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A copy of the Clare Champion report from 1923 on Mike Mc Tigue's boxing match against Siki. Photograph by John Kelly

When Clare was ‘frantic with joy’ over its world champion

Ennis College Further Education

MIKE McTigue beats Battling Siki was the headline of the lead story  in The Clare Champion the week after the Kilnamona man took the World Light Heavyweight title on St Patrick’s Day 1923.

Sub-headlines read ‘Clareman’s wonderful display’ and ‘Triumph of brain over brawn’.

The paper had pictures of the two fighters across its front page, while the lead story described the excitement and anticipation that gripped the county, as people waited for news from Dublin.

“Ennis was agog with excitement on Saturday evening, anxiously awaiting the result of the fight between Battling Siki and Mike McTigue for the light heavyweight championship of the world and the heavyweight championship of Europe.

“Large crowds arrived from the most distant parts of the county and from 8.30pm onwards, rumours and counter rumours with regard to the result of the contest filled the air.

(See rather grainy footage from the fight on YouTube link below)

“The suspense was almost unbearable and great was the rejoicing when some short time before 10 o’clock the news was flashed that Mike McTigue had won.”

The celebrations that followed may have been like those after the All-Ireland wins of the 1990s. “The scene that followed could scarcely be described; all our people, young and old, were frantic with joy at the glad news.

“Cheers for McTigue, for Kilnamona and for Clare rent the air. On distant hills bonfires blazed in celebration of the great event, and as the tidings were made known in the remote parts of the county, similar manifestations of joy were the order.

“Tongues of fire shot up here and there on the most distant hills, until the whole country seemed ablaze. Cheers were heard on every side, and messages of congratulation were wafted in the air to the victor.”

The following night there was a huge welcome home, not for the new world champion, but for his father who had been at the fight.

“On Sunday, Ennis was again the scene of crowds anxiously and eagerly awaiting the arrivals from Dublin, and the occupants of motors passing on their way were closely questioned.

“After 9 o’clock in the evening Mr Frank Lyons arrived, amongst his passengers being Mr McTigue, father of the champion. This was the occasion for another outburst and he was the recipient of numerous handshakes and congratulations.

“Later, arriving in his native Kilnamona he was met with blazing bonfires, which illuminated the whole countryside and large crowds surged to meet him. The hills around echoing with the cheers for him and his famous son, who had made the name of Kilnamona and Clare ring throughout the world.”

The report on the fight stressed that McTigue had been the more skillful, cuter fighter.

“Those who went to the La Scala Theatre, Dublin, to see bloodshed and bruising received a disappointment but those who went to see an exhibition of boxing science were more than satisfied. Mike McTigue’s victory was the triumph of brain over brawn.”

It was an era before Instagram or Twitter and the report said that McTigue wished to send a message to the people of Clare through the Champion.

“I am very proud of the fact that I am a native of Clare. I am equally proud that I have justified the confidence of Clare and have proved myself worthy of championship honours.”

The report said that there was great tension through the last round, while the decision was met with wild enthusiasm.

“The last round was begun amidst the most intense excitement. A hush of expectancy fell on the crowd. The seconds ticked off; blow followed blow and thud thud. An isolated cheer here and there in the packed hall broke the stillness as McTigue, who carried the audience with him, piled up his points.

“Twas a thrilling and a tense moment. People all but rose in their places in their excitement and their earnestness. ‘McTigue wins on points.’ Seconds and supporters rushed through the ropes. The audience jumped to its feet as one man. ‘McTigue! ‘McTigue!’ ‘McTigue!’

“There was a wild tumult of cheering. Hats were waved, men jumped on thier seats and yelled themselves hoarse. They embraced each other in their joy.

“Equally enthusiastic scenes were witnessed in the ring. McTigue was surrounded by his admirers. His father lifted him shoulder high and carried him around the ring. So great was the excitement that Mr Charlie Brennan, the champion’s manager, collapsed in a dead faint and was carried away.”

The full front page from the Champion in 1923.
Photograph by John Kelly

It seems to be impossible to get a full recording of the fight nowadays to see if the decision was the correct one or not.

While Siki was very angry with the decision, and one could see how hard it would be for him to have got a decision in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, the Champion included an article written by the sports editor of English publication The Daily Mirror, which stated that McTigue deserved the win.

“McTigue won with his left hand, which was always scoring, his clever elusiveness, and his superb defence when by sheer strength Siki forced his way to close quarters.

“Siki was often at a loss as to what to do with his slippery opponent.

“There is no question of the correctness of Mr Jack Smith’s verdict. Sitting outside the ring I should have given the same verdict at the end of 17 rounds, and McTigue won the last three easier than any of the others.”

Unsurprisingly Siki felt the decision was harsh on him, but McTigue felt it was clearcut.

“I won easily, and I would have stopped him in the 13th round only my right thumb went. I beat him to the punch two to one.”

Owen Ryan
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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.