Famous Ancestral Son Of Ireland: Born In Australia
Ancestral Irish Family Devastated By Sudden Death
Of Australian Boxer James Leslie Darcy.
Boxer with Tipperary Roots Died At Just Twenty One In Tragic Circumstances: With a surname like Darcy and a mother whose maiden name was O’Rourke, and Co. Tipperary connections dating to the 19th century, there is always a possibility that the subject person may be Irish or of Irish ancestry. When I strolled across the name “Leslie Darcy” famous boxer, I decided to research further and my inquisitive mind landed me with a true story about an ancestral Irishman of Australian birth.
The story was also a tragic tale of how a young man, who was just twenty one years of age, was swept out of this planet like a thief in the still of night with a minor illness that seldom inflicts major health issues. Throughout Australia Leslie Darcy is recorded in many Hall Of Fame Galleries as one of the countries greatest ever middleweight boxers and he also held the Australian Heavyweight title and he uniquely held both titles at the same time.
James Leslie Darcy was born on 31st October 1895 at Woodville, New South Wales, Australia and died on 24th May 1917 at Memphis, United States Of America. Death was recorded as a result of a tooth abcess which developed into septicaemia and spread to his tonsils causing immense breathing problems. Leslie Darcy was just twenty one years of age at the time of his untimely and unfortunate death. In a powerful acknowledgement of his status, when his embalmed remains came home to Australia in 1917, an estimated five hundred thousand Aussie citizens gathered to pay their respects to the famous boxer. For a man of just twenty one years of age, this signified his glorious sporting reputation in his parents adopted land.
Leslie Darcy won his first sixteen fights before challenging the veteran Bob Whitelaw for the Australian welterweight title. Darcy lost the twenty-round decision but, in a rematch, knocked Whitelaw out in five rounds. He graduated from regional bouts to fighting in Sydney Stadium in Rushcutters Bay and promoters began to import talent to challenge him. He lost his first two fights in Sydney, one by decision and one by foul, to America's Fritz Holland.
The next year Darcy faced another American, Jeff Smith, in what was considered a contest for the Australian world middleweight title. When Darcy complained of a low blow at the end of the fifth round, the referee believed that Darcy did not want to continue and awarded the decision to Smith. Later in a greatly anticipated rematch, Darcy was awarded the victory when Smith punched him in the groin. As Australian world middleweight champion, Darcy defeated such top-flight visiting Americans as Eddie McGoorty, Billy Murray, Jimmy Clabbie, George Chip, George ‘KO’ Brown and Buck Crouse, as well as knocking out Smith and Holland in rematches. Darcy's opponents are said to have admired his courage,stamina, and punching power. In 1916,he knocked Harold Hardwick out to capture the Australian heavyweight title. .
By 1916 Leslie Darcy, with Tipperary heritage, was widely regarded as Australia’s best known sportsman.In a glittering career the Australian boxer contested fifty six professional bouts, but similar to many more top ranking boxers, his career was gravely blighted by events outside the ring. The ancestral Irishman got himself into huge controversy by deliberately avoiding Australian conscription during World War1 and as condemnation of his avoidance of conscription began to soar, he left for America where he believed his real fortune could be achieved and importantly leave the conscription issue to one side.
Unfortunately for Darcy, American boxing promoters, one by one, became aware of the conscription issue in Australia and walked away from promoting his fights. American State Governers also came down heavily on the conscription issue and refused him licenses to box in their state. Also he found it difficult to get any American professional boxers to agree to any fights until the conscription issue was resolved.
Darcy's American exploits were seen by him as a means of financially setting up his Australian family for the rest of their lives, but alas it was not to be. In a peace offering settlement he took the option of taking out U.S. citizenship in 1917 to continue his professional boxing career and he also announced he would enlist in the U.S. Signal Corps. He requested the military commanders that he be granted leave to fulfill boxing matches lined up for him in June and July 1917 and this concession was granted.
With his call up temporarily on hold he set about a strenuous training regime but in the build up to his training, he suddenly collapsed at his camp and was removed to hospital.The medical diagnosis was, that the infection from the abcessed tooth spread to his tonsils and developed poisoning causing pneumonia which resulted in his death on 24th May 1917.
In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Leslie Darcy was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1993, the World Boxing Hall Of Fame in October 1998, and the Australian National Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2003.
In 2001, an opera "The Flight of Les Darcy", with libretto by Robert Jarman, premiered at the "10 Days on the Island" festival in Hobart, Australia. The character of Darcy had no singing role, but is portrayed by a dancer and draws on the story, that he played the violin to prepare himself for fights.
Les Darcy was also inducted in 2003 into the Australian National Boxing Hall Of Fame Old Timers category and he was the first boxer to be elevated to Legend status in 2009. In April 2017 when the Leslie Darcy unique story landed on my desk, we were searching for nominations for our new website category of Famous Ancestral Sons & Daughters Of Ireland.
James Leslie Darcy, Famous Ancestral Son Of Co. Tipperary, is now incorporated in our All Ireland 'SportsLife' Hall Of Fame Online Gallery @ www.allirelandinternethalloffame.ie
Compiled by Derry JF Doody