On This Day – Drivetime – 10.7.1867 Birth of Finlay Peter Dunne


For more than a decade an irascible bar tender from Roscommon, owner of a saloon in Chicago, became the most famous fictional character in American journalism. The barkeep in question, Mr. Dooley, was the creation of the Irish-American humorist Finley Peter Dunne and every week, in the pages of numerous newspapers across the USA, in a syndicated column, Dooley would hold forth on matters of public and domestic policy to his long-suffering customer Hennessy in an Irish dialect that often has to be read aloud to be properly understood.

Finley Peter Dunne was born in Chicago in 1867, the son of Irish immigrants who came to America as refugees from the Great Famine. He was brought up in the heavily Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport and began working for Chicago newspapers straight out of high school. In his mid twenties he started composing Dooley’s satirical monologues for the Chicago Sunday Evening Post. Many of Dooley’s political views would not have been shared by his author. A latter-day version of Dooley therefore might be TV’s Comedy Central creation Stephen Colbert.

Mr.Dooley was never shy about expressing his opinions. In, for example, a column about the vexed topic of immigration (and remember this was the 1890s) Dooley, himself an immigrant, favours the lowering of the portcullis to prevent the entry of further migrants to the USA. Dooley tells Hennessy, whose own cousin is due to arrive in Chicago shortly

Tis time we put our back agin’ the open door an’ kept out th’ savage horde. If that cousin of yers expects to cross, he’d better tear for th’ ship. In a few minutes th’ gates will be down an’ when th’ oppressed world comes hikin’ acrost to th’ haven of refuge, th’ Goddess of Liberty will meet them at th’ dock with an axe in her hand

Dunne coined a host of well-known aphorisms that have entered the great American lexicon, phrases such as ‘trust everyone, but cut the cards,’ ‘the past only looks pleasant because it isn’t here,’ ‘larceny is the sincerest form of flattery,’ and his pithy appraisal of corrupt big city politics ‘a vote on the tallysheet is worth two in the box.’ He may also have coined the famous truism, ‘All politics are local’ an observation usually ascribed to the late House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill.

Perhaps Dooley’s most pointed observation concerned Dunne’s own profession. He once said of the newspaper business that …

The newspaper does ivrything for us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

The reference to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable has been adopted and claimed as a mantra by many journalists, writers and activists.

Despite the numerous barbs aimed at his administration President Theodore Roosevelt contrived to be on very friendly terms with Dunne. Roosevelt would regularly read out Dunne’s columns at cabinet meetings to alert the nation’s political leaders to the vox populi – Dooley being seen as a man of the people and as reflecting the opinions of the man in the street.


Dunne himself, in 1902, married one Margaret Ives Abbot, who just happened to be the first American woman to have won an Olympic gold medal, she was the women’s golf champion at the 1900 Paris Olympiad. In 1910, after writing more than 700 columns, Dunne ended the career of the garrulous Roscommon bartender and no more was heard from Mr. Dooley.

Irish-American writer, Finlay Peter Dunne, humorist, journalist and one of America’s most successful newspaper columnists, was born 148 years ago, on this day.