Chris Cole, seated left, signing the contract for his bout with Jack Doyle (seated far right). Also seated is the promoter Gerald Egan. The woman in the photo is Doyle’s wife, Movita.

Heavyweight great should be ‘in running’ for road naming honour

The family of a Mullingar boxer who famously beat ‘The Gorgeous Gael’ Jack Doyle in front of a packed Dalymount Park 80 years ago says that he should be “in the running” when it comes to the naming of roads around the town.

Chris Cole cemented his name into Irish boxing history when he defeated Doyle in June 1943. His son Ben contacted the Westmeath Examiner after we recently reported that Cllr Mick Dollard wants the council to name a road after Joe Dolan.

Ben told the paper that he and the rest of his family believe that their father’s exploits in the ring should make him a contender when local decision makers are discussing the naming of roads in the future.

Born in 1919 and a contemporary of fellow pugilist Maxi McCullough, who is due to have a statue erected in his honour, Chris boxed out of fellow Westmeath man Jack ‘Sid’ Lynam’s Mullingar based professional stable, which was one of the few in Ireland in the 1940s.

He first became known in boxing circles when, as a 17-year-old, he reached the semi-finals of a lucrative heavyweight tournament organised by the Daily Mail.

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.

Prior to his victory over Doyle, Cole’s most famous scalp was ‘The Giant’ Jim Cully, a seven foot two US-based Tipperary native. Cully travelled back to Ireland to fight him for the Irish heavyweight title in Dalymount Park in June 1942. In what was his most high profile bout in his career, 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, Cole took on Doyle and his victory was just as decisive, despite once again going into a bout as the rank underdog. At the time Cobh native Doyle was one of the most famous Irishmen on the planet.

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.

Both men were renowned as knock-out specialists, but Doyle’s supposed physical superiority (he was six foot five, while Cole was six two) and greater experience in the ring made him the overwhelming favourite going into their bout.

However, as local author Jack Kiernan explains in his excellent booklet on Cole, The Plough and the Star, the Mullingar boxer 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 report 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, that 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 known as ‘The man who beat Jack Doyle’, a victory that rightly earned him a place in the annals of Irish professional boxing.

He may have been fearsome in the ring, but outside it Cole, who died at the age of 41, leaving his wife Maureen to raise nine children, was a gentleman.

“He was a very quiet man. If somebody was talking about fighting or anything, he wouldn’t want to know about it. He wasn’t like that at all.

“You would never think that he was into the fight game.”

He shunned the limelight outside the ring, but his reputation as a heavy hitter meant that he was the subject of a number of tall tales, which he derived great amusement from, Ben says.

“Photographers came down to Mullingar once [before one of his fights] and they asked him to pick up an animal, so he picked up a pig. He also picked up a calf, but when the story got into town, he had picked up a cow.”

Another story that did the rounds in Mullingar and further afield is that he knocked out a contrary mare.

“There were a few stories told about him that he used to break his heart laughing at, as they weren’t true.”

At the February meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad, where he proposed that the road that runs from Gaol Hill to Blackhall be named after Joe Dolan, Cllr Mick Dollard outlined what criteria he would use when deciding who is worthy of such an honour.

“I’m always of the view that when roads are being developed, they should be named after people who have made some form of contribution to the area, whether that be economic, social or cultural…”

Ben believes his father meets the criteria. “He should definitely be in the running.”