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Exhibit Highlights

burns library

Fighting Irishmen: Celebrating Celtic Prize Fighters 1820 to the Present

April-August 2008

An exhibition of Irish boxing legends at John J. Burns Library presented in collaboration with the Center for Irish Programs at Boston College, the Irish Arts Center, and exhibit curator James J. Houlihan.

"Fighting Irishmen" is comprised of an eclectic collection of boxing artifacts, including prints, photographs, paintings, robes, gloves, boxing bags, films and other items that offer a stroll down memory lane for fight fans and historians alike.

New England boxers are featured prominently in the exhibit, including legendary world heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan of Roxbury, Massachusetts -- who reportedly attended Boston College for a short time -- and three-time New England Golden Gloves winner "Irish" Micky Ward of Lowell, who is the subject of a 2007 biography by WCVB-TV and ESPN sports anchor Bob Halloran and of the upcoming feature film "The Fighter."

"The Center for Irish Programs and the Burns Library are pleased to be able to host this extraordinary exhibit," said Robert O'Neill, director of BC's Burns Library. "All the major Irish boxers from the 19th century to the present are represented in the exhibit," O'Neill added. "In addition to names like Sullivan, 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett, James 'Cinderella Man' Braddock, Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Billy Conn and Gerry Cooney, the exhibit even includes material on Mohammed Ali, who has Irish ancestry."

After 19th century Irish prizefighting legend Dan Donnelly's death, his corpse reportedly was exhumed for medical study. His right arm eventually was retrieved and placed on view in a number of pubs across the country as a symbol of Ireland's pride, most recently at the Hideout Pub, County Kildare, which displayed the icon for some 50 years. Today considered to be one of the oldest and rarest pieces of sports memorabilia in existence, it is on loan to the exhibit by the pub's former owner, Josephine Byrne.

Detail of Dan Donnelly artifacts, including his mummified arm. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)
Detail of boxing cards, tickets, photographs, and books featured in the exhibit. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)
Detail of John L. Sullivan artifacts, including a punching bag and framed textile. His fur coat is also included in the exhibit. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)
Detail of the bantamweight champion belt presented to Irish-American boxer John Terrence "Terrible Terry" McGovern in 1899. On loan from the Museum of the City of New York. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

(L-R) Massachusetts State Auditor and former professional boxer Joseph DeNucci; Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill; Jay Tunney, son of world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney, and exhibit curator James Houlihan, at the opening reception April 1. The robes of John Duddy (green), Barry "The Cyclone" McGuigan (blue), and Jerry Quarry (red) are visible in the background. (Photo by Justin Knight)

Dr. Wilbur McClure (middle) was light Middleweight Olympic boxing champion at 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He is shown here at the opening reception with local boxing publicist Bob Treiger (right) and exhibit curator James Houlihan (left). (Photo by Justin Knight)

Read the full press release about this exhibit.