Friday, November 13, 2015

Remembering Dan Donnelly today

On this day 200 years ago, Irish pugilist Dan Donnelly stepped up to the mark against English opponent George Cooper in a hollow on The Curragh, and began a fight that has become an Irish epic tale, writes Brian Byrne.

The event, in which each man was fighting for the honour — though mostly the money — of their respective backers, was long, brutal, and bloody. But eventually the Dubliner, Donnelly, won, and trudged back up to his side of the crowd, leaving footprints at the hollow which are still there to this day.

Much has been written since about the fight, the man, and the social background of the time, notably by boxing journalist Pat Myler in his 'Regency Rogue' book of the 70s, recently re-published as 'Dan Donnelly, 1788-1820, Pugilist, Publican, Playboy'.

Kildare County Library's Mario Corrigan has also studied the story and during National Heritage Week this year gave a commemorative talk on 'Ireland's First National Sporting Hero'.

My own short version of his life also puts it into some perspective, and brings the story up to the involvement of the Byrne family.

The fight was also commemorated in the early 1950s in a pageant organised by this writer's father Jim Byrne and the Kilcullen Boxing Club.

And, of course, very many will remember the right arm of Dan Donnelly which was in a glass case in The Hideout pub from the 50s through until the late Des Byrne retired from the business in 1996.

The Diary has its own comprehensive archive of local activities relating to Dan Donnelly, which can be browsed here.

The fight is reported to have begun at 8.30 in the morning, so as you're having your breakfast, have an extra cuppa in Dan Donnelly's memory.

Or at any other time during today ... maybe, if the weather permits, I might wander over to Donnelly's Hollow after lunch and see if the ghostly roar of the crowds still echoes on this special anniversary.