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Jim Coffey: Bullied By Yankee Policemen & Became Heavyweight Champion Boxer
From Tully, Co. Roscommon, Jim Coffey, born on January 27th 1890, was an Irishman who simply could not tolerate people taunting his Irish brogue. It was that stance that led to him becoming a famous Irish boxer. At just twenty years old he set out for America without a trade to try his luck in the land of dollars. His first job was wheeling trolleys for nine dollars a week and whilst pushing his trolleys he overheard an American policeman mimicking his Irish lilt. In a twist of anger he rounded on the policemen and though outnumbered, he put both men on the ground. Never more would Jim Coffey, be taunted in New York by a yankee policemen.
Word soon spread around the boxing community, that now in their midst was a brawny Irishman who laid out two policemen and the manager of American heavyweight boxer, Carl Harris, sent out his scouts to search for the Roscommon giant. Jim was invited to consider become a boxing sparring partner for heavyweight Harris, at fifteen dollars a week and he duly accepted. So intense was Coffey when sparring with Harris, that he was prevailed upon to become a heavyweight boxer.
After some due consideration he accepted the challenge, found a promoter and started out on his boxing career. Ironically in 1915, the fighter who courted him for sparring was beaten by Jim Coffey in a rough and tumble contest.Now aged twenty one, with a fifteen stone frame and a mighty eighty two inches reach, he became known in America as the ‘Roscommon Giant’.
In a career spanning one hundred and forty bouts and over one hundred exhibition fights, he fought in sixty nine official recorded bouts, won forty (thirty seven by knock out), had twenty three draws and lost the verdict on six occasions. The fame of the Roscommon boxer was now global and he made international sporting headlines in his contests.
A careful man with his purses, by 1915 he had accumulated a massive 50,000 dollars and was determined to seek his fortune before returning to his native land. On his visits to his native Roscommon he kept up his courtship with local woman, Kate Kenny.The couple would marry later when Jim had completed his boxing career. He fought his last battle on American soil in November 1921, when he lost to Martin Burke.
In 1919 he won the European Heavyweight title to great acclaim and would go on to successfully defend that title in 1920 in Dublin. One of his greatest achievements came in 1921, when famous French heavyweight boxer, Georges Carpentier, fell to the Roscommon Giant in a titanic battle. By 1922 Jim Coffey decided to return permanently to Ireland to get married to Kate, but his new wife had some misgivings about his safety and requested Jim to consider a life outside the ring.
In 1923 and aged thirty three, he took on Jim Scott in London and lost on a unanimous verdict. He now called time on his boxing life and settled down with Kate to raise a family of four children at Loughglynn, Co. Roscommon. Jim Coffey, famous Roscommon Giant and noble sportsman, died in 1975, aged eighty five and he is recorded as one of Ireland’s greatest boxing ambassadors since boxing began in Ireland.
Jim Coffey is one of a number of 20th century Irish boxers who are incorporated in the All Ireland Hall of Fame Online Gallery as SportsLife Irish legends, sports legends whose deeds are preserved for future and current generations of Irish people.
Composed by Derry JF Doody