Moves to have memorial to famous Sligo-born orator


Moves are being made to have a memorial in Sligo town to a man who is regarded by many as the greatest orator of the 19th century.

HERITAGE: The Sligo Saw Mills on Adelaide Street. Photo from the Tadgh Kilgallon collection.
HERITAGE: The Sligo Saw Mills on Adelaide Street. Photo from the Tadgh Kilgallon collection.

William Bourke Cockran, who was born in County Sligo, was acknowledged by Winston Churchill as his first political mentor and chief role model for his own success as an orator.

The famous British politician said of him: “He was my model. I learned from him how to hold thousands in thrall.”

And Bourke Cockran’s rags to riches rise to wealth and fame in America has been suggested as providing some of the inspiration for the famous F Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby.

Born in 1854 at Claragh, Ballinacarrow,where his father had a small estate, his family moved to Wine Street in Sligo town, following the death of his father. He attended the Marist Brothers school at Quay Street, and later Summerhill College, Athlone and the Marist College in Lille in France.

A change in the family’s fortunes saw him having to emigrate to the US in 1871 at the age of 17.

His first job was as a porter, but he quickly went to become a teacher and then a highly respected and sought after lawyer. His fame as an orator grew and he become involved in politics with the Democratic Party.

He became a famous figure in America, going on to be elected to Congress on five occasions.

Bourke Cockran, who died in 1923, was a self-made millionaire and owned a 300 acres estate on Long Island in New York.

In 1903 he invested some of his fortune in the then struggling sawmills in Sligo, in the hope of creating further employment. The sawmill, which made the pews for Sligo cathedral and other churches in the county, stood until 1914 on the site of what is now the CIE bus garage.

And it is there that Keville Burns, one of a group of people working to have Bourke Cockran recognised in his home county, hopes that a lasting memorial to him can be established in Sligo.

He said: “He is arguably the greatest Sligo man ever.”

It has previously been suggested that the bus garage, which has been on the site since 1945, should now be moved to another location and that the site should be used to provide much needed coach parking close to the centre of town.

If that were to happen, Keville Burns said that his group would like to see a memorial wall with an audio visual display telling the story of William Bourke Cockran and his achievements.

Keville Burns said that Bourke Cockran was a fervant advocate of Home Rule for Ireland and one of the greatest ever Irishmen but he was now largely forgotten in his home country.

“This man is a famous figure in America and we are trying to get him acknowledged in Sligo,” he said.

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