John Morrissey - Famous Irish Boxer
Inducted into America’s Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1954, Templemore, Co. Tipperary, was the birthplace of a famous Irish boxer. Like many more famous boxers he walked in the back door to the sport. Born in 1831, John Morrissey’s family moved to America in 1833. John, at just two years old, set sail not knowing his destination or his future life that awaited him in a strange and foreign land.
In America the family lived a paltry life and John left school with just the basics of reading and writing as his main asset in life. As a very young boy John had to poke out a living to support his mother and siblings. Despite his lack of schooling, John had a great capacity to listen, learn and observe matters he felt were important to him and this zeal for knowledge would later benefit him in his boxing career.
He was big and strong and at the tender age of nineteen he strolled in to a New York saloon not knowing that this casual visit would change his entire life. A notorious street fighter was commanding centre stage in the saloon and renowned for his bullying of less endowed souls, Tom McCann turned on John Morrissey from Templemore and sought to humiliate the nineteen year old Irish youth.
McCann put the innocent Irish youth flat on his back lying on burning coals from the fire and in a fierce defence of his life, John Morrissey, with his clothes burning and his back badly burned, now turned McCann down on the burning coals and proceeded to hammer McCann to insensibility.
McCann was taken from the saloon unconscious and thereafter John Morrissey from Templemore became known as ‘Old Smoke’.
After news of the 1850 saloon brawl took off in New York, John Morrissey became a celebrity amongst saloon patrons who saw boxers as their No.1 sporting heroes.The Templemore native entered a whole new world of opportunity to earn a living as a prized fighter.
Morrissey now took the huge step of believing that he could live with the best of heavyweights in America and his first professional bout was against the highly rated world contender, Sam Thompson, for a purse of $2,000.
John Morrissey, ‘Old Smoke’ from Templemore, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, duly dispatched Thompson and the New York newspaper headlines hailed a new Irish boxing idol. Morrissey’s handlers now arranged a bout that would challenge him immensely against another famous Irishman from Bandon, Co. Cork.
Yankee Sullivan was a mighty Irish brawler greatly feared in the ring and he would be Morrissey’s next opponent. After a gruelling 37 rounds of intense battling, the Templemore exile nailed his Irish colleague but not before departing the ring with a broken nose and facial scars that would be identified with him for the rest of his life.
The new Irish boxer had now achieved huge status throughout America in a short period and great challenges lay in store. In 1858 famous American heavyweight boxer, John Carmel Heenan, could not wait to get the Irishman in the ring and lay him down on the canvas. The bout was arranged and to great acclaim another sensational victory was taken by the Irish boxer.
John was then declared ‘Champion Heavyweight of America’.
On his retirement from boxing, Morrissey was alleged to be involved in some unsavoury business rackets and after a period of soul searching, he found a new spiritual peace to guide him in life.
He entered politics and served two terms in the U.S. House Of Representatives as a senator and was quite successful. However the legendary Irish boxer and senator, never returned to his homeland and a major illness terminated his life at just forty seven years old.
State offices closed on his funeral day and flags flew at half mast for one of Ireland’s greatest ever boxers.