by jdurney on October 25, 2013


DAN DONNELLY v GEORGE COOPER – 13th December 1815 – OR NOT?

By Chris Holzgräwe

My task recently, set by Mario Corrigan, Executive Librarian, was to assemble as many of the available contemporary reports as I could find pertaining the three professional fights of Dan Donnelly, and in particular to his famous match against the Englishman, George Cooper.
My first port of call was the microfilm cabinets here in Newbridge Library which contain the only contemporary newspaper archives I could use for transcriptions – Finns Leinster Journal and The Freeman’s Journal. Unfortunately, the editions of Finns Leinster Journal for this period had not been available for microfilming, so I turned to the Freeman’s Journal.
Donnelly’s first fight was against Tom Hall and was held on the Curragh on 14th September 1814. Unfortunately the edition for the 15th September 1814, was listed as a missing issue, this would have been the edition with a report on the fight, so I tried the 16th September. This did contain a report which followed on from their initial report printed in the edition of the 15th. To get a copy of the report from the 15th I accessed the Irish Newspaper Archive on the Internet. I found and was able to print out the first report. There was also a letter to the proprietors of the paper printed in the edition of the 17th September regarding the disputed end to the fight and a further commentary printed in the edition of the 20th September.
As regards Donnelly’s second fight all previously available sources state that this 1815 fight, against George Cooper, also held on the Curragh, took place on 13th December 1815.
As stated above Finn’s Leinster Journal was unavailable so The Freeman’s Journal was accessed again. I searched the editions, which spanned before and after the date of the 13th December 1815, but could find no references at all to the fight. It appeared to have not been reported.
Any search of historic documents or newspaper articles, should be widened if nothing is found at first, so I went back one month to start searching forward from there. Almost immediately I found in the edition of 14th November 1815, an article entitled "Pugilistic Contest" which was a full, round by round, report of the fight between Donnelly and Cooper. In this article Donnelly is consistently referred to as "Dannelly", but nonetheless it is the fight in question. Could all the "available sources" be incorrect?
I continued looking and went back one edition to the 13th November 1815. Here I found an article reporting that the long awaited, but previously "postponed" fight between the two men had been fought on the Curragh “that morning.”
Concerned that what I had found was in some way wrong itself, I accessed the internet and found that, in every search returned for Dan Donnelly, this fight is stated as having taken place in “Donnelly’s Hollow” on the Curragh, on the 13th December 1815.
I searched the Irish Newspaper Archive again and found the article from the 14th November 1815 that I had copied from microfilm. I also found a small report in the Belfast Newsletter on the fight dated 17th November 1815, stating it had taken place the previous Monday (13th November).
To further check this problem of dates I tried to access the British Newspaper Archives, reasoning that, because George Cooper was an Englishman, some newspapers might have carried reports of the fight. Unfortunately, the site is subscription only, but they do allow an initial search which returns short snippets of articles found.
The search returns, amongst others, contained articles from “The Morning Post,” “The Bury and Norwich Post,” “The Leicester Journal” and “The Cheltenham Chronicle” which all contained "Donnelly and Cooper." All were dated between 17th and 30th November 1815.
It would appear to me, and I am certainly no expert in this field, that the date for this fight, quoted in all the existing books, articles and web sites, as the 13th December 1815, is incorrect, and has been "handed down" over the years as verbatim. Even the monument erected in 1888 to Dan Donnelly in "Donnelly’s Hollow" on the Curragh gives this incorrect date – in stone.
Where this date first appeared as a primary source, possibly "Boxiana” by Pierce Egan, published in various years of the first quarter of the 19th century, requires further investigation.


NOVEMBER 13 1815.

DONNELLY AND COOPER.― The battle between Donnelly and Cooper, which has, for such a length of time, excited so much interest in the pugilistic world, was to have taken place on the Curragh last Wednesday. The Magistrates, however, interfered as well as the Turf Club, and would not allow it to proceed ― to the no small disappointment of many thousands of spectators, who had collected from this city and the adjacent counties; and who could not be persuaded, until a late hour in the day, that the conflict would not take place. The battle, however, was fought this morning at eight o’clock, at the Curragh.


NOVEMBER 14 1815.


*Note: Donnelly was wrongly referred to as "Dannelly" throughout the following article.

Yesterday morning the long expected battle took place between Dannelly and Cooper. The place chosen was that natural Amphitheatre on the Curragh of Kildare, where Belcher fought Dogherty, and Dannelly Hall. An immense crewd [sic] assembled at an early hour from all parts of the surrounding country, with numerous vehicles from Dublin. The ring was formed before nine o’clock. At about fifteen minutes after ten Dannelly entered the ring, amid the applause of the spectators; he was seconded by Cody, a noted pugilist, lately come from London ― In about a minute afterwards Cooper likewise made his appearance, and also was loudly cheered by the assemblage; he was seconded by Painter, the celebrated pugilist. They advanced and shook hands in a friendly manner, when they retired to the extremities of the ring, where they stripped ― both appeared in good health and spirits.


1st Round. ― They advanced cautiously, sparring for some time; Dannelly gave the first blow in the neck; desperate fighting then took place on both sides; Dannelly knocked Cooper down with a blow on the neck. The air resounded with shouts from the spectators.
2d Round. ― A grand set-to; Dannelly gave Cooper a facer, and immediately after a well-directed blow on the ear, which drew first blood, and beat Cooper against the ropes and down’d him.
3d Round. ― Desperate fighting on both sides; Cooper was turned round and hit hard on the body and fell, ― Loud cheering.
4th Round. ― In this as in the former both made play right and left, with very severe fighting; both fell, Cooper under, ― Six to four on Dannelly.
5th Round. ― Good fighting as in the last by both parties; but Cooper knocked Dannelly clean down by a blow; Dannelly jumped up without the assistance of his second ― Bets equal.
6th Round. ― More fine fighting; Cooper got pluck and wind, and was resolved to mill his man, if possible; but was at length knocked down by Dannelly.
7th Round. ― Dannelly now set-to, as if resolved to conquer or to die; for he milled his man round the ring; Cooper closed on him, by which means he received one of the severest falls we ever witnessed by a cross-buttock by Dannelly, who fell on him with all his weight.
8th Round. ― Cooper seemed shy ― Dannelly resolute, for he hit him both right and left, and knocked Cooper clean off his feet ― Great cheering.
9th Round. ― More desperate fighting on both sides, each seeming determined; Dannelly fell by a slip.
10th Round. ― This again was a most desperate fought round by both, being an effort of Cooper to try the bottom of his man; but he was knocked clean down by Dannelly. ― Two to one on Dannelly.
11th Round. ― In this set to Cooper seemed shy of his man, but when engaged some of the severest fighting took place we ever witnessed; Dannelly struck Cooper a desperate blow and a hit on the mouth, which made him go down clean to fight no more.


Since the time Dannelly fought Hall, we think there is no man could improve more than he has in his fighting, and if we may judge from his conduct this day, he also improved in his temper; and we will venture to say, if he was to live regular and be advised by his friends, he would very soon be able to take the palm from the Champion of England. ― Cooper is much below Dannelly in size and weight, but has a very handsome manner of setting to and fighting with both his hands; but Dannelly’s superior strength broke through his guards, and made him yield. Dannelly leaped and jumped about the ring after the fight; he shook hands with his antagonist and his friends. The gentleman who had him in training deserves much praise, as he appeared to be in full health and wind. Cooper was severely punished. 


November 17 1815.

Monday morning the long-expected pugilistic contest took place between Donnelly and Cooper on the Curragh of Kildare. ― Eleven desperate rounds were fought, when Cooper gave in.

Chris Holzgräwe.
24 October 2013.


The 13th December 1815 has been "handed down" over the years as the date Dan Donnelly fought and beat the English champion, George Cooper, on the Curragh. Our researcher Chris Holzgräwe has proved this to be incorrect

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