History of of Amateur Boxing in Mayo
at the turn of the Century, and before

By Eamonn Horkan.


When one takes up a task such as this the material to research must be available, one can rely on ones own memory for part, and the recall of fellow followers of the subject matter, also stories of the past told by older acquaintances. But to get the accurate picture the local press must be the ultimate Bible to use, we are fortunate in the West of Ireland having a press who are interested in sport as well as items of general interest, in recent years there is a vast amount of material available, reports of every tournament and plenty of photographs are available. The sports administrators are conscious of the importance of good press reports, to promote their particular sport, we are fortunate in the boxing world particularly in Mayo to have excellent relations with the local sporting press reporters, they are also conscious of the importance of reporting on each particular sport.

I was most fortunate in my project to have available the services of the micro film of the local papers in the County Library, I would like to acknowledge the kindness of the staff of the Library, particularly Ivor Hamrock a former Amateur Boxing Judge for his assistance over a period of five years when I photo copied every mention of Amateur Boxing in the local papers from 1896 on.

The copies of the Western People were most informative due to the fact that the owner, the late Fred Devere was very involved in the administration and promoting Amateur Boxing in Connaught, and was for a period the President of the Connaught Boxing Council and also a qualified Judge and boxing referee, the Connaught Telegraph was also a good source but mainly confined its reporting in the early years to the Castlebar area, the Mayo News gave a good spread of boxing particularly in the early 20’ & 30’of a US. Irish interest. The Western People and The Connaught Telegraph are available on micro-film in the County library in Castlebar and the Mayo News on micro-film in the library in Westport,

The early days at the turn of the century are a little hazy as their was little organized competition and the press was not really interested in reporting on sport, court cases, the state of the country, and overseas news were the dominate affairs to be reported, also the size of the papers kept items of interest to a minimum. The amount of Boxing in the early years would be mainly matches made at various fairs, carnivals and circus which would have traveling boxers to challenge the local strong men of the area, as bouts like this would be impromptu, little notice would be taken outside the particular area they would be held, records would not be available and again rules would be as suited the particular occasion with local dignitaries acting as officials, the honor of the parish would be at stake, in some cases boxers from one area would be matched with someone from an adjoining parish or town land,

Prizefighting would be common place at occasions as above, a set of rules for prize fighting were drawn up in 1743 and it took 100 years before the establishment of the London Prize Ring Rules came into being in 1838, these were generally followed as the local gentry were generally involved and would insist on some rules being followed, but of course their was always exceptions to this but not approved of generally as faction fighting was still taking place, The Queensbury Rules were introduced in 1876 and amateur and glove fighting was generally thought to be more in keeping with the times, this was the fore runner of boxing as know it to-day, as you see the introduction of the Queensbury Rules were only 25 years prior to when our story begins.

The late 18th century saw the great Irish American boxers John L. Sullivan, Paddy Ryan, Jake Kilrain and of course "Gentleman James J.Corbett" a son of a Mayo man from Partry who beat John L Sullivan for the World Heavy Title on 7th Sept.1892.

The Men of the West,

Little seems to be recorded about two other of Mayo’s great boxers Jim Coffey from Tully, near Gortaganny outside Ballyhaunis and Frank Moran from Islandtaggart, Carrowholly, near Westport. Both men made boxing history in the early part of the 1900’s, Frank Moran retired in1922 as one of the unluckiest Professional boxers of the era.

JimCoffey had many professional contests in the US., one of his greatest was a win over Al.Reich in the old Convent Garden Stadium, Reich had a big reputation and was supposed to give the Irishman the acid test, he was very strong and packed a terrific punch, Coffey had a devastating left and his right was dynamite, so it proved, as from the start both slugged it out with Reigh catching Coffey coming off the ropes in the second round with a hard right to the chin, Coffey barely managed to last the remainder of the round, with Ritch coming out to finish him off early in the third round, Coffey had recovered after the interval and was prepared for the German, he caught Reitch off balance after he landed a left to Coffey’s midriff, Coffey quick as a wink caught him with a right square to the chin and the German went down like a ton of bricks, as the referee counted him out the Stadium exploded to be one of the wildest nights of celebration in the history of the famous "Garden".

The following is Coffey’s record: Nick Muller k.o in 6th rd., - Al.Benedict, k.o in 8th.rd, -Larry Williams, k.o.in 2nd.rd. - Soldier Delaney, k.o. In 3rd.rd. - Fred McKay k.o.5th.rd. – Tim Langan, k.o.6th.rd.- Patrick Ryan, k.o.1st.rd.,- Dan Delaney,k.o.6th.rd.,- George Rodel,k.o.9th.rd.,- Ned Carpentier, k.o. in 1st.rd.,-Jack Farland, k.o.5th.rd.,- Battling Levinskey, ten rounds no decision, also Levinskey, "no decision contest" over 6.rds.,- Jack Lester K.o. in 5th.rd.,- Jim Flynn on points over 10 rounds, Arthur Pelkey, k.o. 2nd.rd.,- and Tony Ross, k.o.6th. rd., there are no details of Coffey losing apart from what seems to be his last contest with Frank Moran. The two contests he had with Battling Levenskey were lined up to give Coffey a shot at the world title, and give both of them a good purse, Levensky who was Light Heavyweight Champion would only fight if they were "no decision contests" thus retaining his reputation for a title fight himself, according to the famous Bat Masterson Coffey drew with Levenskey, other sports commentators said Coffey, and again others said Levenskey won. The result was often mentioned in subsequent years with different opinions. Coffey challenged Jack Johnson for the world title but it seems he also avoided him. Another of Battling Levinskey’s opponents was none other than the Young Gene Tunney, who won the American Heavyweight title from him in 1922.

But their was another night when Coffey did not fare as well, when he met the great Frank Moran, the cheers were not as loud as Coffey was the pride of the fans and was due to box for a World Title shot, Moran caught Coffey in the third round with what was called his "Big Mary Ann" to Coffey’s jaw and Bill Brown the referee stepped in to count him out, as they say "you could hear a pin drop", so disappointed were the crowd their hero was no more, but the Irish had a new Hero. Jim came home to buy a large farm outside Lough Glynn, where also started a boxing club with the assistance of Matt Flanagan also from the area, who boxed as a professional in England, they trained some good boys who fought in the local tournaments.

Frank Moran found it hard to get opponents and among those who boxed him, they only wanted "no decision contests" which were the favor of the top boxers of the day, as they did not fancy putting their title on line with Moran who at this time had developed a big reputation.

Frank Moran is listed in the official record books as having boxed the current and possibly one of the greatest World Heavyweight Champions Jack Johnson over 20rds.on the 29th. June 1914, at Paris, France, Johnson won on points. Also the new world Heavyweight champion Jess Willard on the 25th. March 1916 at New York. Willard had beaten Jack Johnson in Havana, Cuba by a k.o in the 26th.rd.on the 5th. April 1915, it was always said that Johnson needed the money and agreed to a fix on the understanding he would get a re-match, this was not to happen, Willard was beaten in his next contest, by Jack Dempsey in Toledo, On the 4th.July 1919. His contest with Moran was the only contest he had as Champion, many at the contest felt that Moran won the fight, but the "no decision" rule kept the title for Willard. This kept the interest in boxing alive in Mayo until the great Gene Tunney whose parents came from near Kiltimagh beat the great Jack Dempsey on the 23rd Sept.1926, with a back ground like this it was no wonder Mayo has a continuous connection with boxing since.

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