THE name O’Sullivan has been linked to Cork and world boxing for many generations.
It’s a name that has been synonymous with the sport from the Great Famine to the present day. Over the decades, and depending on their circumstances, some O’Sullivans dropped the O and apostrophe.
The first of many of these families linked to Cork boxing was John L Sullivan. The legendary 'Boston Strong Boy' was born in Massachusetts in 1858.
His Rebel lineage came from his grandfather Larry O’Sullivan who hailed from Doneraile in north Cork. Larry left Leeside to work in Kerry where he met and married Joan O’Reilly. Their first son, Michael, who emigrated to Boston after marrying Catherine Kelly, was the father of John L.
His parents wanted him to enter the priesthood which might explain why he was also nicknamed “his fistic holiness”. John L was the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champion of the world.
In his 41 fights, he was beaten just once by James J Corbett in his last outing in 1892, according to the official record-keeping website boxrec.
The Corkman’s grandson, the L in his name was in memory of his grandad, was awarded a belt inscribed: 'Presented to the champion of champions by the citizens of the USA.'
Following his retirement, he became involved with the American media and promotions. Long after he hung up his gloves, people lined up at public events to shake his hand. Hence the famous saying, “shake the hand that shook the hand that shook the world.”
Another Sullivan to win a boxing title was Dave Sullivan who was born and reared close to Kinsale.
When he was 14 years old, his family also emigrated to Boston. Sullivan (27-12-17, 18 ko) won the world featherweight belt on September 21, 1898, after stopping Solly Smith in the fifth round. However, his reign did not endure very long as he was dethroned by George Dixon 46 days later.
Sullivan boxed at the top level for another five years after that defeat but failed to regain the title. The former world champion never returned to Cork and died in the USA in 1929 aged 62.
The Cork Ex Boxers Association will honour his success in due course. Meanwhile, back on Leeside, the Cork County Boxing Board was established in 1914 and organised their inaugural County Championships in May of that year.
The event took place at Fitzgerald’s Park. Following the first bout, 14-year-old Denis O’Sullivan, who lived in Greenmount and represented the Parnells BC, made Cork boxing history after claiming the first-ever County title.
His triumph was recorded in the minutes of a County Board meeting at No 2 James Street off Washington Street. Six years later, following the burning of Cork by the Black and Tans in 1920. The Parnells club, based in Copley Street, was burned to the ground by the Tans.
Consequently, the famous old unit faded away. At this year’s County Championships, the board presented their 2020 champions with a special certificate in salute to the Parnells club and those who suffered at the hands of England 100 years ago.
Amongst the carnage was the burning of the old City Hall. Sixteen years later, the new City Hall, in all its splendour, was opened. The building hosted many famous boxing nights in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Two years ago at a function in City Hall, Vanc O’Connell and her camera captured a moment of Cork boxing magic as seen in the main picture with this article. The image features three unrelated O’Sullivans, Tim, Frank and Gary, who each, inside and outside the ring, contributed to the Cork boxing narrative.
Tim is the oldest living international in Ireland who represented Ireland against the USA and the best Britain could muster.
He’s a founder member of the Cork Ex Boxers Association and has been acknowledged by the British Boxing Board of Control. Tim is also celebrated as a boxing historian and is the first Corkman to receive the IABA Hall of Fame Award.
Frank, a Sunnyside BC champion, was born and reared at the bottom of Shandon Street. He immigrated to the UK as a young man and founded the famed Birmingham ABC 63 years ago. Frank has coached some of the greatest boxers in Britain, including Olympic champions.
He was also honoured in 2012 by Queen Elizabeth for outstanding service to the sport.
Gary, a world middleweight contender, is the winner of two WBO belts. He’s been lauded by Irish President Michael D Higgins and is plotting another tilt at a world title this year.
The O’Sullivan name has served Cork boxing well.
Fittingly, the O’Sullivan motto is: “The steady hand to victory.”