Frank Moran - Pittsburgh’s Son, Mayo’s Godchild

By Robert G. Byrnes,


When one thinks of notable Irish American sport figures from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one often thinks of Art and Dan Rooney, father and son; founder and owner of the NFL’s most successful franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers, or Billy Conn, the light-heavyweight champion who nearly defeated Joe Louis for the Heavyweight title, or Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. When one thinks of notable Irish Americans who trace their heritage to County Mayo, Ireland, names which most often come to mind are Gene Tunney, the great heavyweight champion boxer who twice defeated Jack Dempsey and whose parents hailed from Kiltimagh, County Mayo, or Jack Kelly, who won three Olympic gold medals for the United States in the sport of rowing during the 1920 and 1924 Olympic games and whose family hailed from a small farm along the banks of the Leg O’ Mutton lake in Knockglass, Mayo and, of course, Jack Kelly’s daughter, Grace Kelly, the beautiful award-winning actress and the Princess of Monaco, her life tragically cut short in an automobile accident in 1982 .

The aforementioned names make up quite a list of notable Irish Americans. However, one name notably left off this list is that of Francis Charles Moran. It seems as though the annals of time have quietly forgotten this once proud son of Pittsburgh and godchild of Mayo. Though, Francis Charles Moran, better known as Frank “the Pittsburgh Dentist” Moran was a household name in my family growing up both here and abroad. After all, an old autographed picture of Frank Moran as well as a pair of his boxing gloves proudly adorned my great grandfather’s cottage back in Mayo.

So who exactly was Francis Charles Moran? Frank Charles Moran was the sixth of eleven children born unto Martin and Mary Moran on March 18, 1887, a belated St.Patrick’s day blessing and bundle of joy. Martin and Mary emigrated from the Free Republic of Ireland to the United States in the early 1870s in search of work and a better way of life. Martin J. Moran hailed from Island Taggart, Carrowholly just outside of Westport, County Mayo. Island Taggart is just one of many small islands which sit pristine in Clew Bay under the watchful eye of the old Coast Guard station and under the protective shadow of mountain “Croagh Patrick”. Island Taggart was home to my great grandfather, Patrick Moran, his brother Martin Moran, and their sister Katie Moran. Patrick, Martin, and Katie also happened to be first cousins with Frank Moran.

Martin and Mary Moran emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio where Martin would enjoy work as the proprietor of a pub and Mary would tend chores as housekeeper for the mayor of Cleveland. Shortly after the birth of Frank, Martin and Mary would move the family to Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh was a city burgeoning with industry, coal factories, steel factories, mills and warehouses littered the banks of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Work was abundant, jobs plentiful and the steady stream of Irish immigrants constant. Pittsburgh, Martin believed, would be a good situation for him and his family. Martin would again enjoy work as a proprietor of a pub and Mary would run a boarding house while raising the children.

The Moran’s were a tight knit clan. They attended church as a family, the children attended Parochial school, they enjoyed playing on the hardscrabble streets of Pittsburgh’s Irish/German neighborhoods and they often got their kicks out of mischievously peeking their heads into Martin’s pub for a soda and a laugh before being whished along. The Moran’s were not without tragedy, however. Two of Martin and Mary’s children died as infants and in 1898, Martin died unexpectedly from appendicitis. Young Frank was only eleven years old and was quite devastated by his father’s untimely death. Mary was left with nine children to look after along with running the boarding house.

At the age of thirteen an emboldened young Frank decided it was time for him to become a man and help his “mam” provide for the family. So off frank went to find work and no sooner had he begun his search for employment did he land himself a job shoveling coal for the railroad. The railroad would be a passage of sorts for young Frank, not only would he journey to other parts of the country, but he would leave Pittsburgh a boy and return a young man. The gangly young lad, his hands blistered, his back aching, his voice hoarse, and his face black with soot would return to Pittsburgh a young man, lean and broad, hands hard and calloused, a grip like a vice, a voice clear and commanding.

In 1904, at age seventeen, Frank decided that he could better provide for both himself and his family by enlisting in the U.S. Navy. Frank embarked on a four year tour of active duty where he was duly assigned to the U.S.S. Roosevelt as a gunner. Frank’s sojourn in the Navy would play a significant role in his life as it was during these four years that Frank took up the “sweet science” of boxing and where he first laid eyes on California’s gold coast. On March 5, 1906, while still serving in the navy, Frank would have his first professional fight, a six round draw against Dirk Fitzpatrick. Two years later, prior to being discharged as a signal quartermaster, Frank would win his first professional fight with a second round knockout of Fred Cooley on 6/01/1908.

Upon being discharged from the U.S. Navy, Frank returned home to Pittsburgh where his mother encouraged him to go back to school. Frank took heed of his mother’s advice and enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh and began a course of study in dentistry. While attending the University Frank would play football for the University. Frank excelled so much at the sport that he would later play professional football as a left tackle for the Pittsburgh Lyceums (Art Rooney would later play for the Pittsburgh Lyceums). Though Frank enjoyed school, he could not resist the allure of the ring, the smell of resin and leather, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of connecting with that devastating right hand of his. Frank decided he could earn more money knocking teeth out then he would pulling them out, so he traded his library card and forceps for a gym membership and five ounce gloves and joined the ranks of the “Great White Hopes”.

As a boxer, Frank may have lacked the scientific savvy of Gene Tunney or the raw explosiveness of Jack Dempsey, however, what he lacked in savvy and explosiveness he made up for with a jaw of granite, an indomitable will to win, and a devastating right hand punch which he nicknamed “Mary Ann” cause she was such a knockout.

From 1908 through 1922 Frank fought in approximately sixty-nine professional fights, running up a record of 39 wins(31 KO), 16 losses, and 14 no decisions (In those days a No decision/newspaper decision fight was one in which you had to knockout your opponent to win, there were no judges, although newspapers would often give an opinion as to who they felt won the decision). During this stretch he would defeat such notable fighters as “Black” Fitzsimmons, Ed “Thunderbolt” Smith, Tom Cowler, Al Palzer, Harry Wuest, Fred Storbeck, Jim Cameron, Dave Mills, Jim “the Roscommon Giant” Coffey, Homer Smith, “Bombardier” Billy Wells, and Joe Beckett. Some notable fighters Frank fought and went the distance with were Luther McCarty, Jack “the Hoosier Bearcat” Dillon, Carl Morris, Ed “Gunboat” Smith, and Jess “the Pottawatomie Giant” Willard.

On June 27, 1914, Frank fought his toughest and most memorable fight. Frank  challenged the great Jack Johnson at the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris, France for the heavyweight title. Frank would receive $25,000.00 for his effort and Johnson would receive $40,000.00 for his. Frank brought along fellow middleweight boxer and American, Willie Lewis, as his sparring partner. In preparation for the big fight, Frank  did all the usual sorts of conditioning a boxer does such as skip rope, run, push-ups, sit-ups, and spar. However, Frank did have an unusual jaw strengthening exercise in his regimen, Lewis would have Frank stand with his knees bent, arms at his side and he would proceed to punch Frank repeatedly in the jaw to “strengthen it up” for the big fight. Frank felt that he stood a good chance against the “Galveston Giant” as Johnson was now 35 years old and Frank a seasoned and prime 27. Also, according to the press, Johnson had been enjoying Paris’ nightlife as well as its cuisine. While Frank was training in France, cousins Patrick and Martin were engaged in some training of their own, cutting turf down at the bog. After a hard days work down the bog, Patrick and Martin made their way to O’Grady’s pub in Westport to indulge in a libation or two and to have the craic. There was a great deal of talk about the upcoming fight and the town folk were rooting hard for Frank, after all he was Irish American and he had people in Mayo. As Martin was talking about his cousin’s prospects in the upcoming bout, a loquacious police sergeant happened by and decided to throw his two cents into the conversation, “Now Martin, you know now yourself that that cousin of yours hasn’t a chance against that ol’ Johnson, he’ll make shyte of him, I’d say he’ll be lucky to go five rounds with your man”. Martin proceeded to get up from his stool and (Martin was no small man himself, as he stood 6’2” and weighed about 195 lbs) give the sergeant a cross look and he said, “ Well Sergeant, its like this, Frank has a better chance of beating Johnson than you have of beating me. Now, you might shut your mouth before I land you under the table”. The Sergeant said his good-byes and quickly moved on.

The night of the fight arrived, Frank Moran versus Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson for the heavyweight crown. George Carpentier, a young promising French light heavyweight, would referee and judge the twenty round scheduled bout. The bout would be quite a rough and tumble, bloody affair with a lot of pushing, shoving, clinching, and fouling. On several occasions Johnson was warned for throwing low blows and heel punches. Despite his best efforts, Frank was unable to unleash and connect with the full force of “Mary Ann” and the spry old Johnson did his best to avoid falling for “Mary Ann”. On the occasions that Frank did connect, the wily Johnson would hold and clinch Frank just long enough to keep him from unleashing another punch, often without warning from Carpentier. However, whenever Frank grabbed Johnson into a clinch Carpentier would quickly intercede and say, “Allez, Moran, Allez” or “Go, Moran, Go”. As the bell sounded at the completion of the twentieth and final round the two boxers slowly walked back to their corners battered, bruised, and exhausted. A hush fell over the crowd as many in the arena felt that the title might be about to exchange hands. Frank Moran, an Irish American and “great white hope”, might bring the title back to its rightful place and a great celebration would await him back in the states, but it was not to be. Carpentier walked to the middle of the ring, stepped up to the microphone and awarded the fight to the reigning champion, Jack Johnson. A chorus of boos echoed through the arena as many of Frank’s countrymen were in attendance and felt that Frank had won the fight. According to Alexander Johnston, author of “Ten-And Out”, Frank Moran should have been crowned the heavyweight champ, he writes, “Indeed, Moran did more than last; he gave Johnson the fight of his life. “Mary Ann” was working to perfection that night. Moran landed it in every round, and in the tenth, twelfth, fifteenth, and later rounds it was jarring Johnson so that he hung on. The negro champion’s marvelous defense saved him from losing his title and robbed “Mary Ann” of enough of her power to stave off the knockout. However, Moran was the aggressor during the whole twenty rounds. He landed more blows and on a strict interpretation of the rules should have been given the decision”. After the decision was announced the two fighters embraced and Frank congratulated Johnson on retaining his title. According to an article written by Frank, himself, for the “Topical Times” of London recounting his bout for the title, Johnson looked Frank in the eye and said, “Moran, no one in the world could have knocked you out tonight”, Frank replied in kind and said, “Well Jack, no one has got a defense quite like yours”. As luck would have it, neither Frank nor Johnson would be paid for their hard fought battle as a Chicago Brewer had secured a creditor’s attachment on the purse as Johnson supposedly owed them a large sum of money. As luck would further have it, the following day after the fight, a young Bosnian-Serb would assassinate Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria triggering a series of events that would begin the great war, World War I. The French government placed a moratorium on all civil debts and the promoter took full advantage of this with neither Frank nor Johnson ever receiving a cent.

Frank was broke and needed money. Still upset over Carpentier’s decision, he issued several public challenges to Carpentier, though the young French heavyweight never accepted and kept a rather low profile. Frank and Lewis began barnstorming around France and England putting on exhibitions in order to earn money. It was during that Fall of 1914 that Frank  paid his first visit to the old country and his family in Mayo.

Frank  made his way from Dublin to Westport where he was greeted by Patrick and Martin. The two Irishmen were delighted to have finally met the American cousin they were both so proud of. The three Moran’s headed back to Island Taggart and Frank was given a first class ride on the ass and cart. Frank would take in the beauty of Mayo’s countryside and learn a great deal about his father’s family. Once back at the island Frank was greeted by Patrick’s wife Mariah, Martin’s wife Molly, and his cousin Katie. Frank was taken back by their kindness and hospitality, he felt at home and amongst family. The women hadn’t much time to chat as they were busy preparing the dinner, a fresh leg of lamb, turnips and spuds from the garden, rhubarb pie and trifle for dessert. Martin seated Frank at the head of the table, he gave Frank the honor of saying the blessing and then he would get the craic going. “Well now Frank, on me oath, tis a blessing that me cousin from America has arrived here in Ireland and step foot in this door.’ ‘I cannot tell ya how delighted I am that ye’er here.” Frank replied in kind, “Well, I’m thrilled that ye were willing to have me and I’m only sorry I didn’t return to my father’s land the heavyweight champ”. “Ah sure Jezus, Frank,” replied Martin, “Ya done your best and that ol’ Frenchy, Carpentier, didn’t help your cause, sure, I’d say your man wants a crack at that Johnson himself.” “Well, you might have a point there Martin, and what about yourself Patrick” replied Frank, “Well Frank” said Patrick, “I seen some ol’ photos of that Johnson in the papers, and to tell you the truth, I’ve seen better teeth on an ol’ horny yo”, with that the three men burst into laughter and enjoyed a meal fit for a heavyweight champion. As the week went on Frank put on a few exhibitions for the people of Mayo and he was enthusiastically embraced by the country folk as one of their own.

As the week drew to an end Frank knew it was time to get back to training and get some fights lined up. As Frank readied his bags, Mariah, Molly, and Katie told him what a pleasure it was to have had him and they presented Frank with a handmade woolen sweater and a pair of woolen socks that they had tirelessly worked on during the week. Frank was overcome by the warmth and kindness that was shown to him during his stay in Mayo. As Frank readied to leave, he took from out of his bag a pair of brown leather boxing gloves, “Martin” he said, “I want you to have these as a token of my appreciation for all the kindness ye’ve showed me”. Martin put up his hand and said, “Jezus, Frank, sure them are the gloves you fought for the title with, I cannot take them.” Frank calmly replied “Well, Martin, I made a pilgrimage up that mountain of yours and when I got to the top I asked St. Patrick if he might give me another crack at the title, so don’t you worry about those gloves, ol’ Frank has another trick or two up his sleeve. Martin gratefully accepted the gloves and proudly hung them in the parlor above the mantle for all to see.

Less then two years would pass before Frank pulled those two tricks out of his sleeve. Frank would take on Jim “the Roscommon Giant” Coffey and defeat him by TKO in two successive fights. It had been decided that the winner of these two bouts would fight heavyweight champion, Jess “the Pottawattomie Giant” Willard. Jess Willard was a mountain of a man, he stood 6’6” and weighed 250 lbs and was riding high on the travails of having beaten Jack Johnson in a twenty six round battle. Frank would get that second shot at the title in a ten round, No/Newspaper Decision fight to be held at Madison Square Garden on March 25, 1916. The bout was the biggest gate ever for the Garden at that time and many notable figures such as John L. Sullivan, Tommy Burns, and Jim Corbett were in attendance. The bout was a hard fought affair with Frank aggressively trying to get in on the much bigger Willard and connect with good ol’ “Mary Ann”. Frank aggressively swung and chopped with that right hand of his but he was unable to bring down “the Pottawattomie Giant”. Without being knocked out Willard would retain his crown. Many of the newspapers felt that Moran was game and aggressive against the much bigger Willard but that Willard had gotten the better of the smaller challenger.

Despite not winning that elusively sought after crown, Frank did what any good Mayo man would, he licked his wounds, collected his $23,750 payday and bought his four loving sisters a home in Pittsburgh, PA. Frank’s wins over Jim Coffey as well as his respectful showings against Jack Johnson and Jess Willard helped him to start earning some well deserved paydays against the likes of Jack Dillon, Gunboat Smith, Tom Cowler, Fred Fulton, Carl Morris, Jack Geyer, and Homer Smith. During this time the U.S. would enter World War I and Frank, being the proud patriot that he was, would re-enlist in the armed forces and was assigned to Camp Wadsworth, Texas where he served as a physical training and hand to hand combat instructor.

As the War came to an end and the teens came to a close, in came the roaring twenties and Frank would roar in with them. The old ring general would string off five consecutive wins including knockouts over Frank Goddard, Paul Journee, and English champ Joe Beckett. After defeating Beckett in December of 1920, Frank would make his way back to the old country once again to visit his cousins in Mayo where he was, once again, welcomed with open arms and warm hearts. Martin was delighted to see Frank once again and told him how proud the people of Mayo were of his victory over Beckett. “Sure, its not often that an Irishman gets to put an Englishman flat on his arse, Frank.” Frank would simply smile in acknowledgment, mindful that the bout was nothing more than two sportsmen competing.  Martin and Frank would make their way up to Knockglass and pay a visit to Patrick and Mariah and their two young daughters Mary and Katie. As Frank and Martin arrived, Mariah quickly put the kettle on and placed the frying pan on the hot stove top. She hurriedly threw sausages, bacon, blood pudding, and eggs onto the pan. The kettle whistled, the frying pan snapped, and the aroma of bacon fat wafted throughout the house. Now Mariah was not one to hold her tongue and she quickly questioned Frank as to any romances he might have. “Now Frank,” Mariah started “What age are ye now?” “Well Mariah, I’m 33 and I’ll be 34 come March,” replied Frank. “And is there any Mrs. Moran in ye’er future,” shot back Mariah, “Well, not yet Mariah, I was hoping to find a woman like yourself back here in Mayo,” said Frank with a wry smile. “Never mind finding a woman like me, you don’t want to end up yourself an ol’ codger do yeh?” Patrick quickly interrupted, “Would you be quite Mariah, Frank didn’t come here to be badgered by ye’er nonsense.” Martin looked on intently as he sat beside the fireplace laughing under his tooth, while gently bouncing Mary and Katie up and down on his knees. “Ah sure, Mariah, Frank is looking to find a woman who obeys the four Cs” said Martin. “And what are the four Cs , may I ask?” said Mariah. “Sure, cook, clean, children, church, the woman that obeys that is the one you marry, isn’t that right Frank,” said Martin with a wink of his eye. “Well Martin, I’d say that sure would be a good measuring stick,” replied Frank. “Ah, you and your shyte” said Mariah, and with that the breakfast was served and the craic was had.

After breakfast Patrick provided Frank with a tour of the farm. Frank was enthralled by the beauty of the land. From atop Patrick’s frost covered hill, Croagh Patrick could be seen with a halo of clouds circling its peak, and just below the hillside, the Leg O Mutton lake glimmered in the cold sunlight. “Now, do yeh see that cottage just beyond the lake” said Patrick as he pointed, “Sure that’s ye’er man Jack Kelly’s father’s home, the buck that won the gold medals, sure his grandparents still live there,” said Patrick with a hint of Irish pride. As the wind whipped over the hillside, the three men made their way down to the barn where Patrick proudly showed Frank his prize winning bull. “Well now, Frank, this here bull fetched first prize at the market down in Mulranny,” said Patrick. “Well it’s a fine looking animal, Patrick’. ‘And what do they look for in a prize bull?” queried Frank. “Come here and I’ll show yeh,” said Patrick. So over to the stall Frank walked as Martin intently looked on. “Now, it’s a bit like sizing up ye boxers, see here now, how this bull has no dip in his back, its how he has good shoulders, and do you see his hind legs” as he gave them a pat, “they’re good and thick”, and lastly he crouched down and took Frank’s hand and placed it on the bull’s testicles, Frank quickly pulled his hand back like a boxer pulling back his jab and shouted, “Jesus, Patrick, you must be crazy if you think I’m gonna touch that bull’s sack”. Martin began roaring laughing and Patrick smiled and simply said, “Frank, if a bull has good firmness and equal girth in each testicle it’s a good sign he’ll be a good breeder.” Frank simply smiled and said, “Well Patrick, I’ll leave the farming to you and you leave the boxing to me.” Later in the day Frank put on an exhibition in the town of Newport where he was greatly received. As the week drew to a close and it was time to move on, Frank gave both Martin and Patrick an autographed boxing photo of him which read “Yours Faithfully, Frank Moran”. This simple family heirloom would proudly adorn the mantles in both Patrick and Martin’s home for years to come and for all to see.

Frank headed back to New York and fought such formidable opponents as “Soldier” Bob Martin, “Captain” Bob Roper as well as the omnipotent Father Time. Unfortunately, Frank did not have the same success he had the previous year. Frank fell at the hands of Bob Martin in the seventh round of a scheduled twelve round bout (Martin had fought and lost to Gene Tunney for the armed services title while serving in the Army) and later that year Frank fell at the hands of Bob Roper in the sixth round of a ten round bout (Roper was known as a tough dirty fighter and had fought several bloody bouts against the great Harry Greb). While Frank’s fights in New York may not have proved successful, his stay in New York would prove quite rewarding along a more important life endeavor.

In 1922, while staying at the Biltmore Hotel, Frank and his crew entered a nearby diner for a bite to eat. The diner became quite abuzz with talk and excitement as many of the patrons and waiters recognized the stone faced heavyweight contender who was always quite the philanthropist. A table of young women who were sitting at the back of the diner promptly asked the waiter what the commotion was all about. The waiter looked at them incredulously and said, “Frank Moran the heavyweight prizefighter just came in.” As the girls peered out from the booth to catch a glance of this gladiator of the ring, Frank’s keen eye and reflexes caught them in the conspicuous act. Frank waltzed up to the table of damsels and said, “you know girls, it’s not polite to stare.” One brown haired beauty, not knowing who this fine strapping Irish American was standing before her, politely replied, “Sir, we were only trying to see Frank Moran, the boxer.” “Well, young lady, if you would like to meet him, meet me outside and I’ll introduce you to him,” Frank politely replied. The young beauty quickly finished up and proceeded to exit the diner where Frank was waiting for her. Frank quickly flashed his trademark smile and said, “May I ask your name young lady?” “Why it’s Rebecca, Rebecca Herbst,” she replied. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Rebecca Herbst. ‘I’m Frank Moran, the boxer,” he said, as he gently took her hand and placed a soft kiss upon it. Rebecca blushed, and politely replied, “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, too.” Frank was quite smitten with Rebecca Herbst and began a courtship with the twenty year old Bronx beauty. Their courtship would go on for about six months before Frank would ask Rebecca to marry him and to travel with him to Europe where he had fights lined up with Joe Beckett of England and Marcel Nilles of France. Frank and Rebecca  traveled to France where Rebecca resided at a French convent in the countryside while Frank stayed and trained in Paris. While staying at the convent Rebecca studied French, Art, and Catholicism. Interestingly, Rebecca was born to Austrian Jewish immigrant parents who were more secular than religious, and Frank to Irish Catholic immigrants who were devout and faithful.  During her courtship with Frank, she was always impressed with his devotion to his faith. Her Frank, this big, strapping bruiser, would get down on his knees, back erect, hands pressed ever so gently around a string of wooden rosary beads, fingers pointing straight toward heaven, solemnly reciting with the utmost reverence the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, left quite a lasting impression on Rebecca. Rebecca came to see her relationship with Frank as a sort of spiritual journey, one in which Frank’s faith and love as well as that of the Sisters, inspired her to convert to Christianity and become one of the flock of Catholic faithful. Rebecca even took the middle name Margaret in honor of St.Margaret.

In October of 1922, Frank would travel to England for a rematch with Joe Beckett, however, Frank would not meet with the same success he had in his previous bout with Beckett. The Union Jack, Beckett, would avenge his previous loss to Frank with a technical knockout in the seventh round. Frank would return to France and prepare for what would become his final fight. Frank was scheduled to fight for the French Heavyweight title against a young up and coming French heavyweight named Marcel Nilles. The bout was scheduled for December 30, 1922 at the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris, the same venue where Frank had fought his most memorable fight against Johnson almost a decade earlier.

Frank was enjoying the company of his newfound love. He would head to the convent each evening and take Rebecca for walks in the countryside or out to the cafes and restaurants of Paris. Frank took great care not to keep Rebecca out past curfew else face the wrath of the Sisters.

Frank’s bout with Marcel Nilles for France’s heavyweight title would come to be his last. The spry old ring general would lose a fifteen round decision to the young French heavyweight. Despite having the spright Frenchman in trouble early on, the old gladiator of the ring was unable to land a kiss from good old “Mary Ann” on his younger opponent. Age would give way to youth and Frank would hang up his gloves, tired of the combat, pain and glory.

Frank and Rebecca left France and went to Dublin where they not only got married in St. Kevin’s Roman Catholic Church but where they both received the sacrament of Confirmation, with Frank taking the name Benedict, in honor of St. Benedict and which means “newly married man” and Rebecca taking the name Mary, in honor of the blessed Mother. Martin and Patrick would make the journey from Mayo to Dublin to attend Frank and Rebecca’s wedding. After the ceremony they would all share in a small celebration where Rebecca Margaret Mary Moran was warmly welcomed into the family. This would be the last time that the three cousins would meet and break bread together.

 Frank and Rebecca would travel between England and America as Frank searched for permanent work in life after the ring. Frank and Rebecca began a family in 1924 with the birth of their first child, a baby girl whom they would name Cecilia and two years later in 1926 their second child was born, a baby girl whom they named Patricia. These two little colleens came to be known in tandem as Frank’s “pride and joy”. Frank moved his family to California’s gold coast, the coast he fell in love with while serving as a sailor in the U.S. Navy. Frank would go on to serve honorably as a Boxing Inspector for the Southern District of California and later he would become a Hollywood actor. Frank would often play the role of a police officer, firefighter, longshoreman, or boxer. Frank would have roles in Mae West’s “She Done Him Wrong”, Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”, and he had recurring roles in most of famed director Preston Sturge’s films such as “The Great McGinty”, “Christmas in July”, and “Sullivan’s Travels”.

Frank Moran was a proud Irish American who never forgot where he came from. My grandmother, Mary Keane (nee Moran), God rest her soul, often recounted how Frank would send a card every Christmas until his passing in 1967. She would often recount a comical story about the gloves. “After Martin’s funeral, the priest came back to the house to give a blessing. Molly, Martin’s widowed wife, put out the tea and thanked the good priest for all he had done. As the good Father readied to leave he said, “Molly, you won’t be having any use for those ol’ gloves now that Martin is gone, will yeh?” “Sure, they’d make for a nice display for the gossers’ down at the school”. Molly quickly replied, “Father, outside of this island, those gloves were Martin’s most prized possession and he left strict instructions that those gloves were never to leave this house. Martin would never rest in peace if I was to give those gloves away. Sure, he nearly took the heads off of Mary’s gossers for jumping up at them. So those gloves will stay right above that mantle where Martin hung them. Now if you don’t mind Father, I must go pray for Martin’s poor departed soul.” My grandmother would often laugh as she told this story about Frank’s old boxing gloves.

These are the memories which make me appreciate my heritage ever so much. For it is from her bogs and her bays, her hills and her mountains from whence we Irish Americans once hailed. 

Today my uncle, Tom Keane, is the proud owner of Island Taggart, my uncle, Pat Keane, is the proud owner of the farm in Knockglass, and I am the proud owner of Frank Moran’s boxing gloves. This past year my parents and I had the privilege of meeting Frank Moran’s two daughters, Cecilia and Patricia. They were both charming and engaging and we spoke at length about Frank’s life and his accomplishments as well as about our family in Mayo. My sincere thanks go out to Cecilia and Patsy and to my Uncles Tom and Pat. Their memories and recollections allowed me to write this short biography on the life of Frank Moran.


This story is dedicated to the memory of the Most Reverend Thomas J. Welsh, retired Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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