An occasional series by Thomas Myler


It was raining heavily on the early morning of November 13th, 1815 with no sign of a break in the dark, grey clouds, but the weather did not deter the brave souls making their way to the rolling hills of the Curragh in Co. Kildare.
They came from all over the country, in every horse-drawn vehicle that could be found and which groaned and creaked all the way to the fight scene. Many came on horseback. Others who could not beg, borrow or steal a lift had to trudge their way on the long journey by foot, not pleasant in such terrible weather conditions.

The momentous occasion was the eagerly-awaited battle between Dan Donnelly, the Irish champion and something of an early 19th century folk hero, and his bitter English rival George Cooper.

As Donnelly was a Dubliner, most fans came from the capital, with its dingy streets and narrow alleyways. With their ragged clothes and dirty faces, the supporters thought nothing of making the long, tortuous 30-mile journey to the Curragh to cheer on their hero.

They had one objective – one for all and all for one, like the Three Musketeers. They were convinced that Dan was unbeatable and that no Englishman, Cooper or anybody else, could come near to matching his ability.
‘Let nobody think of defeat,’ shouted one. ‘Otherwise, they’ll have me to contend with’ – and he seemed ready for a fight there and then.

‘Dan will finish him in no time,’ yelled another, holding up his right fist. All were convinced that Donnelly would turn back the challenge of this brash Englishman who dared to question his ability. There would be only one winner, and that man would not be George Cooper.

Anti-British feeling was running high at the time. The Ireland in which Dan Donnelly was born was a land characterised by colonial oppression and deep patriotism. The country seemed leaderless and completely broken down in mind and spirit.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own