As visitors drive through Ballydehob on their getaway to West Cork few stop to glance at the statue of Danno O'Mahoney at the crossroads in Ballydehob. They should, for this fine work by Dunmanway Sculptor James MacCarthy commemorates probably the first Irishman who could claim the title "World Champion" and who, along with John McCormack was probably the best known Irish celebrity in the first half of the 20th Century.
Danno O'Mahoney became one of the most famous Irish sportsmen in the world, when in the July 1935, he dethroned Ed Don George to become unified World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion at Braves Field Baseball Park, Boston.
Danno was one of eight children born to Daniel and Susan (nee O'Driscoll). He arrived into the world on 27 September 1912 in Dereenlomane, Ballydehob, West Cork and was reared along with his six brothers and one sister on the family farm. Like many young Irish boys and girls he left school aged thirteen and worked on the farm. Following their mother Susan’s death in 1933, Danno and his brother Flor joined the Irish Army, where once again they were prolific in their sporting endeavours. Six months into his army career, Danno was discovered by wrestling promoter Jack McGrath. He was signed by McGrath and travelled across the Irish Sea to London where following some training, he had a number of minor bouts. On the 8 December 1934, Danno sailed on the S.S. Bremen from Southampton, arriving six days later in New York.
1935 was to become a pivotal year in Danno’s life. On the 2 January 1935, he signed a five year, pro-Wrestling contract rumoured to be worth $100,000 with Paul Bowser. Two days later, Danno made his wrestling debut in Boston Gardens against Ernie Dusek. The audience were treated to a spectacular evening, when Danno showed he was a ‘fine broth of a boy’. He flattened Dusek twice when ‘using a distinctive hold, the Irish Whip’ the card ended in a ‘Wild Jam’ when Danno hit cops and Dusek’s brother Rudy.
Following Danno’s first win in America, he continued to raise his profile in the wrestling world. In June 1935 he defeated Jim Londos to become the NYSAC World Heavyweight Champion. A month later the scene was set for one of the biggest bout’s in Danno’s wrestling career. On the 30 July 1935, Danno O’Mahoney, with 62 victories in the previous seven months, was scheduled to fight Ed Don George at Braves Field, Boston ‘on a winner-take-all basis in a match’ that would unify the heavyweight wrestling crown. 45,000 fans witnessed Danno ‘tossing Ed George out of the ring after an hour and 30 minutes of earnest grappling.’
Danno, his manager Jack McGrath and his wife Esther, returned to Ireland in July 1936. Upon his arrival in Cobh, he was welcomed by thousands of admirers. From there, he travelled to his home town of Ballydehob, where 'about a mile from his home he was met by a large crowd and by 30 men on horseback'.
When Danno finally retired, he moved to Santa Monica in California and opened a pub named O'Mahoney's Irish Whip. Danno frequently returned to Ireland and in 1950, his return to Ireland became permanent. Tragedy struck six weeks later when on the night of 2 November 1950, Danno was involved in an automobile accident in Portlaoise, County Laois. He was brought to the County Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries on the 3 November. His funeral was held in Ballydehob on the 6 November and he was buried in Cosheen Cemetery, Schull. Danno was just thirty-eight years old. On 31 August 2001, a life size statue of Danno was unveiled in Ballydehob by one of Ireland's greatest bowlers, Mick Barry. His words at the unveiling serve as a reminder of the enormity of the inspiration that Danno conveyed. Mick Barry 'and his brothers would often rise early to listen to the wireless to get the result of Danno’s performances in the ring and his continuous run of victories was an incentive to any aspiring young sportsmen to scale the heights of success.'
The inscription on the statue reads:
Born Derreenlomane, Ballydehob 1912.
Defeated the reigning world champion Ed. Donjorge July 30th 1925. Defended his title successfully 133 times. He was champion weight lifter and rated the strongest man in the world. Died as a result of a motor accident 1950.
Sculptor James MacCarthy 2000"
This article is in the 2nd October Edition of #What's on in West Cork" available from the usual outlets or online: https://whatsoninwestcork.ie/flipbook/library/woiwcoct20/
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