By Mike Murphy
I certainly am not an expert when it comes to discussing the history of Ireland. Quite honestly, my only obvious claims to being Irish are the fact that my last name is Murphy and my nose resembles a potato suffering from the blight.
The tiny bit of the Emerald Isle’s history that I have studied is quite fascinating, however. For example, I learned that the Irish actually invented the guillotine long before the French, as proven by the discovery of a 500-year-old print depicting Liam O’Shaughnessy using a guillotine to slice potatoes shortly before he picked up the nickname “Stubby.”
Also, I do have sort of an historical tie to the old sod as my father came over from Ireland when he was 20 years old. During my early homelife, I certainly got the impression that life in Ireland back when Dad was a kid was tough. I also grew up learning that, for pastimes, Irish Americans liked to listen to Notre Dame football games on the radio, watch Gilette Blue Blades Friday Night Fights, drink some beer and snore a lot — not while drinking beer but while sleeping afterwards.
Back when I was a kid, televised sports consisted of one NFL or MLB game and one boxing program per week. Dad would watch the football game and the boxing, but I don’t think that he ever understood baseball much, plus, with nearly a total lack of physical contact, it was probably a bit too soft for his Irish instincts. I’m also pretty sure that he hated watching basketball, except I did catch him peeking at the screen when I would watch the broadcast of the old Notre Dame vs. UCLA rivalry.
But boxing was no doubt Dad’s favorite. He never dabbled in the sport himself, but I’m sure, as a big-city cop, he probably had to get physical with more than one guy who was blathered, soused, fluthered or plastered and resisted Dad’s efforts to escort him into the paddy wagon.
Maybe one reason that the Irish grow up tough, love boxing and have earned the moniker “the fighting Irish” is because of the old Irish tradition of lifting the birthday child upside down and bopping his head on the floor several times for good luck. Whose good luck are they referring to, I might ask? Certainly not the child’s. I can just imagine that this is where my mother got the expression, “Maybe that will knock some sense into you!”
The fact is that Irish boxing has a long and glorious history. In the early 19th century, Irish fighters competed in a form of boxing called “Irish stand down.” If you ever saw Muhammad Ali box with all of that dancing around the ring combined with a lightning quick jab, jab, jab, well stand down boxing was just the opposite. The fighters, no doubt after some last minute pre-bout training at Mulligan’s Pub, would stand toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring “punching and taking punches.”
No wonder sparring partners were hard to find. I could see myself training to give a punch, but I would really be reluctant to spend a whole lot of time training to “take a punch.”
Keep in mind that this early style of boxing was all bare-knuckle fighting, no sissified gloves for those guys. In 1855, an Irishman by the name of James Kelly was involved in just such a match, setting the record for the longest bare-knuckle fight at 6 hours and 15 minutes. Now there is a Pay-per-view event that would really give you your money’s worth.
Another noteworthy bare-knuckle Irish fighter in the 1850s was Owney Geoghegan. In an early match of his successful career, Geoghegan defeated a boxer by the name of “Deaf” Moran. I imagine that if Geoghegan hadn’t won by a knockout, they would still be fighting because Moran most likely couldn’t hear the bell ring.
This brings us to the latest crop of Irish fighters, with mixed martial arts (MMA) featherweight champion Connor McGregor currently the biggest name. McGregor weighs 170 pounds clothed and about 135 pounds stripped of his clothes, tattoo ink and roguish beard. He appeared virtually unbeatable until someone apparently knocked him on the head too hard with a shillelagh and he got the crazy notion to move up and fight a welterweight.
Connor McGregor used his physical prowess and verbal swagger to grab sports headlines and build up his image, resulting in a million-dollar payday for his loss to Nate Diaz. After losing that match badly, the normally intimidating McGregor resembled a leprechaun who had journeyed to the end of the rainbow only to have a pot of gold drop on his head.
After his shocking loss, McGregor may have been wishing that he had listened to this Irish proverb: “It is often that a person’s mouth broke his nose.”
Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist with accolades including an Associated Press first-place award in column writing and a first place award in a national writing contest sponsored by Nissan Corp. His articles are syndicated by Senior Wire.