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Pete McCoy was born in Listowel on the 15th of October, 1856. From there he went across the broad Atlantic where he carved out a career for himself as a prize fighter.
McCoy stood at 5′ 10” and had a right hand punch that some opponents called ‘a lightning bolt’. Weighing in at 155 lbs, McCoy was quick on his feet which frustrated slower opposition. Once a famous fighter, he would often say he could ‘float like a butterfly…’, while the New York newspaper The Daily Eagle said: ‘He is one of the shiftiest pugilists that ever entered the ring in this country.’
McCoy first waded into the prize fighting rings of America in 1879 and fought out of New Jersey, New York and Boston scrapping his way up the ranks of the prizefighting world. In 1881 he fought the legendary John L Sullivan three times and unfortunately, for the Kerry man they were three losses but, so impressed was Sullivan by McCoy that he would later ask him to join his group of fighters on a tour across America.
In 1883 McCoy fought Laois man Mike Cleary and lost but, in August of that year he would meet another fellow Irish man in the ring, Mike Mullery and would knock him out in the first round.When McCoy took up Sullivan’s offer of going on a grand tour across the states, he ended up taking part in almost 100 exhibition bouts. The tour took in places such as Atlanta, Texas, Arizona, Oregon and New Orleans just to name a few, and consisted of great drinking sessions in between. It all ended unfortunately, when a brawl in a bar between McCoy and Sullivan resulted in the Kerry man smashing a chair over Sullivan’s head. McCoy was kicked off the tour by Sullivan, although years later the two would reconcile and delight in that one inebriated battle.
In March of 1884, Pete McCoy was in San Francisco to fight Young Dutchy when police raided the venue, forcing the fighters, along with their supporters and entourage, to flee. Prize fighting was not a thoroughly legal sport, in those days. Authorities, in some states were prone to cracking down occasionally on what was viewed as a barbaric sport which drew illegal gambling and unsavoury characters.
A few weeks thereafter, McCoy left San Francisco and headed to the wilds of Montana where in May 1884 he met Canadian prize-fighter, Duncan McDonald. Their bout took place in the mining town of Butte which had a large Irish community. There, the majority of those in attendance were natives of West Cork and Kerry who had come to make their fortunes in the mines. So, for McCoy the bout would see him enjoy a large ‘home’ support. The fight was fast and bloody. By the end, McCoy was the victor and his Canadian opponent was left with a broken hand.
In 1885, McCoy took on Dundalk native George Rooke. It was a bloody battle which went on for several rounds before McCoy could take no more. Both fighters were left battered and bruised, but McCoy couldn’t see as his eyes had puffed up to a close and Rookes nose was in smithereens. The fight was awarded to Rooke and McCoy went away to recover from the bout that nearly beat his breathless lungs into the next life.
By August however, McCoy was back in the ring in Boston and about to face up to Dominick McCaffrey when again, police bust in and raided the venue. The following year in April 1885, another police raid broke up the fight between McCoy and George le Blanche and in 1887 police in Cleveland broke up the bout between McCoy and Reedy Gallagher in its 6th round. Gallagher was well beaten and McCoy was about to finish the fight with his trade mark lighting bolt punch when cops ended it for him.
McCoy was furious. Of the many bouts he fought in, the majority of them were nearly always broken up by the authorities. It left him out of pocket. He was losing his prize money and after the Cleveland fight, both McCoy and Gallagher were brought before the court. McCoy receiving as a result of their bout, a $50 fine and 30 days in jail. He managed to get bail though, and using this opportunity to skip town, he never returned.
By the dawn of the 1890s McCoy had found himself mired in financial woes. His health, both mental and physical was also in dire straits. Scheduled to fight the Australian Patrick Gorman in March 1893, the bout never took place because Pete McCoy had at last decided he was finished with life inside the ring.
The effects of bare knuckles thumping down on McCoys skull over the years left the Kerry man with severe headaches and he also often suffered from hallucinations. To make matters more foul, his relationship with the demon drink only escalated at this time.
On the 8th day of November 1893, Pete McCoy was on board his brother-in-law’s tug boat, ‘Scranton’ bound for Boston on the Long Island Sound. As they sailed across freezing waters, McCoy went over board. His brother-in-law would later state that the prize-fighter ignored all efforts to be saved. A rope and ladder were thrown into the river next to him but the 37 year old instead let the icy waters of the Sound take him to a watery grave.