By: Patrick Myler
This book tells the remarkable story of an Irishman whose exploits in the bare-knuckle ring made him into an early 19th century folk hero. His victories over highly regarded English opponents came in the wake of several armed rebellions and were seen as symbolizing his country’s fight for freedom from Westminster rule. A monument celebrating his triumph against George Cooper on the Curragh of Kildare stands in Donnelly’s Hollow, named in his honour, alongside his carved-out footprints. One of the many legends about Donnelly claimed that he so impressed the Prince Regent (later King George the Fourth) that he was granted a knighthood. On being greeted by the Regent as ‘the best fighting man in Ireland’, Donnelly is said to have replied, ‘I am not that, your royal highness, but I am the best in England’.
Donnelly’s life was less than exemplary outside the ring: a heavy drinker, he never made any profit from his four Dublin pubs, and his sexual adventures led to him paying the price for ‘chasing petticoats’ while supposedly training for a fight in England.
Even after his sudden death at the age of 32, Donnelly continued to make news. His body was stolen from the grave by the notorious ‘Sack ‘Em Ups’ and his mighty right arm was cut off. To this day, the grisly relic remains an object of fascination for countless viewers as it travels the world in exhibitions. In 2008, Donnelly was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
PATRICK MYLER is a boxing writer and Dublin historian, author of The Fighting Irish: Ireland’s role in world boxing history and A Century of Boxing Greats, amongst others. He worked as a journalist in England before taking the post of chief sub-editor of the Sunday News in Belfast. On returning to his native Dublin, he served as chief sub-editor and then as an assistant editor of the Evening Herald for thirty years. He now writes a weekly boxing column for that paper.