By Cian Manning
Born on 22nd November 1892 at Carrigroe in Carriglea near Dungarvan, Daniel Cooney was the third oldest of the Cooney family and the eldest boy according to the 1901 Census. Daniel’s father John (a farmer) and his mother Ellen both spoke Irish and English. The family were nationalistic in their outlook and supported the cause of Irish Freedom. This would influence Daniel’s efforts during the Anglo-Irish War, 1919-21. While 5 of the children who were of school going age were able to read and write, so would have known the words of Wolfe Tone and Emmet by sight and sound. Young Dan was a great follower of sport, but developed an early affection for the fistic arts. So much was his devotion to pugilism that Cooney was a well-regarded name on the Irish boxing scene by the age of 16. The Munster Express noted that ‘He became renowned for his amazing vitality and his stamina, which kept him to the forefront when often faced with tremendous odds.’
TRAINED BY IRISH BOXING CHAMPION JEM ROCHE
Under the tutelage of Wexford’s Jem Roche, Cooney went from strength to strength in the ring. Roche had fought for the World Heavyweight title in 1908, but was defeated by Tommy Burns by first round knockout. Roche’s manager Tennant recorded his record as 30-7-1. After his time inside the ring, Roche ran a pub on South Main Street in Wexford before becoming a bookie and later manager of a commission agent’s establishment in his native county. It’s fair to say there would be few bettered placed than Jem Roche to advise and train Dan Cooney. Roche was in high demand as he was also trainer of the Wexford senior Gaelic Football team, which went on to win 4 All-Ireland titles in a row from 1915 to 1918.
The Carrigroe boxer’s earliest recorded fight was a draw against the heavier ‘Buck’ Reilly at the Erin’s Hope band rooms in Waterford city on 13th September 1913. Cooney forced the fighting from the start, though Reilly defended well but was not as alert as the Dungarvan fighter. Though, Cooney’s February 1914 fight against Waterford’s ‘Duck’ Daly at the Town Hall in Dungarvan in front of hundreds of spectators was the bout that caught people’s attention. Daly was 2/1 favourite and weighed 10 pounds more than his challenger. Advertised as a 20 round, 3-minute per round contest, many had travelled from Waterford with many more placing bets on Daly who was a staple of the lightweight division in Ireland. Cooney put himself on the pugilistic map by knocking Daly out in 2 minutes and 7 seconds. The Cork Examiner wrote of the decisive blow:
…both men coming to close quarters, where exchanges took place, when, with surprising swiftness, Cooney landed one on the solar plexus, and Daly went down on his side. As the count went on, he turned on his back, and lay there helpless being counted out.
Cooney was talked about as the coming fighter in Irish featherweight circles, and a real test came on 20th October 1914 at the Ancient Concert Rooms in Dublin against County Cork’s featherweight champion Paddy Buckley. This was followed be notable performances against Mitchell, a draw with then undefeated lightweight champion Dubliner Pat O’Shea (who weighed two stone more than Cooney) on Monday 12th July 1915 in Dungarvan, a bout against Dublin’s Frank Dillion, and a fight against noted English featherweight champion Jack Levene.
The latter fight for the Featherweight Championship was staged at the Coliseum in Waterford city on Saturday 11th August 1917 which saw Dan Cooney disobey doctor’s orders to stay in bed, to battle the Englishman. The bout went the full fifteen rounds with the Munster Express recording that Cooney ‘to his credit in the fistic arena that he was never knocked out, but by sheer staying power and an ability to assimilate terrific punishment, often wore down and defeated a superior opponent.’
COONEY’S PREPRATION FOR FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT
However, Cooney’s focus wasn’t just on the ring, but also in legal matters. Just a few days before the bout for the Featherweight Championship at a sitting of the Kilmacthomas Petty Sessions, a Patrick Lawlor and Cooney prosecuted ex-Recruiting Sergeant Maurice Barron (who was wounded in France) for assault on 11th July. Lawlor and Cooney were among a group celebrating the East Clare by-election when Lawlor was struck on the shoulder with a stick. Barron in his cross-examination noted that Lawlor was carrying a flag and used the expression ‘To hell with the King and country and those who fought for him.’ A record of the defendant’s convictions noted arrests for drunkenness, riotous behaviour and assaulting members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. It was decided by Royal Magistrate Orr that Barron be fined 2s 6d and costs in the case brought against him by Lawlor while Cooney’s case was dismissed.
Remarkably, on the same page of the local paper detailing the civil proceedings against Barron was also a preview of the fight against Levene which was garnering plenty of attention due to its international flavour. The Munster highlighted:
All who saw this game lad [Dan Cooney] concede a stone to Kid Doyle, the best light weight in Ireland, and then make a brilliant aggressive fight right through took him to their hearts as the “beau ideal” of a boxer to watch-clever, fast, rugged and carrying a heavy punch, he possesses all the attributes of the champion, which his manager hopes to make of him ere long. Experience, which can only be obtained in the course of many ring battles, is the only thing he lacks, in common with all young boxers; this failing his connections are certainly going the right way to eradicate, in matching him against such class men as Levene…
As already noted, Cooney went against doctor’s orders by taking to the ring, and surely his condition wasn’t helped by the late start of 10.25pm. The first round saw Levene strike first blood with a nasty cut over the Kilmacthomas-residing man’s left eye. The next few rounds were even until the 5th when the cut started to create issues for Cooney which the Londoner capitalised on. There was a brief reprieve in the next round before Cooney was floored in the 7th, but recovered quickly. The 9th, 10th and 11th rounds saw the Waterford fighter take plenty of punishment but responded with ‘a wonderful amount of pluck and staying power.’ As the fight wore on into the championship rounds, Cooney was showing visible signs of the punishment he received, with the referee declaring Levene the winner on points. The Waterford Star concluded its report with ‘We understand that Cooney was somewhat indisposed prior to the contest, and this, coupled with bad luck in the opening round, doubtless mutated against what would have been a more even contest.’
COONEY NEARS END OF LIGHTWEIGHT PRIME, MOVES TO WELTERWEIGHT
Cooney would also fight at Waterford’s Theatre Royal in late 1917 against the rugged Lar Roche (brother of Cooney’s coach Jem) from Wexford in a scheduled 12 rounds of 3-minute duration bout. The contest between the pair from the South-East of Ireland was described as ‘the best of the night’ as Cooney was awarded the verdict after going 10 rounds. Of the fight, the Munster Express recorded that:
Cooney throughout was master of the situation notwithstanding the fact that Roche was a strong, rugged fighter and full of gameness. Cooney was more scientific and was able to elude the Wexford man’s punches. He was punished very severely by Cooney from the fourth round and went to his corner several times appearing very groggy.
Though still in his prime, Cooney is absent from the ring for two years till returning to training in the summer of 1919. It appears that in the early ‘20s he is recorded as the welterweight champion of Munster.
FROM COONEY THE BOXER TO COONEY THE NURSE: HELPING ‘THE REAL CHIEF’ LIAM LYNCH
Cooney was to the fore in the cause of Irish Freedom during the War of Independence, with his finest hour being in giving aid to the IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch. This was after the Fermoy Ambush in September 1919, a wounded Lynch was brought to Youghal, but the column was tracked by an observing aeroplane. Cooney’s home at Carrigroe was used to house Lynch, which the Munster detailed that ‘So cleverly and secretly was this good work done that even the neighbours and friends of the district were not aware of what was going on.’ Dan Cooney was actually on holiday at his homeplace when this all occurred, but gave an invaluable service to help Dungarvan’s Dr Moloney nurse Liam Lynch back to good health. It’s believed that Lynch stayed in Carrigroe for around two weeks before going to James Kirwin’s on the slopes of the Comeragh Mountains. Though, the Limerick man returned to the Cooney’s homestead for another three weeks before seeking shelter elsewhere.
BUSINESS INTERESTS & PERSONAL BELIEFS
Cooney had gone into business in Kilmacthomas during the First World War and later ran a shop on The Square in Dungarvan. Dan becomes a prominent figure in the Old Borough’s community and is noted on the Catholic Truth Society Dungarvan Parish Committee which in Spring 1926 adopted the motion ‘That the practice of supplying intoxicating liquor through licensed bars at dances is an added danger, and seriously detrimental to the morals of our young people, and we strongly recommend that the local authority and all who are responsible should exercise their influence in future to have this abominable practice discontinued.’
Sadly, Daniel was predeceased by his father just a few months prior to his own death, as the younger Cooney died on 5th August 1940 at the Bon Secours, Cork due to tuberculosis.