New book details Donegal's long history with the fight game
YOU don’t have to delve too deep into ‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’ to realise the scale of the job undertaken by author Chris McNulty.
Like so many of the interesting and innovative ideas to have borne fruit in the past year, this weighty tome started life as a lockdown project to mark the 70th anniversary of the Donegal Boxing Board.
Hour by hour, day by day it grew legs, eventually expanding across a century’s worth of material, piecing together the origins of the noble art in Donegal right up to the modern day and those leading the charge looking into what remains of 2021.
And while the lack of official records kept made McNulty’s task all the more trying, especially the further back in time he went, a combination of brilliant sources and helping hands makes this essential reading for fans of Irish boxing history.
Indeed, you are reeled in from the start, the opening pages telling the story of Con Gallagher, Donegal man credited with discovering the legendary Jack Dempsey.
Gallagher promoted shows in America and put on the 1914 show in Salt Lake City at which the ‘Manassa Mauler’ made his debut, stopping Young Hector in the third.
The rest, as they say, is history as Dempsey would go on to become the most feared fighter of his generation, with newspaper reports from the time claiming Gallagher had “a great influence” on the young man.
Readers can also learn about Jack McLaughlin who fought over 500 times by the age of 24, losing just 20 – one of those to the great Belfast boxer Jim McCourt – and how he spurned the lure of the pro ranks despite spiking the interest of, bizarrely, renowned musician and occasional promoter Phil Coulter.
As well as chapters about famous fighters with Donegal roots, ‘Mr Boxing’ Peter O’Donnell, ‘Punching’ Pat Bradley - “the finished knockout merchant if ever there was one”, according to an Australian newspaper in the early part of the 20th century – and boxing through the World War years, there is also a timely reminder of the county’s connection with the greatest show on earth.
The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne may best be remembered, from an Irish perspective anyway, for Ronnie Delany’s thrilling 1,500m gold medal run, but the story of Australia-based Rosses man Pa Sharkey illustrates the flipside to Games glory.
After losing his opening contest to Sweden’s Thorner Ashman, heavyweight Sharkey – who had left a lucrative job to get himself in the best shape possible - was ordered to leave the camp as the Irish Olympic Federation couldn’t afford the cost of keeping him there. Imagine they had tried that with Paddy Barnes.
Eight years later, Ballybofey’s Brian Anderson would have his shot at the big time when selected for the Irish team travelling to Tokyo that autumn. With the class of 2021 currently stepping up preparations for the rescheduled Games in the Japanese capital, Anderson’s tale takes on an added significance for the year that’s in it.
He moved to London in 1958 and in May 1964, the year of the first Tokyo Olympics, he toppled Melbourne gold medallist Dick McTaggart in the ABAs to put himself in the frame for selection on the Great Britain team.
However, after Andreson suffered a controversial defeat to Robert Taylor in the light-welterweight final, McTaggart’s pedigree earned him the nod when the final call was made.
All was not lost for southpaw Anderson, though, as just a month before the Games he was surprisingly drafted in to replace the injured Jim Neill on the Irish team.
He lost out on a narrow 3-2 decision to Nol Touch, having been floored in the first minute by the tough Cambodian – though commentator Harry Carpenter was still stunned by the decision, believing Anderson had done enough despite that early setback.
Alongside team coach Harry Enright, Anderson would go on to work the corner of good friend Jim McCourt as he went on to claim a bronze medal.
Into the 1970s and Ballyshannon man Paddy Doherty tells the story of the day he boxed on Muhammad Ali’s undercard, the first fight on the infamous Al ‘Blue’ Lewis show at Croke Park, while another highlight is how referee Jimmy Devlin – a native of Clonmany – found himself rubbing shoulders with the great and the good Stateside. It is remarkable stuff.
The rise to prominence and continuing career of Jason Quigley is another cornerstone of the book, thanks largely to the author’s personal relationship with the Ballybofey boxer. In McNulty’s early days on the journalistic beat, Quigley’s star was on the rise.
The pair became acquainted, then became friends, and now McNulty is publicist for a man determined to force his way back into the world middleweight title shake-up under the guidance of the great Andy Lee (who provides the foreword to the book).
McNulty has been there for every step of the journey, and watched on with pride as Quigley swept to European Championship gold in 2013 – despite having previously been seen as Ireland’s number two at 75kg, behind 2012 Olympian Darren O’Neill.
When he returned home from the World Championships in Kazakhstan with a silver medal around his neck months later, there was no longer a debate to be had.
Unfortunately Irish amateur boxing’s loss would become the professional world’s gain when Quigley was snapped up by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and, after an injury-hit couple of years, the 29-year-old has big plans for the future.
There is so much more contained within these pages that it is barely possible to do it justice - I never even got around to Joe Frazier’s band ‘The Knockouts’ and the night they flopped in Carndonagh.
You can check that out for yourself by picking up a copy of ‘Boxing in Donegal: A history’, which is available to order at https://donegalboxinghistory.com/