Tipperary welter Paddy Dwyer created Irish boxing history when he recorded our first win at the Olympic Games on July 15, 1924 in France.
Ireland entered sport’s biggest event for the first time as an independent nation at Paris 1924, and ‘Rocky’ Dwyer defeated Great Britain’s Richard Basham in the first round before winning against Anton Cornelius of the Netherlands.
He then knocked out Swiss fighter Francois Stauffer in the third round of their quarter final – before being stopped himself in the final frame of his semi by Argentinean Hector Eugene Mendez – who was thenbeaten by John Delarge of Belgium in the final.
Dwyer’s loss is officially recorded as a TKO3, but, according to reports at the time, the Irish fighter was forced to retire with a deep gash in his forehead due to his opponent’s continued illegal use of his head.
Under today’s rules, Dwyer’s last-four finish 92 years ago would have rewarded the Premier County man with a bronze medal.
However, prior to the 1952 Helsinki Games, losing semi-finalists had to box-off for bronze and Dwyer ‘lost’ to Canadian Douglas Lewis in the box-off. This defeat was a non-contested walkover due to the lacerations the Munster man suffered in the previous round.
Paddy ‘Rocky’ Dwyer died in 1948 in his native Thurles and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. A plaque has since been erected near his place of birth, Limekill Lane.
Cork’s Willie ‘Boy’ Murphy, a boxing coach in Clonmel, also scored a win for Ireland at the Games. The Army middleweight defeated Poland’s Jerzy Nowak before losing to Canadian Leslie Black in the last eight.
The Irish boxing team in Paris that year was comprised by Dwyer, Murphy, Mossy Doyle, Myles McDonagh, PJ Kelleher, Robert Hilliard, and JC Kidley .
Doyle was beaten in the first round by eventual gold medalist Jackie Fields. The American teenager was advised to change his name by his coach as his real name, Jacob Finkelstein, didn’t sound “tough enough”.
Fields, who at 16 became the youngest Olympic champion ever, has since been inducted into the Jewish Boxing Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame and .
Robert Hilliard was one of the more eccentric members Irish squad. The Irish Olympian and Trinity College student was the only non-army boxer with Team Ireland.
Hilliard lost his opening bout to Argentinean Benjamín Pertuzzo
The Killarney-born Irish Elite champion was, at varying times, a Church of Ireland pastor, a Republican, a Marxist, an Atheist, a journalist, a boxer, and a soldier in his short life. He volunteered for the Connolly Column for the Spanish Civil War and died fighting for the International Brigades in 1937 aged 32.
Ireland’s first bantamweight at the Olympics is mentioned in the Christy Moore song Viva la Quinca Brigade, a tribute to the men who fought in the Spanish Civil War.
“Bob Hilliard was a Church of Ireland pastor; From Killarney ‘cross the Pyrenees he came,”
There were also opening round defeats for Belfast flyweight Myles McDonagh, Cork lightweight PJ Kelleher, and light heavy John Kidley
Scotland-born James ‘Tancy’ Lee, an army instructor and former British champion, was Irish head coach and described his job as being to ‘teach men to fight without bullets.’
Twenty seven nations, represented by 181 boxers – nations could enter more than one boxer at each weight – competed across eight weight categories at the 1924 Olympiad.
The USA finished atop the medals table with two gold, two silver, and two bronze medals.
All of Ireland’s athletes at the 1924 Games received participation medals.
Irish Boxers at the Olympics – Paris 1924
Flyweight – 112lbs – Michael McDonagh (Army)
Lost to Ruperto Bieta (Spain) PTS
Bantamweight – 118lbs – Robert Hilliard
Lost to Benjamin Pertuzzo (Argentina) PTS
Featherweight – 126lbs – Thomas Doyle (Army)
Lost to eventual gold medalist Jackie Fields (USA) PTS
Lightweight – 135lbs – PJ Kelleher (Army)
Lost to Ben Rothwell (USA) KO2
Welterweight – 147lbs – Patrick Dwyer (Army)
Beat Richard Basham (Britain) PTS
Beat Anton Cornelius (Holland) PTS
Beat Francois Stauffer (Switzerland) KO3
Lost to Hector Eugen Mendez (Argentina) TKO-I3
Bronze medal Box-Off between
Lost to Douglas Lewis (Canada) W/O
Middleweight – 160lbs – William Murphy (Army)
Beat Jerzy Nowak (Poland) KO1
Lost to Leslie Black (Canada) PTS
Light heavyweight -175lbs – John Kidley (Army)
Lost to eventual bronze medalist, and 1920 silver medalist, Sverre Sorsdal (Norway) TKO1