The nowadays ‘not-so-popular’ hobby of collecting cigarette cards often throws light on a forgotten hero of the past and such is a card of Peter Maher – known as ‘The Irish Giant’ in America. He is ranked amongst the greatest fighters of his decade – the 1890’s by boxing historians.
- He had a awesome career record
- 122 wins and 93 knock outs, 21 losses and 4 draws in the World Heavyweight division
He was born on the 16th March 1869 in Gunnode, Tuam, Co Galway. As a young man of eighteen he took up fishing off the Aran Isles to make a living before leaving for Dublin (as many young men still do nowadays) where he found work at the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate. It is alleged that in the brewery at that time, amongst a very large workforce, one man was feared by workers and management due to his awesome strength and muscular body.
- He was known simply as Mr Bully
- He had few challengers until Peter Maher walked through the Guinness gates
- After days of Mr Bully’s taunting and throwing down challenges, Maher had heard enough
- In an arranged bare-knuckle fight in the confines of the brewery in 1889, Peter Maher squared up to Mr Bully
- It is said that “after two and a half hours of a gruesome battle, the Dublin born bully was removed from the complex and hospitalised for several days to recover from the beating he received”
- Workers and management gave Maher a standing ovation
- Mr Bully’s reign of terror was over
This encounter gave Peter Maher widespread publicity and people engaged in fight management went looking for Maher. After some consideration, Maher turned to boxing to earn a living, initially in Ireland and in England, and eventually America.
- Between March 1887 and January 1890, Maher fought 24 times, culminating in the Irish Heavyweight title
- He fought 4 fights in the Irish Middleweight Division, winning all 4 at the Rotunda Concert Hall, Dublin
- He then fought in the British ABA Championships in London (losing in the final)
- He returned to Dublin and won the Irish Middleweight title
Less than twelve months after taming the infamous Guinness Bully, Maher was set up to fight the Afro-Australian and ‘soon to be’ British Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion, Peter Jackson, a.k.a. “The Black Prince”.
- The contest was held on Christmas Day 1889 in the Leinster Hall, Dublin
- It was a mis-match – only lasting two rounds, with the inexperienced Maher counted out on his feet by the refereee.
After becoming Irish champion, Maher fought another 15 fights before emigrating to America (Philadelphia) in 1891
Just 4 years later, on the 11th November 1895, aged twenty six, he knocked out Steve O’Donnell (Australia) and became World heavyweight Champion but his reign was brief – the legendary Bob Fitzsimons relieved him of the crown just three months later on 21st February 1896, at Langtry, Texas
- Fitzsimons was a British born New Zealand professional boxer who made boxing history as the sport’s first three-division world champion.
- Fitzsimons also achieved fame for beating Gentleman Jim Corbett (who beat John L. Sullivan)
- Fitzsimons is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “lightest” World Heavyweight Champion
During his illustrious career, Maher defeated such men as :-
- a French-Canadian heavyweight boxer from Quebec
- Won 12 (9 by KO). Drew 2, Lost 3 (1 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
- An American heavyweight from Buffalo, New York
- Won 40 (18 by KO). Drew 8, Lost 14 (9 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
Jack Fallon, a.k.a. “The Brooklyn Strong Boy”
- An American heavyweight from Brooklyn, New York City
- Won 39 (22 by KO). Drew 9, Lost 10 (4 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
Nick Burley, alias “Nicholas Barovich”
- An American heavyweight from Austin, Texas
- Won 49 (39 by KO). Drew 7, Lost 20 (all 20 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
George Godfrey, a.k.a. “Old Chocolate”
- An African-Canadian heavyweight boxer who held the distinction of being World ‘Coloured’ Heavyweight Champion during his career
- Godfrey spent nearly his entire career chasing eventual World Heavyweight Champion John L. Sullivan, who repeatedly and controversially refused to fight black contenders
- Won 23 (18 by KO). Drew 14, Lost 6 (6 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
Frank Craig, a.k.a. “The Harlem Coffee Cooler”
- An African-American light-heavyweight from Columbus, Georgia who held the distinction of beingWorld ‘Coloured’ Middleweight Champion during his career
- He competed for the middleweight championship of England, losing to Dan Creedon (NZ) on October 14, 1895 but won the title by defeating George Chrisp 24 November 1898 via aO. in the 13th round
- Won 69 (43 by KO). Drew 9, Lost 39 (14 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
- An Irish-Australian heavyweight from Sydney
- O’Donnell boxed with Theodore Roosevelt who is said to have been instrumental in his appointment as boxing coach at Harvard from 1898 until at least 1917.
- S. Eliot was among those trained at O’Donnell’s gymnasium in the Boston South End
- Won 23 (19 by KO). Drew 1, Lost 10 (7 by KO – KO’d twice + TKO’d twice by Maher)
Frank “Paddy” Slavin, a.k.a. “the Sydney Cornstalk”
- An Irish-Australian heavyweight champion from Maitland, New South Wales
- He was known as a dangerous opponent – a rushing, moving, boxer-puncher with skill and an extremely hard punch in either hand; He was much like Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion, in his skills, ability to take punishment, and killer-instinct
- Won 43 (38 by KO). Drew 9, Lost 12 (10 by KO – TKO’d by Maher)
Joe Choynski, a.k.a. “The California Terror” and “Little Joe”
- son of a Jewish Polish immigrant that settled in California in 1867, weighed no more than 176 lb (80 kg)
- World Light Heavyweight Champion, August 26, 1889
- Won 55 (39 by KO). Drew 5, Lost 15 (11 by KO – lost 3 times to Maher, twice by KO)
Charles A.C. Smith, a.k.a. “the Black Thunderbolt”
- An African-American heavyweight from Macon, Georgia
- Won 55 (39 by KO). Drew 5, Lost 15 (11 by KO) Smith lost twice to Maher)
Joe Goddard, a.k.a. “The Wild Man”
- an Australian boxer, born in Pyramul, New South Wales
- Known for his great strength, durability, and punching power – one of the first reportedHeavyweight Champions of Australia. Also held South African heavyweight title.
- Won 32 (30 by KO). Drew 7, Lost 15 (8 by KO) Goddard beat Maher twice and lost once
- Heavyweight champion of the US Pacific Coast
- Won 20 (15 by KO). Drew 1, Lost 22 (20 by KO – knocked out by Maher)
Joe Butler, a.k.a. “The Black Pearl”
- An African-American boxer and ‘Colored’ Middleweight Champion of the World, 1892-94
- Known as “The King of the Middleweights”, Butler had quick hands and fast footwork
- Won 40 (33 by KO). Drew 3, Lost 33 (23 by KO – beaten twice by Maher, incl. 1 KO)
For over ten years Peter Maher was to the forefront of all contenders and his American popularity was so immense it enabled him to mix with the rich and famous.
- Maher allegedly walked with American Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William McKinlay
- He also seen in the company of Judge Roy Bean, Wyatt Earp and Batt Masterson
Nowadays, his name is largely forgotten by everyone outside of Connacht. Even in the Irish boxing world, the names of Barry McGuigan and Katie Taylor nowadays tend to predominate. We are a small nation and have so few world champions to look back upon – it is important that we celebrate these heroes of the past and ensure they are not forgotten.
Blessed with enormous punching strength, pleasant easy going manner and good face complexion, the Irish boxer carried on boxing until he reached his fortieth birthday.
- Peter Maher died on the 22nd July 1940, aged 71, in Baltimore, Maryland.
- He never returned to his native Ireland.
History has forgotten the name of the Guinness Bully – let us not forget Peter Maher.