Irish Boxing’s amazing Olympic history

By IABA Press Officer Bernard O’Neill

We take a look at how Irish teams performed at previous Olympics in the countdown to the opening bell for Rio 2016 next August.

paris 1924

Tipperary’s Paddy Dwyer wrote Irish boxing into the history books after recording our first win at the Olympic Games on July 15,1924.

Ireland entered the Olympics for the first time as an independent nation at Paris 1924, and Dwyer, nicknamed Rocky, beat Great Britain’s Richard Basham in the preliminaries and followed that up with a positive decision over Dutch welterweight Anton Cornelius.

He then KO’d Francois Stauffer (Switzerland) in round three of their quarter-final before being stopped in the third frame by Argentina’s Hector Eugen Mendez – who was beaten by John Delarge of Belgium in the final – in the last-four.

Dwyer’s loss is offically recorded as a TKO3, but, according to reports, the Irish fighter had to retire with a deep gash in his forehead because of his opponent’s illegal use of his head.

The last-four finish 92 years ago would have been enough to have earned the man from the Premier County a bronze medal under today’s rules governing the awarding of Olympic silverware.

However, prior to the 1952 Games, losing semi-finalists had to box-off for bronze and Dwyer lost to Douglas Lewis (Canada) in the contest for third place on a walkover because of his injury from the semi-finals.

Cork’s Willie “Boy” Murphy, a boxing coach in Clonmel, also recorded a win for Ireland at the 1924 Games, the Army middleweight beating Poland’s Jerzy Nowak before losing to Leslie Black of Canada in the quarter-finals.

Dwyer, Murphy, Myles McDonagh, Robert Hilliard, Mossy Doyle, PJ Kelleher and JC Kidley represented Ireland in the boxing event in Paris. Doyle was beaten by Jackie Felds, who was advised to change his name by his coach as his real name, Jacob Finkelstein, didn’t sound “tough enough”.

Fields, who has been confirmed as the youngest Olympic champion of all time aged 16 by the International Boxing Association, has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Jewish Boxing Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, the middleweight final at the 1924 Games was not without controversy as Great Britain’s Harry Mallin, who had won gold at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, was beaten in the quarter-finals by Roger Brousse of France.

However, Brousse was disqualified on appeal after medical evidence suggested that Mallin had been bitten during their last-four clash. Mallin, who retired unbeaten as an amateur and never turned pro, then advanced to beat John Elliot, also of Great Britain, in the final. Nations could enter more that one boxers in each weight in Paris.

Robert Hilliard was one of the more colourful characters with the Irish squad. The Irish Olympian and Trinity College student was the only non-army boxer with Team Ireland.

The Killarney-born Irish Elite champion was, at varying times, a  Church of Ireland pastor, Republican, Marxist, Atheist, journalist, boxer and 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,” sang Moore.

Scotland-born James ‘Tancy’ Lee, an army instructor and former British champion, was Irish head coach at the Paris Olympics. Ireland’s chief seconds said his job was to “teach men to fight without bullets.”

Paddy ‘Rocky’ Dwyer died in 1948 in Thurles and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. A plaque was erected to the first Irish boxer to reach an Olympic semi-final on Limekill Lane in 2002. Rocky finished in fourth spot at the 1924 Games.

Twenty seven nations, represented by 181 boxers, competed across eight weight categories in the boxing event at the 1924 Olympiad.

The USA finished on top of the medals table after claiming two gold, two silver and two bronze medals in the boxing ring in the French capital.

All of Ireland’s athletes at the 1924 games received participation medals.

Irish Boxers at the Olympics – Paris 1924

Flyweight: Myles McDonagh (Army)
Lost to Ruperto Bieta (Spain) Pts

Bantamweight: Robert Hilliard (Trinity College BC)
Lost to Benjamin Pertuzzo (Argentina) Pts

Featherweight: Mossy Doyle (Army)
Lost to eventual gold medallist Jackie Fields (USA) Pts

Lightweight: PJ Kelleher (Army)
Lost to Ben Rothwell (USA) Pts

Welterweight: Paddy Dwyer (Army)
Beat Richard Basham (Britain) Pts
Beat Anton Cornelius (Holland) Pts
Beat Francois Stauffer (Switzerland) KO3
Lost to Hector Eugen Mendez (Argentina) TKOI3
Bronze medal Box-Off between losing semi-finalist
Lost to Douglas Lewis (Canada) W/O

Middleweight: Willie ‘Boy’ Murphy (Army)
Beat Jerzy Nowak (Poland) Pts.
Lost to Leslie Black (Canada) Pts

Light-heavyweight: JC Kidley (Army)
Lost to eventual bronze medallist Sverre Sorsdal (Norway) PTS

Ireland: Won 4. Lost 8

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