Dan Donnelly’s story

30 July 2010 – Cormac Campbell

Dan Donnelly 1788-1820

Patrick Myler


I like boxing and I like history, yet all too often I find boxing books over reliant on cold statistics and lengthy descriptions of age old bouts rather than actually getting a grasp on the true nature of the subject matter.

After all, the journey is often more interesting than the destination and thankfully Patrick Mylers account of the life of Dan Donnelly provides a more rounded account of the life and death of Donnelly rather than simply recounting his achievements.

For the Donnelly story offers much more than of a man who could fight. It also has the lure of grave diggers, the theft and preservation of an arm as well as a healthy smattering of birds, booze and myth attached to it. As such, the tagline of Pugilist, Publican, Playboy pretty much sums it up.

That the book is well written goes without saying after all Myler has been at the forefront of boxing journalism in Ireland for longer than he would care to remember. At times his turn of phrase leaves a smile on the face, at others, particularly when he explores the world of grave digging the skin tends to crawl.

There is plenty of boxing in here too and Myler not only gives a comprehensive account of Donnellys career which saw him acknowledged as one of the finest protagonists in the bare knuckle age – but also explores the effect it had on his life in terms of business and pleasure.

Today it would probably be said that Donnelly had an addictive personality and writing such a review the week after the death of Alex Higgins, highlights that our fascination with flawed genius remains intact some 190 years after Donnellys death.

Verdict: Well worth picking up.

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