“Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side,
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.”
- “Danny Boy,” Frederic Weatherly
Daniel “Danny Boy” Kelly was born in Cork, Ireland at exactly the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1885. His mother, Bronagh Kelly, interpreted the particular timing of his birth as a sign that her 13th child was destined for greatness. She was right, although young Daniel’s path to glory was not an easy one. After the death of his father in an unfortunate offal cart accident, young Daniel was raised largely by his grandfather, who once trained with world champion English bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb. Daniel’s grandfather began training him at a young age, but the boy was more interested in books than boxing. He would devour any and all tomes he could get his hands on, from the thinnest pamphlet to the thickest encyclopedia. Legend has it that young Dan Kelly taught himself to read at the tender age of three.
Alas, at age 15 Dan Kelly had to put down the books and put up his fists. With his mother struggling to provide for the family, Dan Kelly agreed to enter the local bare-knuckle boxing circuit. It did not go well.
Perhaps his heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps he hadn’t trained hard enough. Whatever the reason, Dan Kelly lost his first 12 fights. He resolved to find another way to make money for the family. But before he could set off on another course, his beloved grandfather was struck deathly ill. Young Daniel stayed by his grandfather’s side day and night, and with his last breath, the old man asked Dan Kelly to become the greatest fighter the world had ever seen. “Do it for me,” the old man said to Young Daniel. “Do it for your family. Do it for Ireland.”
Dan Kelly returned to the ring and never lost another fight.
He became known as the most cunning and intelligent fighter the sport had ever seen. Prior to Dan Kelly’s return to the ring, most fighters simply stood their ground and slugged it out. Dan Kelly moved around the ring like a dancer, winning fights with his feet as much as his fists. He played mind games with his opponents, telling them in advance exactly how long it would be before he’d win the fight or weaving elaborate stories about visiting their wives the night before.
Maybe it was his technique or maybe his grandfather was watching over him, but after his comeback Dan Kelly was unbeatable. He retired with a record of 55-12, having made a sizeable fortune from his fights. He invested in coal and his fortune grew even greater. He became an accomplished painter and musician, traveling the world to exhibit his paintings in the finest galleries and to play the violin at the greatest concert halls. But after years of travel, Dan Kelly felt the pull of home and he returned to Cork, where he opened the original Dan Kelly’s Pub. Legend has it that the songwriter Frederic Weatherly was in Cork during Dan Kelly’s return, and the rapturous welcome the city gave to its favorite son was the inspiration for the song “Danny Boy.”
Dan Kelly lived out the rest of his days behind the bar of Dan Kelly’s Pub, not because he needed the money, but because he loved to tell the stories of his life and listen to the stories of his neighbors. What he loved best of all was a good tall tale, so when Dan Kelly was around, you had to keep a keen ear to listen for what was true and what was blarney.
Dan Kelly’s Pub, where Irish is a state of mind.