The earliest photograph of a St Nicholas football team was taken sometime during the year 1903. It is a typical photograph of its time. The chairman, Edward Walsh, and the secretary John O’Sullivan, are standing at either end of the back row dressed, as you would expect, in their Sunday best. Two of the younger players lie on their elbows in the front to give the photograph balance.
Scan across the back row from the left and the sixth player you come to is one of the taller players. He has blond hair and his arms are folded. He doesn’t look very different from the others in the photograph. In fact it is easy to skip over him because your eye is drawn to the team captain who is sitting immediately in front of him.
It is over 25 years since I first saw this photograph. We were looking at some old photographs that were intended for the St Nicks Club History, The Nicks of Time. Some of the older club members were helping us to identify the faces in the photographs. This photograph was proffered as the oldest one in existence.
It was Paddy “Chancer” Barry who said, “Pakey Mahony is in that photograph.” I had heard the name of Pakey Mahony once or twice but I knew nothing about him. When I enquired, “Who was Pakey Mahony?” Chancer replied, “Pakey and his brothers were all great boxers. Pakey once fought Bombardier Billy Wells for the Empire Heavyweight Boxing title.”
I forgot about Pakey for a while after that. Every now and then however, something would remind me of him. He has his own entry in the Biographical Dictionary of Cork and receives high praise in the Blackrock Hurling Club official history, The Rockies.
About 18 months ago I decided that I wanted to know more about the man from Blackpool who fought for the Empire title and who ended up training the great Cork and Blackrock hurling teams of the 1920s. I started asking questions and collecting information about Pakey.
This year, 2011, is the centenary year of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. There has been a great boxing tradition built in Cork over the last 100 years. Pakey Mahony is one of the foundation blocks of this tradition. Because his career belongs to the years that were overshadowed by the Great War, The 1916 Rising and the subsequent War of Independence, he is largely forgotten.
The story I have uncovered of Pakey Mahony is a fascinating one. From his boyhood days spent hunting, bowl-playing, footballing and boxing in Blackpool, to his rise in the professional boxing world, his heroic challenge for the Empire title, his marriage and move to Blackrock and his success as the trainer of the Cork and Blackrock hurling teams, Pakey Mahony was the quintessential Cork man. He was hard working, good at every sport he turned his hand to, a caring husband and father and naturally humble.
Pakey Mahony was born in Wales in 1880. His family came to live in Dublin St. Blackpool and they were still living there in 1911 when the census was taken.
The world of professional boxing at that time was not a lucrative one. Pakey had his first professional fight in 1910, but the purses for fights would not keep a heavyweight with a big appetite in spuds and cabbage for long. He had a day job too. The 1911 Census describes Mahony’s employment as an “artificial manure factory worker”. This means that he was working in Gouldings fertilizer factory in Goulding Glen.
That first fight was in the Assembly Rooms in Cork. The fight was scheduled for 15 rounds and his opponent was Sid Barber. Barber started brightly. However, a report in “Boxing Magazine” tells us “Mahony landed a right swing to the jaw, which made Barber change his ‘modus operandi’.” Barber showed signs of tiredness after three rounds and Pakey took control. Barber’s corner threw in the towel in round 8.
For whatever reason, Pakey did not have a recognised fight again until July 1911 when he fought a British soldier Bombardier Coates for the Munster Heavyweight title at the Cork Opera House. His brother Mick fought Lance-Cpl Hollister on the same card. It appears that a large crowd came in from Blackpool to support the Mahony brothers. A report in “Mirror of Life Magazine” says that Mick Mahony “sent his man to sleep with a left to the jaw.”
Pakey Mahony’s fight was the final event of the night. It was scheduled for 20 rounds. Bombardier Coates had a five-inch reach advantage on Pakey. This gave the soldier an advantage in the first two rounds. Mahony figured out the problem by round three and took control. The report tells us that Coates showed signs of weakening in round six and “after one minute and two seconds had gone, Mahony ripped home a terrific right swing on the jaw, sending Coates down and out, Mahony’s victory sending the house wild with excitement.”
Fights came more frequently after that. He fought Sapper Grant and Pte. Delaney and then defeated Sargent Begley of the RIC, to win the Irish Heavyweight title in 1912. His next fights were in London and Paris. On St Patrick’s night 1913 he defeated Pte. Dan Voyles of the Irish Guards in the Covent Garden Sporting Club to retain his Irish title.
After two more fights in the Cork Opera house in April and May, Pakey returned to London to take on Bombardier Billy Wells in Covent Garden on July 1. Wells was England’s heavyweight “white hope”. He had been touted as a genuine opponent for then World Champion, Jack Johnson. The fight was actually arranged in 1911, but senior members of the Church of England and members of the government lobbied to have the fight cancelled because it was feared that if Wells, the white English champion was badly beaten by the black Johnson it would send a sign of weakness to the colonies.
The purse for the Mahony v Wells fight was £400. There was £300 going to the winner. Pakey fought gamely and bravely for the first five rounds of the 20 round contest. Lloyds Weekly News said “It would have been a bold spectator that would have bet moderately long odds against Mahony until the sixth round had come and gone.”
A left jab from Wells broke Pakey Mahony’s jaw in the fifth round; but he kept attacking Wells. In the ninth round the experienced Wells hit Mahony five times in quick succession to the head “but the Irishman never even staggered under the blows.”
The pain and fatigue finally wore him down. In the 13 round when he shipped further heavy punishment. Lloyds weekly reported “He made a gallant effort to rise at ‘seven’ but keeled over and was counted out. Mahony gave a wonderful exhibition of pluck and indifference to punishment but he had lost a lot of blood. He is now in Westminster Hospital and it will take four or five weeks for his jaw to knit properly.”
That was the end of Pakey Mahony’s boxing career. He returned to Blackpool bloodied but unbowed and with a career record of 14 wins and on one defeat. Later he met and married May O’Driscoll from Blackrock. He moved to Blackrock and lived there for the rest of his life. He would go onto play an important role in Blackrock and Cork hurling. But that’s a different story.
Pakey Mahony died in 1968 at the age of 88. It can be truly said we will never see his likes again.