While Mullingar heavyweight Chris Cole’s famous victory over Jack Doyle in front of a packed Dalymount Park in June 1943 might not have been in the David versus Goliath league, there were few people who gave the 24-year-old much of a chance against ‘The Gorgeous Gael’.
Cobh native Doyle – who was 29 at the time of the bout – was one of the most famous Irishmen on the planet and was well known on both sides of the Atlantic.
After initially making a name for himself as a boxer in England in his late teens, by the time he fought Cole in Dublin, Doyle was a successful singer who had sold out the London Palladium and had appeared in a couple of Hollywood films. His fame increased even more in 1939 when he married popular Mexican American actress and singer Movita Castaneda, who later went on to marry actor Marlon Brando.
Although known in boxing circles on both sides of the Irish Sea after reaching the semi-finals of a lucrative heavyweight tournament organised by the Daily Mail as a 17-year-old in 1937, the contrast between Chris Cole’s world and that of his illustrious opponent could hardly have been starker.
Chris boxed out of fellow Westmeath man Jack ‘Sid’ Lynam’s Mullingar based professional stable, which was one of the few in Ireland. Renowned as an explosive puncher, the six foot two Mullingar man fought all over Ireland and Europe but in between fights lived a humble existence working on his father’s farm on the outskirts of the town. While Doyle mixed with leading lights of stage and screen in England and America in his free time, a 1943 interview with Cole reported that his favourite pastimes were “swimming and boating”.
Prior to his victory over Doyle, his most famous scalp was ‘The Giant’ Jim Cully, a seven foot two US-based Tipperary native. Cully travelled back to Ireland to take on Cole in Dalymount Park in June 1942. The Mullingar boxer was in explosive form, flooring Cully seven times before the Tipp man’s corner threw in the towel in the second round. Twelve months later the boxer-cum-farmer’s victory was just as decisive.
Sixteen thousand people squeezed in to Dalymount Park to watch Cole and Doyle in a top of the bill clash on June 11 1943. Like Cole, Doyle was known as a knockout specialist and was the overwhelming favourite to win.
However, as Mullingar author Jack Kiernan says in his excellent booklet on Cole, The Plough and the Star, the underdog had “a problem reading scripts, as he turned Irish heavy-weight boxing on its head... He battered Doyle into submission after two minutes thirty seconds of the first round.”
The Irish Independent’s report on the fight said that pre-fight favourite Doyle was “battered into a helpless hulk” by Cole, who “was mobbed by a large crowd of admirers on his way to the dressing room”.
After the fight Doyle made a number of excuses, such as losing too much weight in the run-up to the fight and not sparring enough, but as Kiernan notes Cole’s preparations in Mullingar were far from ideal either.
“He (Doyle) trained hard in a London boxing gym, a gym, no doubt, unlike Cole’s situation in Mullingar, was awash with suitable, top class sparring partners. It was Cole who had no sparring partners.”
Throughout the remainder of his boxing career, Cole was forever known as ‘The man who beat Jack Doyle, a victory that rightly earned him a place in the annals of Irish professional boxing.
* This year Jack Kiernan published the book, Is it Me? The Joe Heffernan Story. In 1910, Heffernan was the last man to be hung in Killmainham jail after being convicted of the murder Mary Walker in Mullingar the year before.
A life long boxing fan and a nephew of the late, great Maxi McCullough, Jack wished to thank the Cole family for their help with The Plough and the Star. See isitmebyjackkiernan.com.