Irish bare-knuckle sensation lends a hand for worthy cause

NEW YORK (July 2, 2006) Just when one thinks that the bottom of the boxing barrel has been completely scraped of all residue and trace molecules, news comes from Ireland that a keepsake of one of that country’s greatest bare-knuckle fighters, Sir’ Dan Donnelly, will hit Gotham Wednesday afternoon at Gallagher’s Steak House in midtown Manhattan.

The memento, according to Jim Houlihan, curator of exhibition Fighting Irishmen: A Celebration of the Celtic Warrior, set to open at the Irish Arts Center later this summer, will join artifacts like John L. Sullivan’s fur coat, Jack Dempsey’s blazer, Gerry Cooney’s robe, John Duddy’s trunks, and the punching bag from the Great John L’s final bare-knuckle training camp.

The newest addition to the collection is a boxing curio, a certifiable boxing fetish, something from the dark side of boxing’s dark moon it’s the mummified right arm of a fighter. But not the mummified right arm of just any fighter; no, the mummified right arm of a pugilistic legend named Dan Donnelly, Ireland’s greatest 19th century bare-knuckler, and it’s enclosed in perpetuity forever in a glass case.

Dublin-born Dan Donnelly was the 9th of 17 children and became Ireland’s first boxing hero. He was 6 feet tall, a sturdy 14 stone, and a carpenter by trade, but he made a big name for himself using his fists.

Donnelly’s first official fight was on Sept. 14, 1814, when he stopped Tom Hall in 15 rounds. His second fight, and the bout for which Donnelly is best known, was against the Englishman George Cooper in 1815. Donnelly was being outboxed when he landed a solid right that broke Cooper’s jaw and ended the fight. Dan’s third and last bout was against Tom Oliver on July 21, 1819. Donnelly won the fight, but he’d been drunk for years, was totally in debt, and had one sex disease or another, so when he died suddenly in his pub in Dublin on Feb. 18, 1820, it came as a shock but no surprise.

‘Sir’ Dan Donnelly’s funeral was one of the biggest in Irish history. He was eulogized. He was lionized. He was gone but not forgotten.

That should have been end of story. But then in a macabre twist of fate, Donnelly’s corpse was stolen by a couple of grave-robbers and hand delivered to a Dublin surgeon searching for a Superman gene. The good doctor, thinking ahead but bisecting an arm, kept Donnally’s right one as a souvenir. It was until the 1950s that the mummified boxer’s arm was returned from Edinburgh, where it was participating in medical research, to the place of its birth.

And now, after all that, the famous bisected mummified bare-knuckle boxer’s arm is coming to the Big Apple. The arm’s rightful owner,’ Josephine Byrne, former owner of the Hideout Pub in Kilcullen, Ireland, and the arm are flying to America together. They’re about to land at Kennedy Airport. Getting through customs should be a trip. I can’t wait to meet the arm and its owner on Wednesday.