Modern fighters’ successes recall O’Mahony’s historic rise to fame

Posted on: 9th February, 2015

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Patrick J. Mahoney

In recent months, Irish sports fans on both sides of the Atlantic have watched excitedly as the country’s prized fighters have taken their respective sports by storm, finding success in the profitable American market. In December, massive crowds met Limerick’s Andy Lee upon his return to the city, after having been crowned middleweight champion of the world following a title bout in Las Vegas. With that victory, Lee became the first Irish fighter to secure a world boxing title on American soil since Belfast’s Jimmy ‘Babyface’ McLarnin retained his welterweight belt in 1934. More recently, mixed martial artist Conor McGregor captivated crowds at Boston’s TD Garden Arena; easily defeating Germany’s Dennis Siver in a highly touted ‘Fight Night’ that also saw two other Irish fighters claim victory on the undercards. Prior to the match, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White commented on McGregor’s potential noting that, given the young Dubliner’s physical ability and charisma, he might be ‘the most marketable fighter of all time’.



West Cork’s own Danno O’Mahony.


The international marketability and ensuing success of Irish fighters is actually nothing new. Seventy-five years before the modern batch of Irish champions began captivating audiences, it was West Cork’s own Danno O’Mahony who created his own transatlantic media frenzy, dominating the headlines of sports pages from Los Angeles to Liverpool in the buildup to his American wrestling debut in the old Boston Garden arena.

Danno was born on September 29, 1912 in Dreenlomane, Ballydehob, the fourth of seven children to Daniel and Susan O’Mahony. From his infancy, he showed signs of the physical strength that would ultimately bring him global renown. One of the many near-mythic tales that came to light during his meteoric rise to the top of the wrestling world relayed that during his baptism, the local priest remarked that the farmer’s young son was the strongest child he had ever come across. As he matured, he would continue to be known for his strength while working on the family farm and competing in local athletics competitions. By the age of 20, the young Ballydehob man captured the Cork county championship in the 56-pound weight throw, in what was the first of many accolades to come. His athletic prowess blossomed after enlisting in the national army in 1933. As part of their military training in the Curragh, Danno and his brother Flor engaged in a number of physical activities ranging from athletics to boxing and wrestling. While both brothers quickly gained a reputation for their strength, it was Danno’s head turning feats that would ultimately draw the eye of Jack McGrath, a wrestling talent scout over from America. Having taken note of the fierce support that boxers, baseball players, and other prominent athletes of Irish heritage received from the sizeable Irish populations of New England and New York, McGrath and his associates concluded that a new Irish wrestler could also prove profitable. McGrath initially approached two-time Olympic gold medal winning hammer thrower Pat O’Callaghan to fill the role. However, O’Callaghan wasn’t interested, as he was in the midst of establishing a successful medical practice. Instead, he recommended the young O’Mahony. The previous year, O’Mahony had beaten the former Olympian and fellow Corkman in a weight-throwing exhibition in Croke Park, during which he tossed a 56-pound weight over a bar set at 14 feet, 6 inches. After watching the young physical specimen work out at the army camp in Kildare, McGrath informed his associates in America that they had found their man. After procuring Danno’s release from the Irish army and a visa from the American consulate in Dublin, McGrath and his prodigy set off for London where he received his first taste of proper wrestling training. It was also during their sojourn in London that Danno had his first professional match in London’s Stadium Club, a draw against former world champion Ed Lewis.

With his London training complete, the two continued on to New York, arriving aboard the steamship Bremen on December 15, 1935. Appropriate for the career that lay ahead of the young star, he indicated on his passport form that his purposes for entry to the country were ‘business and pleasure’. After settling in Boston and meeting legendary promoter Paul Bowser, Danno was signed to a five-year contract worth $100,000, a considerable sum especially within the feeble economic climate of the Great Depression.

On January 4, 1935, the newly arrived Danno made his debut in front of a raucous crowd of 15,000.  Billed as Daniel O’Mahoney with the addition of an ‘e’, the young Irishman got off to a slow start against veteran fighter Ernie Dusek, displaying the nerves of inexperience. However, the tide of the match soon began to change. As Dusek ignored the rules and roughed up his opponent, the predominately Irish crowd got behind their young fighter, and inspired a comeback. Utilising his 76-inch reach and the boxing skills acquired during his time in the military, Danno pummeled Dusek around the ring, and finished him with his signature ‘Irish whip’ hold. Following the match, in which Danno won all three falls, chaos ensued as Dusek and his brother attacked the victorious rookie. He responded by knocking out the two brothers and, in the heat of the moment, landing blows on the Boston policemen and a referee who were attempting to reestablish order. As the crowd cheered vehemently, it was evident that McGrath’s inclination had been correct; the ethnically Irish fan base had found their new hero.

Over the next year and a half, Danno wrestled in all of the major cities and venues across the breadth and width of the United States and Canada, including Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium. Impressively, O’Mahony won his first seventy contests, beating a wide range of talented opponents, including Henri DeGlane, who had won the Gold Medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1924 Olympics. His crowning achievement came in the summer of 1935 when, in front of a crowd of 60,000 Bostonians, he captured the world heavyweight title in dramatic fashion, defeating Ed Don George.

As McGregor, Lee, and a slew of other Irish fighters continue to find success in an increasingly digital and global age in which their in-ring exploits are easily followed by Irish people around the world, one can’t help but reflect on the accomplishments and international stardom enjoyed by the ‘Ballydehob bone bender’, and think that he helped pave the way.


Patrick J. Mahoney studied cultural history at NUI Galway’s Centre for Irish Studies, and now teaches in the department of history at Sacred Heart University. He is interested in the study of emigrant narratives, and the Irish historical experience as it relates to those in the United States and Britain. This column will highlight the stories of significant people and places with West Cork connections, throughout the world.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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