The temperature is back to normal this morning and with the wind direction changed and after last night’s good rain, everywhere feels clean and fresh today. It would have done the paddocks good to get a nice soaking and if we can get some warm weather now, the grass should fly up. It’s been another typically busy morning in the yard, with horses cantering, using both the Round and Rubbing House canters, plus horses through the stalls and a bus load of visitor expected to arrive mid-morning. So far, so good.
Phil on Friday
On those famous, or infamous, trips to Punchestown undertaken by members of the old Mark Tompkins Racing Club, which I mentioned last week, it became something of a pilgrimage to visit the site of a tremendous bare-knuckle fight which took place on The Curragh more than 200 years ago now – and afterwards to view the victor’s right arm, bizarrely preserved in red lead paint and displayed in a glass case, like some prize salmon, on the wall of a pub in the country town of Kilcullen.
Gruesome, but at least novel!
The hero was Dan Donnelly, born in Dublin in 1788, one of 17 children. He grew into a giant of a man with arms so long it was said he could buckle his calf-length boots without having to bend over. He became a fighting legend and national hero in Ireland when he knocked the English champion George Cooper senseless after 11 brutal rounds in a hollow on The Curragh in the early winter of 1815. A crowd of 20,000 witnessed the butchery.
After his victory Dan trudged out of the hollow and such was his bulk he left deep footprints in the rain-softened, peaty turf. They are still visible today – trust me! The scene of the blood-soaked battle is known as Donnelly’s Hollow.
The great man died penniless in 1820, his friends having deserted him. It is said that after drinking heavily in a Dublin bar he staggered out alone, collapsed in a rain-sodden gutter, contracted pneumonia and died a few days later, still only in his early thirties. His feats were not forgotten though, and an estimated 70,000 people watched his funeral procession. He had put one over on the English!
Dan’s body was spirited away and sold to a Dublin surgeon who removed the right arm to examine its muscle structure. Later, for many years, it was studied by medical students at Edinburgh University, then exhibited at a travelling circus in Ireland and freak shows in Victorian England.
Eventually it reached the landlord of the Hideout pub in Kilcullen, where we encountered it, only a mile or so from the site of the famous showdown with Cooper on the Curragh. He displayed it for more than 40 years and his successor also kept it for a while, but then sold up and moved out, taking the relic with him. Apparently he kept it under his bed! The pub itself is now much changed, I hear.
Later the arm went on virtually a world tour, turning up at a ‘Fighting Irishmen’ exhibition in New York and a similar show in Dublin among other places. Hopefully it is safe somewhere now, albeit no doubt more blackened and shrivelled by age.
I thought that jolly little tale would cheer everyone up, and if you would like to see those Dan Donnelly footprints just give us a ring for directions…