Roots: The Gleeson Clan
By Dawn Darby, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2011
The surnames Gleeson and Gleason developed from the Irish name O Glasain, which originated in East County Cork. The Gaelic prefix “O” means male descendant of, and Glasain derives from “glas,” literally meaning “green” in the sense of inexperience as opposed to the color. There are many variations of the name, including Gleason, Glisane, Glison, Glyssane, O’Gleasane and O’Glassane.
The Gleesons belonged to the ancient territory of Mac Ui Bhriain Aradh’s country, the area between Nenagh and Lough Derg in North County Tipperary. The name is still prominent in the area, but it has been carried all over the world.
One of America’s great union leaders, Thomas “Teddy” Gleason (1900-1992) had roots in Nenagh. He was elected as president of the International Longshoremen’s Association in 1963. Teddy, one of 13 children, came from a family of longshoremen and left school early to work on the docks. He was Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1984. Teddy’s son Tommy Gleason, a decorated WWI veteran and a lawyer, who founded the firm Gleason and Mathews, continued the tradition when he served as Grand Marshal of the Parade in 2003.
The actor Brendan Gleeson (b.1955), on the cover of this issue, has come a long way since he began performing at a Dublin Shakespeare Festival in the early ’80s. Currently starring in The Guard, Gleeson has had memorable roles in such movies as Braveheart, Gangs of New York, In Bruges, 28 Days Later, and the Harry Potter films 4 and 5. He found a new audience in 2009 when he portrayed Winston Churchill in the HBO movie Into the Storm. Two of Gleeson’s sons, Domhnall and Brian, are also actors.
Another famous actor, comedian, songwriter and musician was Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) who was born in Brooklyn to parents from Faranree, Co.Cork. Gleason began acting on Broadway and went on to become a legend in the entertainment field. He was in such movies as The Hustler, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Skidoo, and the Smokey and the Bandit series. But he will always be remembered as Ralph Kramden in the The Honeymooners, in which he starred with Irish-American Art Carney.
James Gleason (1882-1959) was one of the busiest character actors in movies of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, appearing in political dramas, western comedies, mysteries, and musicals, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Clock, Meet John Doe, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Paul G. Gleason (b.1939) is a famous acting coach in Hollywood. He arrived there from Portland, Oregon when he was 17. Within a year he had a contract with MGM and a scholarship from the American School of Dance. He went on to become an acting coach and has taught many of the Hollywood greats. He has his own theater, the Paul G. Gleason Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
Born in New York City, Ralph Gleason (1917- 1975) was known for his work as an American jazz and pop music critic, and as the founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine. He began his career at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1950, where he created his own genre of journalism focusing on contemporary artists. He was the first critic to review musicians’ opening nights and concerts. During his career, Gleason shaped the public’s view of musical legends such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, John Lennon and Hank Williams.
In the art world, James Gleeson (1915-2008) is known as “the father of Australian surrealism.” Gleeson’s aunt taught him how to use oil paints when he was 11. Later he became interested in the surrealist movement, including the work of Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico, and the writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1975.
John Gleeson (b.1950) is keeping the Irish flag flying with his scholarship. He is director of the Celtic Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Meanwhile, in politics and public service, we find John Gleeson (b.1953) who was appointed a United States District Judge in 1994; he has been an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law since 1995. Another John Gleason (b.1954) has been a Democratic member of the Michigan Senate since 2006. He lives in Flushing, Michigan with his wife, Karen, and their two children.
Finally, in the world of sports, William Gleason (1866-1933), otherwise known as “Kid,” is one of the most remembered baseball players of the nineteenth century.The history of the Gleesons and the Gleasons