BOOK REVIEWClay MoyleDAN DONNELLY 1788 – 1820 Pugilist, Publican, Playboy By Patrick Myler
‘Dan Donnelly 1788 – 1820 Pugilist, Publican, Playboy’ by Patrick Myler, 2010 The Lilliput Press, Dublin. 200 pages including bibliography and index.
This is a reprint of Patrick’s book that was published in 1976 titled ‘Regency Rogue’. I never got around to reading the 1976 version because that particular period of time and history concerning bare knuckle fighting has just never been of as much interest to me as boxing from the 1890’s forward. That said, I made the time to read the softcover reprint and was pleasantly surprised to discover just how interesting a read it was.
Donnelly was a hard drinking Irishman who stood approximately 6’ tall and weighed around 14 stones (or 196 pounds). He burst onto the prize fighting scene at a time when it was ruled by the English and really made his name with his performances against Englishmen Tom Hall and George Cooper. As word of his ability in the ring spread he travelled to England where he hoped to build his bankroll through a series of exhibitions. He made some money alright, but he spent it as fast as it came in. He ultimately faced and defeated another Englishman, Tom Oliver, in a grueling match during his stay in that country.
Patrick paints a picture of a talented and popular fighter, with an aversion to training. He was a womanizer and an alcoholic who never quite fulfilled his potential, but became a hero in his native land nonetheless because of the successes he did enjoy against the English at a time when the Irish were thirsting for a hero. While he makes it clear that there is uncertainty concerning Donnelly’s actual date of birth, the fact remains that he died young and it was most certainly a result of his lifestyle.
The author draws upon numerous sources from that period of time to provide the reader with an interesting and detailed portrayal of the man and his fights, including many of the writings of Pierce Egan as well as ‘Famous Fights’ by Harry Furness and ‘Fistiana’ by Frances Dowling, among many others. He also provides the details surrounding the grave robbery after Donnelly’s death and tells the reader how his famous right arm ended up on display in an Irish pub for many years, and more recently came to become a featured item in an exhibition honoring the Irish contribution to world boxing history. I found it particularly interesting to read the portion of the book detailing the typical training routine employed by bare knuckle boxers of that period.
Overall, I found the book to be an interesting and educational read and highly recommend it. It costs $15 plus $4 postage for U.S. buyers, and 10 pounds in the U.K., 12 euros in Europe plus postage, and can be purchased through www.lilliputpress.ie
Patrick Myler and children, David, Alan and Gillian;
Patrick is holding Donnelly's arm
Review courtesy of Tracy Callis, Historian, International Boxing Research Organization