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The Gorgeous Gael

The Gorgeous Gael and the Irish Giant

You’d be forgiven, by its title, for expecting this post to be a tale from Irish mythology but no, it isn’t the stuff of Irish legend despite two larger than life characters forming the basis of the story.

At the age of 19, Jack Doyle, a young boxer from Cobh, County Cork, stepped into the ring at White City Stadium in London. In front of one of the largest ever attendances in boxing history, he made his way to his corner before doing battle with his opponent, the then British Heavyweight title holder, a 22-year-old Welshman called Jack Petersen.

It was July, 1933 and prior to the bout, Doyle had notched up 10 consecutive victories, all within two rounds. It made him one of the best prospects in boxing and his dream, were he to beat the unbeaten Petersen, was to fight for and bring back to Ireland the World Heavyweight Title.

Doyle’s meteoric rise through the boxing ranks had won over the hearts of his nation and back home in Ireland his army of fans huddled around their radios eager to hear that the man they hailed as ‘The Gorgeous Gael’ would be announced the victor.

Inexplicably, the destructive power that had seen Doyle dismiss ten previous opponents, soon deserted him and instead he adopted a style that would do little to notch up the points on the judges scorecards. Whether the sense of occasion had got to him or, as had been speculated, his last minute preparation, which had allegedly taken place over the bar at a nearby public house, had rendered him ineffective, we will never know. Neither instance can be verified but what we do know is that Jack Doyle quickly resorted to a tactic that he surely knew would end in his disqualification.

A series of low blows to the Welshman’s Antarctic regions brought an early end to the bout and a post fight interview revealed a man seemingly unfazed by his loss and still speaking of winning the world title.

How does any of this relate to Tom Crean?

Well among those captivated by the charm and ring skills of Jack Doyle was the Annascaul man and, as revealed by his daughter Mary in an interview she gave in 2000, Tom Crean was a fan of Doyle. So much so that when pensioners arrived at the South Pole Inn after receiving their Thursday payments, the topic of conversation was often the Gorgeous Gael. Crean even arranged playful bouts between the customers in mock re-enactments of Doyle bouts against former opponents. Mary recalled the frivolities as being a time of great fun and it’s one of the stories I’ve added in the new Special Edition of my book.

It’s safe to say that the South Pole Inn on July 12th, 1933, was bustling as Tom Crean and his friends gathered around the radio with a dream of their own in the hope that Jack Doyle would be boarding the ferry back to Ireland with the title belt in his suitcase.

Sadly it was never to be and Jack Doyle’s purse of £3,000 was withheld yet he later won it back via the courts before heading off to America to seek further fame in the movies. Before doing so however, Jack had been recognised for another great talent, that of a singer. Doyle would go on to please crowds in Ireland and across the world with his wonderful tenor voice.

In 1935 he met and married his first wife, the actress Judith Allen. It was though a stormy relationship that didn’t last and after their divorce in 1937, he would, in 1939, marry another Hollywood actress, Movita Castaneda.

Marriage proved to be a commitment beyond Doyle whose dashing good looks attracted a host of female admirers wherever he went. It signalled the end of his second marriage when Movita caught him gallivanting with one such admirer. Movita returned home to Hollywood.

His life thereafter went on a downward spiral and after a loss in his penultimate fight against Chris Cole, which can be apportioned to his entering the ring in an inebriated state, it was time to call an end to a boxing career. Doyle’s early ring successes had promised much but he delivered little in a career that never did see him win a title belt. He did though, in his final bout, end it with a KO victory over Butcher Howell at Dalymount Park, Dublin in 1943.

In his personal life an unforgivable act of rage which resulted in Movita being the victim of domestic violence, severely blemished what could have been a popular legacy. After their divorce Movita would go on to become the wife of Marlon Brando and soon after Doyle’s friends began to desert him.

Jack Doyle’s life mirrored that of other special talents before and after his time as his flaws resulted in his downfall. Fond of a few drinks and a punt on the horses, he was never one to shy away from opening his wallet in the public houses and betting shops he often frequented but before long it had all disappeared. His descent saw him penniless at the time of his passing in London in 1978 and if it had not been for the intervention of a group of ex Cork boxers and a Cobh undertaker, Doyle would have been buried in a pauper’s grave. His body was repatriated to Cobh and thousands lined the streets for his funeral.

I end this post with three videos – the infamous fight against Jack Petersen, a song, The Contender, written by Cork songwriter Jimmy McCarthy in Doyle’s memory and performed by Christy Moore. The final video here features Jack Doyle performing his rendition of ‘The Rose of Tralee’ during a break from training for his fight in Madison Square Garden against Buddy Baer, brother of the former World Heavyweight champion Max Baer.

©Tim Foley 2020

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