An Exhibit Presented by the Ward Irish Music Archives, Milwaukee Irish Fest
Boxing or prizefighting became an established sport in the early eighteenth century, primarily in the British Isles but made its way to the United States quite early. Early fighting had no written rules. There were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. In general, it was extremely chaotic. The first boxing rules, called the Broughton's rules, were introduced by champion Jack Broughton in 1743 to protect fighters in the ring where deaths sometimes occurred. In 1867 the Marquess of Queensberry rules were established and are still mostly used today.
In the British Isles Peter Corcoran from Kildare, Ireland was the British Bare Knuckle Champion from 1771-1776. Duggan Fearns was Champion in 1779. By the middle nineteenth century the Irish were starting to show their strength. Yankee Sullivan was champion from 1851-1853. Tim Collins and Bat Mullins were Lightweight Champions of England. Joe Colburn, From Armagh, Northern Ireland became Champion of the World.
The first and second generation of Irish in America coincided with boxing becoming a popular sport in the United States. Irish Americans were a main feature in many bouts. Over 20 Irish and Irish American boxers became Champions of the World in their weight classes. Most notably Jake Kilrain, John L. Sullivan, Paddy Duffy, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and James Walter Braddock were all household names during their heyday.
This traveling exhibit takes a look at all the Irish and Irish Americans that made the sport of boxing so popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.