Dallas was in an uproar. The, businessmen fumed, the children were astounded and the Irish…. well, the Irish swore.
That was back on Jan. 15, 1906, when there were only about 45,000 people here and it was a more personal and neighborly town, when every person knew every other in the block and frequently on the whole street.
The uproar seems a small item, these days. The Board of Commissioners had decided to fire a fireman, Dennis Canty.
However, Canty was not an ordinary fireman. True son of the Ould Sod, the tall, old, rawboned Irishman was known to every man, woman and child. In their minds he was not only the father of the fire department but the department itself. Children who had seen his hook and ladder wagon and Bud and Chief or Ben and Tom come clattering clown the streets, pulling their daylights out for a fine old man who spurred their spirits only with stout, fatherly, encouraging words, wanted to be Dennis Cantys. They even wanted to raise a white mustache that seemed to streamline itself in hurrying to fires.
Dennis Canty was hero to many another citizen for a different reason. He represented the building of Dallas and America. He had come here, like many another pioneer or stout Irishman to many another town, with the railroad he helped build. Born in Kerry County, Ireland, in 1834, he came to America at the close of the Civil War, helped build the Illinois Central, then the Katy down through a wild, lawless area, the Indian Territory, where he swung a pick with a gun on his hip. Then his iron muscles lent themselves to another prong of civilization, the Houston & Texas Central, and in 1872 he was one of the crew that brought the first railroad to a town of around 6,000, to a Dallas that predicted it would grow into a huge city of say 25,000. Then he turned in and helped build the Texas & Pacific to Dallas in 1873.
The railroads boomed the raw, wooden town so much that a fire department was necessary and in 1874 when the city bought for the volunteer department the first pumper Mayor W. L. Campbell appointed Canty paid driver, the first paid local fireman, according to his son, J. T. Canty, 4318 Newton Court. A year later he was reassigned to the first hook and ladder wagon.
Down the years Dallas got to know him well. "The top o' this foine marning to you, sorr." And a street in Oak Cliff was named Canty. Smoke eater he was, yet his horses loved him, horses he kept in the pink, would let no one else feed, that hurried to his "Come, me beauties," horses he never touched with a whip, horses he showed to the kids of the town, the kids he loved. The firemen, too, loved him for his fine blindness. One day two firemen battled under his very nose. He was called up during the subsequent official investigation. "An' wuz there a foight? Seems a boy or two scuffled as I read me paper. But a foight? Till me about it."
Of course, he belonged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians which had a hall on Main between Akard and Ervay and paraded from the hall every St. Patrick's Day to St. Patrick's Church at Harwood and Eakin and heard some orator laud St. Patrick. And then entertainments followed in the hall and they sang Wearing of the Green, Kathleen Mauvourneen, etc.
But his life was his horses and the department. He drove his beloved Ben and Tom fifteen years, said Louie Spencer, now police lieutenant. One day when Canty was at lunch rookie driver Spencer used the whip answering a downtown alarm. After Dennis Canty came back from lunch, he checked his animals, saw the marks, looked murder at Spencer and spat, "Mule skinner!" Then he petted his loved ones, "Nooo, Uncle Dinny would not hev done that, nooo Dinny would not, nooo he would not," and his horses bobbed their heads. They understood.
In about 1904 the infirmities of age hit the old man and he was absent much though given light duty. In January 1906, and at 72, he received a letter from Fire Commissioner A. B. Flanary that after Feb. 15 his services would not be needed. Mayor Bryan T. Barry backed Flanary up.