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Mike McTigue

Mike McTigue's story would probably be discarded as too unlikely to form the plot of a novel. It has the almost impossibly perfect elements of the saga of underdog boxer laced with wrenching danger and a panoramic sense of life from late eighteenth-century rural Ireland through to the Civil War to the heady days of the Jazz Age in New York and the desperation of the Great Depression.  Michael Francis McTigue left Kilnamona, Co. Clare to seek fame and fortune in the United States, only for circumstances to bring him back to Dublin where his life would change forever.

Three unrelated events conspired to produce the most bizarre world championship fight in boxing history, on St. Patrick's Day 1923.  Michael Collins's death in August 1922 signalled the end of  conventional hostilities in the civil war and guerrilla phase began.  

In France, in the summer of 1922, the nation's idol Georges Carpentier, movie star, war hero and champion boxer was preparing for a return to the ring.  The fight wa fixed and his black opponent was told to fall in the sixth round.  But Battling Siki changed his mind during the fight and knocked out Carpentier to become champion of the world.  When bestowed on a white man such a title was worth a vast amount of money  But this was 1922 and inter-racial fighting was banned in America and the British Home Secretary deemed Siki an undesirable and banned him from entering the country.  The Senegalese was a champion without a challenger and he was running out of money.

Meanwhile, a journeyman fighter, Michael Francis McTigue of Kilnamona, was on his way back from the United States to Ireland.  He'd been boxing in small New York clubs for years but had been passed over for the big fights and was coming home. 

The Free State Government, Battling Siki and Mike McTigue needed each other.  The politicians needed legitimacy, Siki needed money and McTigue needed a fight.  A syndicate of Irish horse racing men brought them all together.  And so it was that the world's sporting press descended on a war zone on March 17th 1923.  They knew very little of what was awaiting them.

A bitterly divided people set aside their differences for twenty rounds of boxing before the guns began firing and the mines started exploding once more.  The announcement that McTigue had become the first Irishman to win a world title on Irish soil caused an explosion of cheers to rival the mine blast that had rocked the city shortly before the fight.

Mike McTigue's life is best summed up by sportswriter and novelist Paul Gallieo, who wrote:

"Here it is happening beneath our eyes, and it is one of the miracles of the prize ring.  Fifty years from now, it will be a standout in ring history...the mild Irishman, who turned knockout king will be on of the great stories of the ring.  Mark that down."

A documentary film based on Mike's life, A Bloody Canvas, was produced by Dublin independent production company D4 Films, in partnership with Fastnet Films.  A book of the same name written to accompany the film was published by Mercier Press.

Credit to Andrew Gallimore/Lorraine Gannon