Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Donnelly family descendant views fighter's arm

An American woman who is a descendant of pugilist Dan Donnelly's family was recently the latest to come and view the mummified right arm of the fighter, writes Brian Byrne.

Amy Stammerjohn and her husband Dan visited Kilcullen, and were able to view the arm by appointment with Josephine Byrne, formerly of The Hideout where the limb was on exhibition for decades.

The arm is currently kept in storage, 'resting' after a series of exhibitions in the US, Northern Ireland and in Dublin and Limerick over recent years.

Amy and Dan live in California, and she told Josephine that her late grandmother — Mary Eileen Donnelly — had always told the story of being descended from a brother of the fighter who went to America in the 1840s, some time after Dan's death in 1820.

"The story was always in the family," Amy says. "My own mother used to speak of it too." Her grandmother had a number of details of the family in her papers, which Amy now has access to.

She doesn't have any direct documentation about the fighter's brother, but was intrigued when Josephine showed her a story from a California newspaper of some years ago, about a priest from Santa Barbara who had come to see the arm while in Ireland. "That's my uncle Tom," she said in surprise.

Josephine is regularly contacted by people who believe they have family connections — "Dan is reputed to come from a family of 17, so there are a lot of Donnellys about" — and also by historians, and relatives of people who may have had peripheral connections to the fighter.

One of these who corresponded with her was a Catherine Stover, who is a direct descendant of Captain William Kelly, who sponsored and trained the fighter at a property on the edge of the Curragh.