecting  Mickey and Gallagher  to a complete make-over, making him even

more acceptable to the American movie-going audience.  Since the Irish-American community provided

a large percentage of the profit margins at the box office in the larger urban areas of the United States,

it made good business sense to refine the Stage Irishman’s character.

In MICKEY-MACHINE GUN IS BACK, I argued that the Irish, Italian and Jewish gangsters in the early

talkies were initially held-up for rural audience of West European and Protestant stock as examples of

ethnic criminals gone to the bad.  An underlining message was that crime  could be explained by the

gangster’s  urban environments as well as their racial background. However, to the newly arrived

immigrants huddled in the boiling melting pot of Hell’s Kitchen, South Boston, or the west side of

Chicago  it was to look up to the film gangster as a role model.  James Cagney’s Tom Powers was a slum

Kid who used his brains and brawns  to grab a hold of a large piece of the American pie.  Crime

gave  access to the social ladder that was denied to those with an accent or of an alien religion.

With the arrival on the American crime scene of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and

other native hoodlums, gangsters became heroes to many cash-strapped Americans during the

Great Depression.  It is my theory that by the time that CAPTAIN BLOOD was released in 1935,

Americans of all strands were open to the antics of the first Irish rogue I shall cover in this paper.

For the purpose of this essay, I have selected twelve examples of historical individuals whom I have

labeled as Galloping Gallagher, real life Irish rogues, and how they have been presented on the film.

The films I have selected were made in the thirties up until the turn of the current century; these

movies cover historical ground from the seventeen century up until almost the close of the twentieth

century.  My Irish Rogues gallery include five Irish-Americans (Henry Antrim, John L. Sullivan, Joe

McGinnis, Jack Murphy, and Whitey Bulger), one Irish-Australian (Ned Kelly), two Irishman who had

transplanted themselves to Scotland (Burke and Hare), three Irishman who took their rascally behaviors

over to England (Thomas Blood , Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan) and one Irishman’s whose career of

merry devilment was committed solely on the soil of Ireland (Martin Cahill).

If there ever was a Hollywood pairing of a real life rogue with a roguish actor it would have been

when Errol Flynn was cast as the infamous Thomas Blood in the 1935 movie, CAPTAIN BLOOD.  It was a

match made in a publicist’s Heaven!  Director Michael Curtiz used a script based upon the fictional novel

by the same name by Rafael Sabatini rather than the real life exploits of Ireland’s all-too-real Blood.

Sabatini, a noted Italian novelist of adventure yarns, took the liberty of   changing the Irish rogue’s name

from Thomas to Peter and his rank from Colonel to Captain. Blood was also transformed over

from a rebel-kidnapper-jewel thief into a sea-faring pirate.  If James Cagney as Tom Powers (PUBLIC

ENEMY, 1931) is  the epitome of Mickey Machine-Gun than Errol Flynn as Captain Blood is the epitome

of Galloping Gallagher.

Thomas Blood, who was probably born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1618, was a man of mystery whose

career was shrouded in secrecy and deceptions.  He was a notorious side-changer during the English

Civil War and the Restoration Period. A sword for hire, as well as a common opportunist, Blood was a

spy, a turncoat and a palace groupie.  Blood attempted to kidnap Lord Ormond, one of the most

powerful Irishmen in England.  When the venture failed, Blood wrote a letter of apology, referring to

‘the greatness of my crimes.”  However, Blood didn’t let any feelings of remorse deter him from his

next caper: the robbery of the famed Crown Jewels inside of the Tower of London.  Blood, dressed as a

minister, tricked his way into the stronghold and hammered  some of the priceless articles into pulp so

he could it carry it off under his great overcoat.  Blood and his gang of cutthroats were arrested shortly

after the heist.  His flippant remark was, “it was a gallant attempt though unsuccessful.” One

contemporary of Blood had this to record about his dastardly deeds, “one can almost walk away

thinking that the man was a criminal for the thrill for it all,” and that the sole purpose of his plots was to

“ make a noise in the world”.

Blood was pardoned by King Charles the Second, the Merry Monarch, in what appears to be a royal

cover-up.  Some historians believe that Blood had some juicy blackmail on the royal Stuart himself;

others contend that Stuart used the crime to blackmail Blood into relocating to the Netherlands to spy

upon the growing Dutch shipping industry.  It has also been put forth by some scholars that Blood

wasn’t prosecuted because the jewels were pasties; the real articles being pawned off for ready cash.

     The diarist also had this to write about his contemporary: “How he ever came to be pardoned and

ever received into favor, not only after this but several other exploits almost as daring, both in Ireland

and here, I never could come to understand.  This man had not only daring, but a villainous look, a false

countenance, but well spoken and dangerously insinuating .”

Hollywood’s Blood was an Irishmen living as a   simple country doctor, plying his profession in

rural England at the time of a failed rebellion against the unpopular King James 11, Charles younger

brother.  Wrongfully accused of being a rebel, Blood is sent to the West Indies as a slave to the

governor of Port Royal, Bishop.  The devilish handsome doctor quickly seduces Arabella Bishop (Olivia de

Havilland), the governor’s beautiful niece, before making his escape with his fellow convicts during a

pirate raid.  At one point Flynn’s Blood says with a roguish grin, “what turn of fate is this?” Not a bad

attitude to take when one is chained to the whipping post and dying of thirst. However, the best line

uttered by Flynn as Blood was, “There is no more to be said, gentlemen.  My name is Blood.”

The escaped convicts , led by their newly elected captain, Blood, steal a Spanish galleon and proceed

to terrorize the shark-infected Caribbean Sea  until the cursed name of “Blood” is a household name

back in London.  At one point the Irish-led pirates team-up with a French buccaneer, Levasseur (Basil

Rathbone), to create a lethal double-pinch of piracy to the collective shipping industry of the European

super-powers.  The duel to the death between  Flynn and Rathbone’s warlords rival that of their famous

swordplay as Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, 1938).

    In the closing moments of the final reel, Blood wins the beauty, vanquishes the villain, receiving a

royal pardon from the newly crowned king of England, William of Orange.  By a regal decree Blood is

retuned to the status of loyal subject and granted liberty to continue tormenting gold-laden ships as

long as they fly under the flags of France, Spain and the Netherlands and not under the Union Jack.

The real Blood was less photogenic than his Hollywood counterpart.  The only surviving portrait of the

Colonel reveals a stocky, middle-aged man with a rather ugly face.  The real Blood’s ending was also less

than storybook as he wound-up  dying penniless at the age of 62 and buried in a less-than-honorable

pauper’s grave.  It is recorded in a chronicle of the times that Blood corpse was buried, exhumed and

reburied so his enemies could gloat over his demise, as well as being certain their foe was truly dead and

gone and not playing any more of his shenanigans.

Errol Flynn, a true Irish-Australian rogue himself, was born in Tasmania around 1900 (although he

claimed 1909 as his birth-date) and rambled the wide-world until he settled in Hollywood.  His good 
looks and swashbuckling demeanor won him the role of Captain Blood.  He would be a major Hollywood

star for the next two decades.  However, by the late fifties, his looks long eroded and his body sagging in

the middle, Errol Flynn had become a true Hollywood Boulevard has-been

The second rogue I would like to discuss was a secondary character in another Errol Flynn vehicle,

GENTLEMAN JIM (1942).  Following his leads as Captain Blood and Robin Hood, Flynn’s third greatest

part was that of James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, heavyweight champion during the Gay Nineties.

Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan, my second selection, for the championship belt in 1892.  Although

Flynn’s Corbett certainly had the major attributes of Galloping Gallagher (from a knock-out punch to a

winning smile, not to mention a large brawling Irish-American family headed by the ever Irish Alan Hale

as Pat Corbett), I have selected to put the spotlight on John L. Sullivan (played by Ward Bond).

John L. Sullivan was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts shortly before the Civil War to parents who had

narrowly escaped the potato famine that was ravaging their native counties of Kerry and

Westmeath. Isenberg writes: Born an American citizen, a simple patriot all his days, young John grew to

maturity in an urban environment filled with anti-Irish prejudice.” Isenberg also contends that John L.

Sullivan, with most doors of opportunity closed to him due to the prejudices of the time, had to blaze a

new trail for himself and his fellow Irish-Americans with his strength and abilities in boxing; in the

process earning a million dollars and transforming the sport of boxing into an acceptable mainstream

professional sport.  Before Sullivan and Corbett’s time the heroes of the American masses were normally

presidents, generals or frontiersmen.  John L was the first American to win international acclaim due to his prowess as an athlete.

In the 19th century most prize fight were actually sparring exhibitions or benefits in order to get

around the legal strictures of the real deal.  At times a circus-like atmosphere followed the sport with a

pugilist taking on all-comers, awarding a fifty dollar purse for anyone able to last four three minute

rounds with the pro.  John L, with his bull-like rushes and wild roundhouse swings, took on more than a
few rank amateurs to beef-up his win-loss record; most of his opponents being blacksmiths, fire fighters

and farmers trying to prove their manhood in front of their home town friends or the village belles.

Other times, championship matches were fought on barges, sailing the main river-ways just outside of

the city limits or the state boundary lines in order to elude the authorities.

John L. Sullivan knocked out Paddy Ryan, the “Troy Giant” and a professional barkeeper, to become

the officially recognized champ.  John L. went on to defend his title almost two dozen times in the next

decade.  Some of his bouts were gruesome bloodbaths, including a 75 round fight with Jack Kilrain in the

torrid summer heat of Mississippi.  The two contestants were more endangered by sunstroke and

sunburn than they were by an uppercut or a hook.

In this author’s stage play, (BOSTON KNUCKLES, 2008) the great Sullivan allowed his skills to erode

from excessive overspending, mammoth drinking habits and a decline in a training routine.  Along the

way, unfortunately, he picked up a well-earned reputation as a wife-beater, a racist and a braggart.

After reigning as the king of boxing for ten years, Sullivan stepped into the ring one time too many,

losing in twenty-one rounds to a younger and faster Corbett.  “Gentleman Jim” later followed in

Sullivan’s  footsteps by neglecting his training for the lure of the footlights.

To this day, John L. Sullivan is considered the first officially recognized heavyweight champion to hail

from the United States; and to the time of his death, in 1917, he was still hailed as Irish-America’s

favorite conquering hero.  Corbett attested to John L’s popularity by telling reporters, “Even my

own crowd, the Irish-Catholics of San Francisco, never forgave me.  Just because I had the insolence to

actually knock him out.  Ha! You can’t destroy a national myth without being resented.”

Ward Bond was an ideal choice as John L. Sullivan because he had the same husky-hulky physique,

and his bluff and blunt mannerisms were dead-on.  There’s an enjoyable scene where Sullivan is

chopping wood…in between gulps of champagne…in order to get into shape.  Bond’s only drawback

was that he gave John L. a thick off-the-boat brogue where as the historical man spoke with a working-

class Boston accent.   Another fine touch in this movie, if also fictional, had John L. showing up at

Corbett’s championship party and handing him the championship belt, saying, “Maybe you’re bringing

something new to the fight game, something it needs, and never got from fellers like me.”

John L. Sullivan did a good job livening up the stereotype of the brutal but generous Celtic caveman

that had its roots in the stage Irishman and the haughty cartoons of the ape-like Paddy so prevalent in

British and American newspapers and now coined as ‘Galloping Gallagher’ by this author.  The flip side

of the coin is that Sullivan is still a bigger-than-life Irish-American hero whose good qualities outshone his

negative ones. It should also be duly noted that the infamous John L. Sullivan was to become

the definitive role model for other athletes who turned to the stage when they were washed up as an

athlete.  Sullivan became a moderately successful public lecturer on the vaudevillian circuit.

The infamous Billy the Kid was an Irish-American gunslinger who rode the range in the declining years

of the wild west epoch in American history; and he’s been the reoccurring subject of many a Hollywood

western since the earliest days.  Billy ‘the Kid’ Antrim (aka Henry  McCarthy or Henry Bonney) is a

first cousin to Mickey Machine Gun.   He personifies the Irish rogue to the nearest degree what

with his puny frame, bucktooth grin and his deft expertise with a shooting iron. He was a charmer who

was loved by the Mexican senoritas and liked by his enemies.  Pat Garret, the shooter of Billy, was an

admitted friend of the desperado.

Perhaps less is known of Henry McCarthy than any other of my selections in this paper.  More than

likely he was born in an Irish tenement district of Brooklyn, in 1859, and was the son of a dead Union

soldier and a widowed mother who took her two sons out west in search of their piece of the American

dream.  Catherine McCarthy took in laundry and served up grub to earn the coins to transport the three

of them on the wagon trains heading westward to New Mexico.  Along the trail she married an

Irishman by the name of Antrim.  It has been alleged that Billy shot 21 men (one for each year of his life)

with the first victim being his stepfather.  Both claims are untrue.  Hard evidence can actually be found 
linking him to the  two duels; and Billy’s relationship with William Antrim were civil enough for him to

assume the man’s last name for a spell.  The two even rode together for a while after Catherine’s death.

First known as Kid Antrim, then the kid and, finally, Billy ‘the kid’ Bonney. The likable but probably

emotionally unhinged Billy soon found himself a gun-for-hire in the Lincoln County Cattle Range War.

Like almost every other cowboy involved in this New Mexico intrastate war, Billy oftentimes turned to

rustling.  Perhaps due to his simple but colorful nickname, as well as his picture being displayed on

wanted posters and in newspapers, he soon became the most hunted man in the territory. The feds

put $500.00 as a bounty on the head on this young man.  After a few failed attempts at receiving

amnesty from the territorial governor under circumstances that are still hazy, he was gunned down in a

dark room in Fort Sumner on July 14th.

To the present date a persistent legend has it that it wasn’t Billy who was shot by Pat Garrett, but

one of the young outlaws who rode with him.  An ancient cowboy, Ollie P. Roberts ( aka Brushy

Bill), was still staking a claim to the Billy the Kid persona in post World War Two America.  Even here in

the 21st century there has been a movement a foot to have the Kid’s remains exhumed for DNA

matching.  The Governor of New Mexico refuses to disturb the grave.

None of the selections of Irish rogues gallery has been put in more major motion pictures

 than   Henry Antrim.  Some of the most notable depictions of Billy the Kid have been by Paul Newman (THE

LEFT HANDED GUN, 1958) and Kris Kristofferson (PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, 1973).

For the purposes of time and space, I shall only be examining the most popular offering   of the Kid

in recent years: YOUNG GUNS (1988) and YOUG GUNS 11 (1990).  Both features starred Emilio Estevez

as William H. Bonney.  Of all of the Billy the Kid sagas on film, these are the only ones that present the

character of Brushy Bill in the telling as the real-life Billy in old age.  The two storylines are the account

of  the Kid’s saga to a gullible listener in the age of television, highways and billboards.   One could argue

that these two pictures had the most historical accuracy of the kid’s real behavior during the range war

that ripped apart Lincoln County.  The biggest drawback to the films, it can also be argued, is that

Esevez’s Billy has to share so much film time with a large cast of fellow Regulators. Estevez does depict

Billy as a rather lovable hooligan with a slightly crackpot of a mind.

All of the Billy the Kid movies I have hunted down and have watched for this paper have gone over

how he got his cuffs off in an outhouse and locates a hidden pistol.  Moments later he proceeds to kill

in cold blood, James Bell, a lawman.  By some accounts Bell, one of Pat Garrett’s deputies, was a

bully and had been egging on Billy therefore provoking his own death.  Before leaving Billy behind in

Fort Sumner, I would like to give my favorite direct quote from Billy the Kid,” It was a game for two, and

I got there first.”

The West Port Murderers of early 19th century Scotland, Burke and Hare, have had their story retold

(and reshoot) almost as much as Henry McCarthy.  From the BODY SNATCHERS (1945) to the HORRORS

of BURKE & HARE (1971), these two transplanted Irishmen have had their story filmed at least a dozen

times.  Probably the most accurate account was the 1971 film, a typical gory offering in Technicolor from

England’s Hammer Productions.

To this day, Scots are quick to point out to all who will listen that their two most infamous

resurrectionists (grave robbers) were  not of their nationality.  It’s true that William Burke hailed from

County Tyrone and Edward Hare was a Dubliner.  Both of these Galloping  Gallaghers emigrated to seek

their fortunes and wound-up providing corpses for professional doctors and their medical students to

perform dissection upon.  Since carving up the remains of human beings was still illegal throughout

Great Britain, these ‘resurrectionists’ received handsome fees for delivering the ‘goods’ when and

where they were needed.  Many times the corpses used as barter were cut-down from the gallows, or

dug-up from the cemetery before they began to decompose.  The work paid handsomely: five to fifteen

pounds (roughly $660 to $2,000 in today’s American dollars).

Burke and Hare calculated that it was quicker, as well as more profitable, to provide the

cadavers themselves.  During the year of 1828 the gruesome duo murdered at least a dozen people for

their blood money.  The victims were the ancient, prostitutes and the homeless; those who wouldn’t be

missed.  When the Scottish police started unraveling the case, Hare quickly sold-out Burke by

becoming a witness for the crown.  Hare’s testimony led to the hanging of Burke in 1829. Folk lore

contends that the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh had a field day curving up Burke’s body.  Hare

escaped with his life and a short prison term.  It is believed by historians that the lesser partner of the

gruesome twosome became   a wandering beggar, in England,  south of Hadrian’s wall.

My own personal favorite Burke and Hare movie is THE BODY SNATCHER’S, a classic grainy black and

white production from Universal Studies.  Oddly enough, it is only loosely based upon the misdeeds of

Burke and Hare.  Indeed, Scotland’s most famous body snatchers aren’t even mentioned in the film.

Luckily, Boris Karloff’s sinister coachman, John Gray, is scary enough as a character patterned upon the

masterminding Burke.  Bela Lugo’s  simpleminded Joseph was also lightly tailored in the image of the

stooge   Hare.  The mist of Edinburgh, known as ‘auld Reekie’ by  natives, the wet cobblestone roads and

the evil knock at the backdoor of a prominent physician all effectively conjure-up the mood of Scotland,

circa 1827

If Errol Flynn was the picture perfect pairing with Blood than the worst film pairing of all-time would

no doubt have to be Rod Taylor as Sean O’Casey , (YOUNG CASSIDY, 1965).  The comic actor Wally Cox

would have been a better selection to play the bespectacled and runty O’Casey than the beefy and

handsome Rod.

O’Casey, who was one of Ireland’s most prominent dramatists of the 20th century, was a champion of

the underdog and he certainly showed  great will power in pulling himself out of the slums of Dublin to

become a headliner at the Abbey Theatre, however, he was a far cry movie star Rod Taylor.  A well-fed

Australian rugby player had no business depicting an undernourished Irish playwright.

Eileen O’Casey, Sean’s wife, had this to say about the film production based on the five volumes

collection that made-up her husband’s autobiographies (later abridged into two volumes and published

under the title of MIRROR IN MY HOUSE, 1956), “Young Cassidy was not released until after Sean died,

again one has little courage in saying what one believes when friends have toiled so sincerely.  There

was bad luck here in both the casting of the main characters and in production.” YOUNG CASSIDY is

normally billed as the last major film directed by the great John Ford but, truth to tell, most of it was

actually put on film by Jack Cardiff.  Only a good-natured pub brawl between the O’Casey brothers and a

team of footballers seems to have been directly inspired by Ford.  Julie Christie as Daisy (the bad girl)

and Maggie Smith as Nora (the good girl) are fine English actors who had some major troubles settling

into their Irish brogues.  Flora Robson as Ma Cassidy was rather over-the-top as the pious but strong

grand dame of her tightly knitted slum clan.  However, the major contention has always been with Rod

Taylor as the leading character.  The original tagline for the movie ran: “HE’S A BRAWLING-SPRAWLING GIANT:

ON THE MAKE FOR FAME AND FORTUNE.” The pint-sized and scrawny O’Casey, who was a

socialist to the tip of his puritanical toes, would have failed to recognize

himself in any one  of those words of that description.

O’Casey starts his autobiographical series with these lovely lines, “Things had changed, but not

utterly; and no terrible beauty was to be born,  Short Mass was still the favorite service, and Brian Boru’s

harp still bloomed on the bottles of beer.” Sean O’Casey, baptized John Casey, was reared in the

northern part of Dublin at the end of the 19th century.  A Protestant in a Catholic world, O’Casey had to

overcome a fatherless household as well as defective eyesight that limited his formal education.  At the

early age of fourteen, he was already a fully employed laborer; and he would go on to compile a rather

impressive blue collar resume before his plays (THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN and JUNO AND THE

PAYCOCK) became hits at the Abbey Theatre in the Twenties.  Sean O’Casey was long active in the Irish

labor movement spearheaded by Jim Larkins  before joining forces with Patriac Pearse and the push for

Irish Independence.  He eventually relocated to England when he began to feel undervalued by the tiny

Irish play-going public; he was also sick of being persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for their

collective perception of his anti-clerical form of expression.  Ireland’s best playwright since Synge died

an intellectual exile across the Irish Sea in 1964.

The sale of the autobiographical series to Hollywood ensured a certain amount of prosperity for the

author’s widow and their brood of children, but some critics felt that the end results didn’t add much

luster to his literary legacy.  I certainly feel  no compulsion to argue in favor of the artistic merits

of YOUNG CASSIDY, but I  will contend that this movie is a fine exhibition of how the silver screen has

handled Galloping Gallagher on the silver screen over the years.  The robust Taylor plays O’Casey as a

humanist with a deep love for his poverty-stricken family and a compassion for the downtrodden poor

who are sentenced to live-out their lives on the wrong side of Anna Liffey.  Taylor’s O’Casey is a brave

Irish rebel who at first tried to reform the world through conventional means (union and IRA activities)

before turning to his battered old typewriter to hammer out his tales of the poor but dignified people he

had known all of his life.

Taylor’s O’Casey also engages in the usual John Ford high jinks of Guinness guzzling, womanizing and

brawling along with his brothers Archie and Mick (Jack MacGrogan and Robin Summer).  A close reading of

O’Casey’s life indicates he didn’t go in much for his boozy and bullying older brothers.  Perhaps the best

scene in the entire film is when he is unable to cash a check of twenty-five pounds at any bank because

he has no account.  The audience feels his frustration as he tries to barter the piece of paper for some

tea, eggs and butter in his local grocery.  In the hallmark of Irish roguery, Taylor’s O’Casey overcomes

the house odds and comes out a winner in the end.  The final moments of YOUNG CASSIDY finds the

hero hobnobbing with the likes of Lady Gregory (Edith Evans) and W.B. Yeats (Michael Redgrave).”

Defiant to the very end, O’Casey last written words were, “And why the hell should it?  It is only the

young who possess the world.”

The greatest jewel heist in American history was committed by an Irish-American criminal

Mastermind and it was made into a movie while he was serving a prison sentence (MURPH THE SURF,

1975). Jack Roland Murphy, aka Murph the Surf , was only twenty-six year old when he pulled off the

rip-off of the century on October 29, 1964.  Jack and his gang of cat thieves scaled the walls of the New

York’s American Museum of Natural History and entered through an unlocked window.  Using the tools

of their trade, these desperadoes cut through the display cases and ripped off the Eagle Diamond and

the DeLong Ruby .  However, the prize possession of the J.P Morgan jewel collection was the priceless

Star of India.  Jack Murphy was instantly arrested and all of the jewels were immediately retrieved (with

the notable exception of the Eagle Diamond) and he served a brief term in the federal pen before

returning to his high profile career as a cat thief.

Murf the Surf, a handsome beach bum and a charming Irish-American rogue, was a former surfing

champion in the state of Florida and a self-proclaimed concert pianist.  With all the right stuff, he

became the darling of the media, and he wasn’t above basking  in the national spotlight.  However,

Jack’s love affair with the public ended when he was charged with murder. Even his attorney told him,

“Listen, Murf, you’ve got court cases all over the country! You’re in big Trouble.” At one point

Hungarian starlet, Eva Gabor (GREEN ACRES) tried to horn-in on the Surfing Dude’s act by going on

Johnny Cason’s TONIGHT SHOW to claim that Murphy had put a gun to her head and robbed her of her

valuables.  Murphy categorically denied the last charge, stating in his book that Gabor was merely

seeking publicity for her fading career. “Even Eva Gabor, herself, knew I didn’t do the robbery.

Jack Murphy was sent back to the slammer for the better part of the next two decades.  It was while

he was inside the stir when the former beach comber had a religious conversion.  He was granted

parole in 1986, and he’s been a roving minister, saving prisoners, ever since.  In his skimpy

autobiography, Murphy downplays his glamorous lifestyle as the United States reigning jewel  snatcher

and Galloping Gallagher.

Jack Roland Murphy’s sensationalized career was transformed to the big screen with the release of

MURF THE SURF, in 1975, starring Robert Conrad as Murph’s partner, Allan Kuhn, and little-known

character actor Don Shroud as the leading character.  Why the star of HAWAIIN EYE, THE WILD WILD

WEST and BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP wasn’t cast as the lead is a secret known only to director Marvin J.

Chomsky.  The casting proved fatal to the movie.  Jack Murphy’s own recommendations for the script

were obviously ignored in favor of Kuhn’s own self-serving version of the account leading up to and

following the J.P Morgan caper.  So what the movie-going audience was presented with was a very

fragmented and disjointed fable told by a very intelligent and essentially moralistic career criminal in

Conrad’s Kuhn and with a vain and self-centered Shroud as Murph.

In spite of the box office and critical failure of MURPH THE SURF, the movie is a successful part of

the canon of Galloping Gallagher.  Jack Murphy was a high-rolling Mick who enjoyed the ladies, the good

life and the thrills of nicking things that belonged to others.  The zeitgeist of the Sixties and Seventies

also allowed the movie to creep in the message of anti-authority and anti-wealthy.  Where the movie

fails, in my eyes, is that Jack Murphy doesn’t find salvation behind the bars as he did in real life.  The

audience should have been made to wondered if Jack was still deploying his Celtic wiles to con people in

a new fashion.  After all, nobody knows   a sinner better than a saint.

THE DEPARTED was one of the smash box office hits of 2006.  Jack Nicholson won all sorts of critical

acclaim for depicting Francis Costello, the sleazy leader of a South Boston Irish gang.  Nicholson’s

Costello was based on real-life Whitey Bulger, the last of the old-time Irish gang chiefdoms.  Of all of the

Galloping Gallaghers and Mickey Machine Guns I have covered within my two essays, Whitey may be

the only one of my subjects who’ll have the opportunity to read about himself; for nobody is certain

whether this notorious mobster is still alive or not.

James J. Bulger has been on the FBI’s MOST WANTED list since 1999.  Public Enemy Number One is

either hiding down in Argentina under an assumed name, or his remains are at the bottom of the Boston

Harbor sporting a pair of cement shoes.  Recent books by T.J. English (PADDY WHACKED) and Lehr and

O’Neill (BLACK MASK) indicate that Whitey was the kingpin of his South Boston fiefdom since the

Seventies and A Number 1 for the entire Hub from the Eighties until his sudden demise near the close of

the century.

THE DEPARTED was in my first study.  For the purpose of this paper, I shall be zeroing in on

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973), starring Robert Mitchum as Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a small-change

Boston hoodlum and an old school hard guy.  Eddie is an affiliate of organized crime and a middle man

between a gun-runner and a bank-robbing outfit.  It is felt by some scholars that the up and coming

Whitey Bulger served as a model for Mitchum’s depiction.  Mitchum’s  squat and battered appearances

were a good fit for Whitey, as well as for numerous Irish-American fire plug street thug; his sympathetic

approach to the over-the-hill Coyle makes the movie a winner.  THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE could be

Hollywood’   best efforts focusing upon the low-life criminal activities of a struggling wise guy.  Coyle not

only has to work two illegal operations, he also finds himself in the grips of the police department

who expect information in order for him to avoid a long prison term up the river.  It quickly becomes

very murky as to which side  is more sinister.  The Irish have always reviled a stool pigeon, and Coyle

is filled with self-loathing in his role as Judas.  Coyle is finally whacked by Dillion (Peter Boyle), another

small potatoes  Irish crook, who is a bigger fink than Eddie.  Recent research is proving that Whitey

Bulger brokered more than a few Mafia don downfall with the information he provided to various law

enforcement agencies in exchange for his own impunity.

The late Peter Boyle was an Irish-American actor who had an almost instinctive understanding of the

Galloping Gallagher persona.  Boyle was also another leading character in another crime caper film from

the Seventies, THE BRINK’S JOB (1978), which depicted the ‘crime of the century’.  Boyle played “Big”

Joe McGinnis, the presumed mastermind of a post World War 11 Boston heist crew.  The real Big Joe,

the son of a Rhode Island Irish cop, was a former prize fighter turned barkeeper turned fence.  He hadn’t

really built-up an overwhelming reputation until he went into business with Tony Pino (played by Peter

Falk in the movie).  The minor chiefs  formed a colorful tribe of unemployed braves.  The McGinnis—

Pino crew consisted of six Irishmen, three Italians, one Pole and one Jew.  The Boston combine rapidly

built-up it’s resume by ripping off the payrolls of numerous companies in the eastern part of

Massachusetts ,circa 1950, scoring over one hundred thousand dollars.  Some crime historians still

postulate that McGinnis was the mastermind behind the Brink’s Job scheme while Pino was the leader

of the rest of the gang while the plan unfolded.  In her recently published book based upon the caper

(THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY, p 79), Stephanie Schorow states that Pino many times referred to

McGinnis as “Mr X.” Spicey O’Keefe (played by Warren Oates), a lower rung member of the gang,

later on claimed credit for being the brains behind the Brink’s Job.

McGinnis, Pino and the lads decided to promote themselves up to the major league by taking on the

Brinks Armored Guard Service as their next score.  The exact details still remain hazy but the overall

picture is easy to draw now.  It is a hard fact that the gang walked away from the truck depot with

$2.775.394.00 in cold cash, bonds, checks and securities.  Newspaper quickly dubbed it as the ‘crime of

the century’ and many consider it to still be.  The gang gradually fell-out amongst itself.  O’Keefe was the

first of the gang to blow the whistle on the others when he felt they had abandoned him as the patsy.

It took Director J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation almost six years to unravel

the case and to have enough evidence to indict McGinnis, Pino and the rest.  To date only $58,000.00 of

the haul has been recovered.  There has been much speculation as to the rest of the


One urban legend I have come across is that the treasure was buried in a string of hills outside of Grand

Rapids, Michigan.  According to Schorow, some Bostonians are convinced that McGinnis stashed the

money in a backyard somewhere in the metro area.  Schorow, herself, believes that the money was

quickly frittered away on gambling, alcohol and lavish gifts by the individual gang members.  Court costs

and lawyer fees probably ripped-off most of the loot from the greatest rip-off in American history.

McGinnis dropped dead of a heart attack in 1966 while serving a stiff sentence for his role in the

Brink’s Job.  The members of the gang who survived their prison terms were eventually released in the

early days of the Seventies.  Tony Pino died in 1972.  Sandy Richardson (played by Gerard Murphy) and

Jazz Maffie (Paul Sorvino) actually took part in crowd scenes for the movie, and they both did

promotional work for the film traveling as far away as Japan.  Spicey O’Keefe died in 1965.

     The actual film was played more for the comic effect with Falk’s playing the part of a constantly

frustrated Pinto.  He physically lashed back at his stupid sidekicks much in the mold of cranky Moe

Howard.  The movie was long on setting up the fashions and atmosphere of post war Boston but it left a

lot of questions unanswered.  As for Peter Boyle, his Joe McGinnis is   a reminder of Dick Nixon;

his best scene coming when he was flushing paper of monetary value down his barroom

toilet bowl.

“Friday, in the evening, the landlady shouted up the stairs: “Oh God, oh Jesus, oh Sacred Heart.  Boy,

there’s two gentlemen to see you.’ I knew by the screeches off her that these gentlemen were not

calling to enquire after my health, or to know if I had a good trip.  I grabbed my suitcase, containing Pot.

Chlor. Sulph Ac. Geliginite, detonars, electrical and ignition, and the rest of my Sinn Fein conjuror’s

outfit, and carried it to the window. Then the gentlemen arrived.” Thus begins Brendan Behan novel

(BORSTAL BOY, 1956,) and his teenage alter ego’s journey through the English reform school

system. BORSTAL BOY was the smash hit of the publishing season, transforming Brendan Behan from a

Dublin barroom orator (and sometime housepainter) into an international writing sensation and the

epitome of Galloping Gallagher for his generation.  A pub crawler and a brawler of the first order, Behan

was also a shameless self-publicist; and, like O’Casey before him, a self-made writer and a champion of

the working-classes.  It took the Irish film industry almost fifty years before they filmed the best book

published in Ireland by an Irish writer in the second half of the 20th century.

When Brendan’s ship came in, he was still in his early thirties and fresh-off of his life-changing stints in

the borstal, as well as a prison for adults.  Although he was a rebel for the Republican cause, he

still had a deep sympathy and compassion for all of those around him, including  his English master and

his English inmates.  By 1965, with the release of a second novelized autobiography (a drunken tirade

dictated to a tape recorder and released as CONFESSIONS OF AN IRISH REBEL), Behan had become

nothing more than a vulgar and besotted version of his once charming and roguish self.  Compare this

opening sentence in second book to the one that began his first work.  “You’re for the Governor in the

morning,” said this dreary-faced red-headed little Welsh Methodist bastard of a screw.  “Thanks for

telling me,” said I, in an almost English accent, as sarcastically as I politely could, “but I’m not for ‘im in

the morning or any other bloody time, you little Welsh puff.”

In 2000 BORSTAL BOY was finally produced and filmed in Ireland.  The film was directed by an Irish

Director, Peter Sheridan.  Nye Heron’s screenplay was only loosely based upon Behan’s original work,

putting a heavier stress upon the homosexuality and the sexual fear that was prevalent in the juvenile

detention center.  In spite of the introduction of both homosexuality and  heterosexuality the film was

rather watered down compared to Brendan Behan’s literary intentions.

Shawn Hatosy, an Irish-American actor, does an outstanding job portraying the young Brendan as a

healthy-bodied Dubliner who is full of idealism, literature and humanity.  The viewer gains insight on the

author’s early fascination with the larger world that spread-out beyond the north of the River Liffey

slums.   The only Irish lad on the premises, he quickly becomes “Paddy” the most popular and talented

boyo around.  While other boys of his own age are still in school, the likeable Paddy cuts his teeth acting

in a borstal play, wins of composition contest and leads the charge for a newly created rugby team.  He

is also introduced to Oscar Wilde by a harmlessly gay librarian ( Arthur Riordan), a gentleman’s word of

honor by Joyce the headmaster (Michael York) and stagecraft by Liz Joyce (Eva Birthistle), the

headmaster’s beautiful daughter.  Along with escapes from the grounds of the Borstal and a gang rape,

Brendan still has time to fall in love with Charlie Milwall (Danny Dyer), his best ‘china’ and Liz.

The book never dwelt much upon the sexual relationship between Brendan and Charlie due to the

censorship polices of the time.  However, even during the frigid moral standards of the fifties one can

read between the lines and see that Behan was vaguely hinting at teenage homosexual desires.  The

Platonic relationship between Brendan and Liz in the movie doesn’t exist at all in the book.  Some critics

feel that the movie isn’t as successful as it could have been because it does stray too far away from what

was written in the book; others contend that the movie was wrecked because it went with a predictable

Hollywood formula.  I personally disagree with both criticism.  A film may be derived from a book , but

the two mediums usually diverged at many points.  A film director is making a visual and audio

statement, not a literary one, thus entitling them to take shortcuts or to re-interpret passages.  Seldom

does a motion picture ever faithfully follow the manuscript format completely.

AT this point I would like to stress my belief that Shawn Hatosy depiction of Brendan Behan is much

truer in spirit and in reality than Rod Taylor’s work as Sean O’Casey, Don Shroud as Jack Murphy or

MickJagger as Ned Kelly.  On a personal note, my favorite scene in the film version of BORSTAL BOY

comes at the  wrap-up of the movie where there’s an exchange between Behan and the custom man at

the check-in point in the harbor.  The inclusion of Ronnie Drew, long-time member of the legendary Irish

folk group, The Dubliners, as the Custom Man was a stroke of genius.

“Cead mile failte sa bhaile romhat,” greets Drew’s government employee in Irish that translates as ‘a

hundred thousand welcomes home to you.” He goes on with ,”it must be wonderful to be free.” “It

must be,” responds the young Brendan, heading down the gangway, past a detective and heading to more IRA plots. 

“There was a wild Colonial Boy Jack Dugan was his name.” So goes the opening verses to one of Australia’s

most famous outback ditties.  This rousing ballad is still sung in Irish pubs throughout the world,

including the Land From Down Under where the song  originated.  Over one hundred and fifty years ago

Australia’s most infamous bushranger and outlaw, Ned Kelly, would have heard that very song

sung at numerous social gatherings of Irish immigrants

newly arrived to what they referred to as Botany Bay.  Like many an Irish exile who were frustrated by

their lowly caste and limited opportunity in the new land, the young  Ned Kelly would have been

inspired and motivated by the lyrics that told the saga of how one of Ireland’s lads got some of his own

back against the Crown, the landlords and the hated Irish bootlicks on the newly formed colonial police


Ned Kelly, in many respects , is Australia’s answer to United States’ Billy Antrim.  The

read Edward “Ned” Kelly was born in Victoria, near Melbourne in 1855, making him slightly older than

Billy the Kid.  Like Billy, Ned had already been arrested for the first time by his early teens.  By the time

he was fifteen Ned was riding with Harry Power, Australia’s version of Jesses James.  Arrest after arrest

was Ned’s lot for years.  Matters came to a head when he was accused of wounding a constable,

Alexander Fitzpatrick. The copper was a known drunk, bully and a liar.  The loyal Kelly clan claimed that

Ned was roaming in New South Wales at the time of the Fitzpatrick incident.

Ned, along with his younger brother, Dan, went into hiding to avoid a certain long-term prison

sentence. The brothers soon formed a gang with their childhood mates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.   A

shootout at Stringbybark Creek between the outlaws and the police left two police officers dead.

With the bridge burnt behind them, the Aussie Micks turned to crime to finance their ‘life on the run”

Lifestyle as well as a means to strike back at a corrupt and bigoted system that had always stacked the

deck against the Irish Catholics  in favor of the British Protestants in Australia.  Some historians see Ned

Kelly as more of a rebel than as a bandit much as the Scots view William Wallace.

Ned wrote his famous “Jerilderie Letter,” a 8,300 word document, pleading his case (or cause) to

parliament as well as to the Australian public.  Unfortunately the letter wasn’t printed in the leading

newspapers of the day, and was actually lost to sight until 1930.  In June of 1870 the Kelly gang was

finally brought to ground at Glenrowan by a large troop of colonial policemen.  In a violent gun battle

two hostages were killed along with Dan Kelly.  Byrne and Hart, it is believed, made a suicide pact and

executed one another rather than face capture.

Ned Kelly, clad in a suit of homemade armor, was wounded in the legs and stood trial.  He was

quickly convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.  According to legend , the last words he uttered

before the trap door was sprung beneath his feet were “such is life.” One is not really certain whether

he was knowingly quoting the Buddha, or if he was passing on timeless wisdom from rural and rain-

swept Ireland.

The saga of Ned Kelly has been turned into two movies; the first starring Mick Jagger (1970), and the

other featuring the late Heath Ledger (2004) in the starring role.  Although neither was a box office

success or a critically acclaimed, neither was far wrong from the historical reality.  It is easy to judge

the second film as the better of the two.

Mick Jagger, a rock and roll Londoner and lead singer of the Rolling Stones, was far too short and

slender to play the six and half foot and robust Kelly.  Mick also had trouble growing the facial hair that

Ned sported in the few photographs and wanted posters of him.  The biggest complaint against the

rocker’s performance appears to be the fact that Mick’s Cockney accent broke through whenever he

attempted to speak the in the Irish-Australian brogue one would imagine  Kelly deploying in real life.

However, Jagger’s tuneful offering of the “Wild Colonial Boy” was worth the price of admission alone.  I

would also argue that Mick Jagger’s cocky sixties rebel swagger added to cut of Ned’s jive.  Jagger also

did a quality job   of delivering Kelly’s final remark’s in the courtroom when the Judge delivered a

verdict with, “May God have mercy on your soul.” Kelly, playing Galloping Gallagher to the hilt, gave

his own closing remarks for the official court recordings.  “I will go a little further than that, and say I will 
see you there when I go.” With those words , Mick’s Ned points to the ground, indicating that they’ll

both be in Hell soon.  The judge, Sir Redmond Barry, died within two weeks of Ned Kelly’s swinging


Heath Ledger, a native of Australia and an upcoming mega-star at the time of his accidental death by

overdose, made a more creditable Kelly because of his status as a professional actor.  Ledger

also portrayed Kelly as a man who wasn’t a criminal at heart, but was more of a Robin Hood-like character,

robbing   from the rich to give to the poor.  Ledger’s Kelly is a throwback to Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood:

an Irish rebel with a just cause.  Both film versions stress Ned Kelly’s love of his family as well as his link

to the troubles of the Irish-Catholic immigrants in Australia.  The centuries old question of persecution

had chased the hungry Irish across three vast oceans to a new land.

Oddly enough, the final minutes of the earlier film is more accurate than the latter.  In the latter film

Ned Kelly takes out several of the hated constables before being knocked out of commission, whereas in

reality (and the Jagger film), he was knocked off of his feet quickly when the police wisely targeted his

exposed legs.

Mick Jagger  and Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly followed in the long line of the Irish devil-may-care

daredevil with a strong sense of sex appeal; they also both harkened back to the kindred tradition of the

Irish rebel forced to take-up arms to defend himself and his own against the rich who wanted every inch

and were backed by the laws of the land.

The Lore of Ned Kelly also places the Irish rogue in yet another context….the bush of

Australia….instead of the old stomping grounds of rural Ireland or the urban jungles of Dublin, London,

New York, Boston or Chicago.  Only the open ranges and snow-capped mountain tops of the New

Mexican territory can compare to the majestic beauty of the untapped and virgin frontier that was

Galloping Gallagher is a creation that mixes the best with the worst qualities creating a delicious

broth of the stereotypical Irishman in literature, on stage, and in films.  With the examples I have used in

this paper I have hoped to prove a rule.  However, it’s extremely difficult to find any redeeming

attributes in the late Martin Cahill, the last of my Galloping Gallaghers.  Martin Cahill was a bank

robber and art thief in contemporary Ireland who met his end at the hands of an IRA gunman after he

ran afoul of the revolutionary group by making swaps with their arch-nemesises.

Two very likable actors have portrayed the pudgy and smelly Martin here in the closing days of

the last century : Brendan Gleeson, an Irishman, in THE GENERAL (1998), and Kevin Spacey , an

American, in ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL  (2000) as Michael Lynch.

Following in Brendan Behan’s footsteps in the slummy Crumlin Road district north of the Liffey River,

Martin joined his brothers in stealing food for their poverty-stricken family in the early days of the

Seventies.  Much of the formal education any of Ma Cahill’s boys received was while they were serving

hard times behind the wire.                                                                                                                                                                          

From the Eighties until his murder in 1994, Martin was to Dublin what Al Capone was to Chicago

during the Roaring Twenties.  However, Martin wasn’t content to just sit behind a desk and being the

schemer pulling the strings to Dublin puppets who pulled off the capers in Dublin Town; hence, his

nickname being ‘the General’,  Cahill, along with his gang, robbed banks, peddled drugs,, shook-

down the city’s hotdog vendors, and ripped off diamonds.  His most notorious master stroke was the

burglary of the Russborough House art treasure, including the legendary SCREAMING MAN painting.

Martin relished taking on and showing-up the Irish Garda, as well as any other official government

department that tried to stand in between him and his goals.  It appears he set fire to the car of a

welfare case worker who was sitting inside of the Cahill parlor when the car went up in flames.  Martin

Cahill’s twisted sense of humor and code of honor probably forfeited his life once and for all when he 
went into cahoots with the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), the militant paramilitary Protestant arch-foes

of the IRA.  There seems to be little doubt that that the gunman who put an end to the life of the

General was an employee of the IRA. Brendan Gleeson physical appearance comes very close to the real

Martin Cahill, an itchy, unwashed redhead who wolfs down frosty cakes and guzzles orange soda pop

while crucifying a member of the gang, collecting his dole payments and torching the cars of civil

servants.  As scruffy as he was in reality, Gleeson plays Cahill as a man who has his own code of honor he

sticks to no matter how lawless he becomes.  The audience see how Cahill would handle the brutal

interrogation of the Irish third degree by saying the same few words over and over again, “I have

nothing to tell you guys.”. It was a method he had learned in the borstal: tell them nothing.  It is a bit

sickening to see the sweaty and flabby Cahill bouncing back and forth between his wife, Francis (Maria

Doyle Kennedy) and his sister-in-law, Tina (Angeline Ball).

THE GENERAL is arguably more historically accurate than ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL if also darker

and more violent.  Kevin Spacey’s Martin Cahill (called Michael Lynch in the movie) is leagues ahead in

the charm department over Gleeson’s depiction.  The American actor is also sexier, thus more agreeable

in the movie’s love scene.  Spacey also brings a refreshingly roguish air and class to Dublin’s king

rat, making him a vastly more sympathetic and appealing character than the real Martin. The

highlight of the GENERAL is when Martin Cahill meets envoys from the UVF in an underground

tunnel.  Playing the fool, Gleeson’s Cahill pulls out a long, rolled up priceless painting from his trousers

to start the bartering session.  Cahill prank led to his death after his negotiations with the Ulster

paramilitary group went awry and became public knowledge.  The assassination of Martin Cahill is

depicted at the end of THE GENERAL.  Kevin Spacey’s Lynch closes out ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL by

riding off into the damp Irish countryside on his motorcycle after ripping off a candy bar from an elderly

shopkeeper he had just swept off her feet with his blarney.  ORIDNARY DECENT CRIMINAL also has the

additional bonus of featuring a very young Colin Farrell (no relation to the author) as Alec, the youngest

and sexiest of Lynch’s north Dublin mob.

Recent developments in DNA research is indicating that the Irish and the English share a very similar

gene pool if not an identical one.  In spite of their shared Celtic-Saxon-Viking-Norman genes the races

have always perceived the other as being quite different from them.  The English, the constant winner in

the on-going war between the two nations (the Irish War of Independence being the lone exception),

have always been in the position to define exactly how the Irish were ‘the other’ and how they were

inherently inferior.  Over the centuries, some English writers began to credit the Irish with some

redeeming qualities, although these qualities were still exaggerated and pointed out as still being most

definitely not English ones.  At the same some Irishman, especially famous ones who selected to live

outside of Ireland, knowingly started to live up to the stereotypes. The stage Irishman walked the boards

of English stages for years. More than a few stage Irishman made their mark in the world.

When Hollywood began to assemble their great film assembly line in the Twenties and Thirties, they

borrowed heavily from the British theatre, including the borrowing of the stage Irishman, who was also

given the additional characteristics of Irish-American urban life.

I have selected twelve different Irishmen (some American, one Australian) to demonstrate how the

Hollywood stage Irishman, who I have nicknamed as ‘Galloping Gallagher’, has been active on the silver

screen from the very start of sound pictures to here in the first decade of a new century.

Thomas Blood, Burke & Hare, Billy ‘the kid’ Antrim, Ned Kelly, John L. Sullivan, Big Joe McGinnis, Jack

‘Murph the Surf’ Murphy, Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan , Whitey Bulger and Martin Cahill were my

selections to represent Galloping Gallagher over a seven decade period Some of these Galloping

Gallaghers will re-emerge in coming years with the release of new films chronicling their daredevil

careers.  Some will no doubt fade away.  I am convinced other Galloping Gallaghers, either lifted from

the pages of history or freshly created in a screenplay writer’s mind, will find their ways to the silver

screen.  Galloping Gallagher will be with us for years to come.

Do the Irish object to the stereotypical depiction of their race over many years in various art forms?

My question is only offered to generate discussion upon the issue.  My personal opinion is that the Irish

have long come to accept the characterizations of their ethnic group, both positive and negative, as

being true.  I would also contend that many of the Irish-Americans, at least, relish the imagery that was

a literary creation that has gone on with an entirely new life on the silver screen.


have attempted to demonstrate how cinema, using screenplays based on actual historical men and

events, has given movie-going audiences two enduring stock characters for the ages.



Bailey, Brian . Burke and Hare: The Year of the Ghouls. Edinburgh: Main Stream Publishing, 2002.

Behan, Brendan. Borstal Boy. Boston: David R. Godine, 1958.

Behan, Brendan. Confessions of an Irish Rebel. London: Arrow Books, 1965.

Carey, Peter. The History of the Kelly Gang. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

T.J English. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster. New York: Regan Books, 2005.

Farrell, Steven Gerard. Boston Knuckles: The Life & Times of John L. Sullivan: America’s First Pop Culture Hero. Gilroy, CA: Bookstand Publishing, 2008.

Farrell, Steven Gerard.  Mickey Machine Gun Is Back: The Return of the Irish-American Gangster to the Silver Screen. United Kingdom: Talking Pictures, 2008.

Flynn, Errol.  My Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn.  New York: Cooper Square Press, 2003.

Hanrahan, David C.  Colonel Blood: The Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels.  United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 2003.

Hart, Matthew.  The Irish Game: A True Story of Art & Crime. London: Chatto & Windus, 2004.

Isenberg, Michael T.  John L. Sullivan and His America.  Urbana & Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Krause, David. Sean O’Casey and his world.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Kiberd, Declan.  Inventing Ireland: The Literature of a Modern Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Lehr, Dick and O’Neill, Gerald.  Black Mask: Inside Boston’s Irish Mob. Washington, D.C: Public Affairs Press, 2000.

Marshall, Alan. The Strange Death of Edmund Godfrey: Plots & Politics in Restoration London.  United

Kingdom: Sutton: Publishing, 1999.

Messick, Hank and Goldblatt, Burt.  Gangs & gangsters: The Illustrated History of Gangs From Jesse James to Murf the Surf.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1974.

Murphy, Jack Roland.  Jewels for the journey: Murf talks to wiseguys.  Dallas, TX: Chaplain Ray

International Prison Ministry, 1989.

O’Casey, Eileen. An Intimate Memoir of Sean O’Casey.  New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972.

O’Casey, Sean. Mirror In My House. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1956.

Schorow, Stephanie.  The Crime of the Century: How the Brink’s Robbers Stole Millions and the Hearts of

Boston.  Beverly, Massachusetts: Memiors Unlimited, Inc.,2008.

Tubbs, Stewart L. and Moss, Sylvia.  Human Communication: Principles and Contexts.  New York:

McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., eleventh edition, 2008.

Wallis, Michael. Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.

Williams, Paul.  The General (The true story of working-class hero and Iris mob boss Martin Cahill.) New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1995.                         


Copyright 2009

Other Celtic Badger on the Border Publications include:

Mickey Machine Is Back: The Return of the Irish-American Gangster to the Silver Screen.

United Kingdom: Talking Pictures, 2008.

Boston Knuckles: The Life & Times of John L. Sullivan: America’s First Popular Culture Hero.

Gilroy, CA: Bookstand Publishing, 2008.  Now available through Barnes & Nobles and   

Zen Babe. Gilroy, CA: Bookstand Publishing, 2008. Now available through Barnes & Nobles and

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