Irish American Journalists

Originally researched and compiled by Bill Lucey, March 3, 2005. Revised March 2008.

Here is a look back at some Irish American pioneers in journalism. May the wind always be at your back!

Charles Graham Halpine, an Irish immigrant who landed in Boston in 1851, began writing for the Boston Post, and later distinguished himself at the New York Herald Tribune, when he wrote humor pieces as an Irish private in the Union Army under the pen name Private Miles O'Reilly. Halpine was considered the first nationally known Irish American columnist.

By the 1870's, The New York Herald had more than two dozen Irish immigrants on its staff, some of whom included James J. O'Kelly and Joseph IC. Clark, former revolutionaries in Ireland

Finley Peter Doone, a Chicago native and saloon keeper, was dubbed the originator of the loquacious, and considered one of the first Irish American newspaper humorists after launching "Mr. Dooley" beginning in August 1893, for the Chicago Evening Post. His weekly columns poked fun at a number of subjects and events with an Irish brogue. One of his columns from 1902 read as follows: "The newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th'polis force an' th'banks ,commands th' milishery, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roast him aftherward."

One of the first leading women journalist's was Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who took the pen name Nellie Bly, when she began writing for the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1885. She later landed on the staff of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World in 1887; and made her mark early on reporting on social issues, such as in her first assignment, when she impersonated a patient at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwells Island and exposed the wretched conditions of women in asylums. Other groundbreaking reporting included exposing women of high society in pool halls betting on races. And in 1889, Bly took a trip around the world in 72 days; surpassing the record set by Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg.

Rose O'Neill became famous for her cartoons in Harper's Monthly, Harper's Weekly, Harper's Bazaar, Life, Broadway Life, and Collier's, after moving to New York in 1893. Puck Magazine hired her in 1896, where she produced over 700 illustrations and cartoons, centering on the roles of women, immigrants, and children. O'Neill also wrote four novels and one collection of poetry, which included her illustrations.

On February 7, 1895, Richard Felton Outcault's illustration "Micky Dugan" about a little Irish slum urchin, appeared on the pages of The New York World for the first time, and many claim it was Micky Dugan that soon made comic strips a permanent fixture in newspapers across the country. Because Micky Dugan wore a bright yellow shirt, the illustration also was known as "The Yellow Kid"."

NOTE: The New York Daily Telegraph was the first newspaper to feature a comic strip beginning on September 11, 1875 called "Professor Tigwissel's Burglar Alarm."The New York World was the first to feature Sunday comics in 1893.

William Barclay Masterson, better known as "Bat Masterson," a former gunfighter of the Wild West and sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas, who spent time in Denver and Chicago before landing in New York in 1902, at age 48, became a sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, where he wrote a column three times a week: "Masterson's Views on Timely Topics" his subjects centering mainly on boxing and the theater.

Masterson died with his boots on. The last of the gunslingers on the side of law and order, and particularly remembered for surviving a stampede of 500 attacking Indians at the Battle of Adobe Walls, died from heart disease, while writing a column at his desk at the Morning Telegraph at age 66 on October 25, 1921.

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen started writing for the New York Evening Journal (William Randolph Hearst's paper) as an intern in the summer of 1931, two months shy of her 18th birthday, and wrote human-interest stories and other features before becoming a full time crime reporter. Kilgallen became nationally recognized in 1935, when she scooped her competitors by landing an exclusive interview with Richard Bruno Hauptmann, the convicted killer of the Lindbergh baby. She covered the Sam Shepard trial in Cleveland and had a widely read column: "Voice of Broadway."

Her sudden death on November 8, 1965, drew suspicion, even to this day, when she was found dead in her Manhattan apartment as the result of an overdose of pills and alcohol. At the time, she was writing a book on the Kennedy assassination; and according to associates, she claimed to have the "the scoop of the century" when she began writing in earnest soon after the Warren Commission was released and landing a secret interview with Jack Ruby early in 1964. Her husband, Richard Kollmar, maintained he destroyed the "mysterious" Kennedy file after her death.

Jimmy Cannon, a street wise sports writer, and son of a former Tammany Hall politician, Thomas J. Cannon, started his writing career in 1936 with the New York American, and later wrote columns for the New York Post, New York Journal-American, and King Features Syndicate. He also reported during World War II for Stars & Stripes. Cannon died in 1973 at age 66. He was reported to have been one of the highest paid sports columnist in the country, when he was hired by the New York Journal American in 1959, commanding a $1,000 a week. The New York Post still digs out his columns from time to time under the logo "Another Cannon Classic." Past columns have included: "Baseball: the grandest show of all" (Oct 11, 1951); "Hemingway: Write stuff for Sports" (August 29, 1952); and "Personal reflections on legends of sports" (April 23, 1953.) On May 2, 2004, Cannon was posthumously honored with the Red Smith Award for his contributions to sports reporting in a career that spanned 37 years.

Jimmy Breslin, from Jamaica N.Y., started his newspaper career as a copyboy with the Long Island Press in 1948; and began sports reporting in 1950, first with the New York Journal American, before christening his city column at the New York Herald Tribune in 1963. He moved on to the New York Post from 1968-69; then the New York Daily News, from 1978-88, before landing at Newsday in 1988, where he stayed until writing his final column on November 2, 2004, although he's still under contract with the paper, according to Newsday editor Howard Schneider.

During his heyday, Breslin's brash demeanor and snappy prose, who was never far from a saloon, towered over the New York City column, much like Mike Royko did in Chicago. Some of his most noteworthy feats included, interviewing the $3.01 gravedigger, Clifton Pollard, at John F. Kennedy's funeral; in 1977, David Berkowitiz, the infamous "Son of Sam" who was terrorizing the New York City streets, began writing personal letters to Breslin. And in 1986, he was awarded with a Pulitzer Prize for his collection of columns with the New York Daily News, the same year he won the Polk Award.

Pete Hamill, a Brooklyn native, and the eldest of five children, whose parents came from Belfast, Ireland, began his newspaper career at the New York Post on June 1, 1960, when he first walked into the city room at 1:00 a.m. to report for the night shift. And according to his best selling autobiography, A Drinking Life, on that night, "I was clumsily disguised as a reporter and my life changed forever."

Despite dropping out of St Agnes High School in 1951, at age 16, to work for the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a metal worker, Hamill racked up an impressive body of work at the Post, which included stints as a crime reporter, boxing writer, feature writer, and war correspondent, before becoming a columnist with the Post, as well as with the New York Daily News and Newsday.

In 1997, he had a brief tenure as editor in chief of the New York Daily News for eight months; and before that, an even shorter one as editor of the New York Post in 1993, which lasted for five weeks, as the paper was in danger of folding. Away from the newsroom, Hamill 's reputation was that of a hard drinking, chain smoking, carouser, who made the Lion's Head bar (a popular gathering place for journalists, now defunct) in Greenwich Village his stomping ground. Part of the image changed for good on New Year's Eve, 1972, when he gave up drinking (after his hands began to tremble while lighting a cigarette) and walked out of Jimmy's, a Manhattan bar on West 52nd Street, promising himself: "I'm never going to do this again," a promise he has kept. Hamill now devotes all his energy into writing books. He's written eight novels; his latest book "Manhattan," a non-fiction panorama packed with historical nuggets about the city he was born and raised in, was released in December 2004.

Maureen Dowd, one of five children from an Irish working class family in Washington D.C., her father was a D.C. police detective in charge of security at the Senate office building, and once pried a gun away from a would be assassin of President Harry Truman.

Dowd's started working for the Washington Star in 1974 as an editorial assistant, and in 1976, she was promoted to reporter and then sports columnist. After the paper folded, she moved to New York and began writing for Time Magazine, before joining the staff of the New York Times as a metro reporter in 1983. Dowd became a Times' Washington correspondent in 1986; then succeeded Anne Quindlen as an op-ed columnist beginning in July 1995, becoming only the third woman columnist in the papers history. She earned a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1999.

Green Notes

  • The first Irish-American newspaper, The Shamrock began publishing in New York in 1810, followed by The Chicago Citizen, The Boston Pilot, and The Irish Press in Philadelphia. Currently, New York is the only city publishing Irish weeklies: The Irish Echo, The Irish Voice, and the Irish People.
  • Five Irish-American Columnists: Jimmy Breslin, Anna Quindlen, Jim Dwyer, Eileen McNamara and Maureen Dowd, were awarded with Pulitzer Prizes between 1986 and 1999.
  • Thirty-nine states bear the names of places in Ireland.
  • In Ireland, published writers, composers, and other artists, whose work is recognized as having cultural or artistic merit, are tax-exempt.
  • The Village of Chippewa Lake, Ohio, is thought to be the only community in the country that observes St Patrick's Day as a legal holiday.
  • According to the Census Bureau, 33.7 million U.S. residents are of Irish ancestry.

Sources:

The Big Book of Irish Culture by Bob Callahan; Irish American Almanac and Green Pages by Brian E. Cooper; The Irish in America By Michael Coffey and Terry Golway; and various newspaper reports.

Last Updated: May 14, 2009