Friday, August 21, 2015

Talks on Dan Donnelly for Heritage Week

Kilcullen people will have a special interest in a talk that's being given by Mario Corrigan on the famed pugilist Dan Donnelly, writes Brian Byrne.

This is the 200th anniversary year of Donnelly's famous fight with Englishman George Cooper at Donnelly's Hollow, and Mario will be talking about Donnelly as 'Ireland's First National Sporting Hero' in Newbridge Library tomorrow, Saturday, at 3.30pm; in Naas Library on Wednesday next, at 11am; and in Maynooth Library on Friday 28 August, also at 11am.

It's all part of National Heritage Week, and Mario's contributions will be precursors to a number of commemorative events for the Dublin-born fighter's life and times — among them an enevt by the Curragh Local History Group, and by Kildare Town.

Mario's talk will be looking at the story of Dan Donnelly from his humble beginnings as a carpenter in Dublin to his dramatic rise and fall as a pugilist or bare-knuckle boxer. "His talents were noted by Capt William Kelly of Maddenstown House, and his boxing career took off," says Mario, who is Executive Librarian with responsibility for the County Kildare Local History Collection.

"This of course reached a high point after his initial fight with Tom Hall in September 1814 at Belcher's Hollow on the Curragh (after this fight the name changed to Donnelly's Hollow) to his win there over the English Champion, George Cooper on 13 November 1815."

Dan became a national hero, but sadly his fame and brief financial success allowed him to indulge is vices of womanising, gambling and drinking. "Facing debt and ruin after a number of failing pub businesses in Dublin, he took to the ring again in England in a series of exhibition matches. He fought a semi-professional fight with Jack Carter which was deemed to be a draw and then finally was coaxed into a prize-fight with Tom Oliver in July of 1819. Donnelly beat Oliver in a gruelling 34 round contest and returned to Ireland as a national hero once more."

Mario notes that, after a brief period whereby Dan and his wife enjoyed the fruits of his success his life once again spiralled out of control and he died in 1820 at the very young age of about 32 years. "Yet his fame lives on, through his extraordinary feats within the ring and the Hollow named after him on the Curragh of Kildare, but also because of the survival and preservation of his arm, firstly by the doctor who removed it courtesy of the grave robbers who had sold him the body. and then through a series of doctors and collectors until it came into the possession of Jim Byrne and went on display in the Hideout Pub in Kilcullen."

In more recent years it has formed part of the 'Fighting Irish' Exhibition in the US and Ireland and forms as famous a part of the story of the Hollow and the boxer as Donnelly himself, Mario says.

In April 1953 the people of Kilcullen and the Curragh celebrated his famous fight as part of the An Tóstal festival. "This year, 2015 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Donnelly victory over Cooper on the Curragh of Kildare, not on the 13 December which is the date recorded in error in books and on the monument but on 13 November. The County Kildare Federation of Local History Groups hopes to mark the occasion at the Hollow on Saturday 14th November."

Our illustration is the cover of Pat Myler's book on Dan Donnelly, published last November. It is a re-publication of his 'Regency Rogue' published in the 1970s and includes new chapters and material.