Rocky Ros Muc: Seán Ó Mainnín
This fascinating sports biography by journalist Rónán Mac Con Iomaire tells the story of one of the greatest boxers ever to come out of Ireland. Raised in Ros Muc in the heart of Connemara, Seán Ó Mainnín’s boxing talents would bring him to the dizzying heights of Madison Square Garden in New York.
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In 1984 he fought future Hall of Fame boxer, Mike McCallum for the WBA World Light-Middleweight Title and unfortunately he lost., he never won the championship title his talent demanded despite being trained by Angelo Dundee, the same man who trained Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and others. "I’ve only ever had two fighters that could take any sort of punch thrown at them, Muhammad Ali and Seán, and Seán’s the only guy I’ve ever had that’s never been knocked down,” said Dundee.
Rónán Mac Con Iomaire worked closely with Seán Ó Mainnín to tell the dramatic story of his battles both inside and outside the ring. The book recounts how: Seán trained and sparred with what can only be described as Whitey Bulger’s inner circle of henchmen. He was asked a number of times to get involved in Bulger’s drug-running and extortion schemes but refused. In 1983 Seán became the US Light-Middleweight champion, ahead of Tommy Hearns, Mike McCallum and a host of other boxing greats. In 1986, Seán actually fought and beat the WAA Light-Middleweight World Champion, Bert Lee, but because of a dispute over sanctioning fees, he was not recognised as the World Champion.
Mac Con Iomaire, said of writing the book, “I knew that Seán Ó Mainnín had lived a fascinating life. I didn’t realise just how fascinating until I began the research. When you consider that he won the U.S. middleweight title and fought for the world title at the most competitive time for that weight band in the history of boxing, he has to be counted among Ireland’s greatest boxers.”
ROCKY ROS MUC: SEÁN Ó MAINNÍN
Le Rónán Mac Con Iomaire
Cló Iar-Chonnacht (2013), 360 lch, ISBN: 9781909367685, €15Léirmheas: Breandán Ó Conaire
Iris COMHAR 2013
The significance of this day, Friday, January 30, 1976 may be small or great, sooner or later, in Irish and World boxing. Tonigh at the National Stadium on Dublin’s South Circular Road, is decision night in the National Junior Championships... Some of the greatest boxers Ireland has produced, amateur and professional, first emerged from these championships, and it is for this reason that this night the night of the Juniors, carries for me a very special excitement, with one’s eyes on the action and one’s mind on the future.
Ní dócha go raibh an t-iriseoir spóirt Mitchel Cogley i bhfad ón marc nuair a scríobh sé an méid sin thuas san Irish Independent beagnach dhá scó® bliain ó shin, an lá roimh bhabhtaí craoibhe náisiúnta na Sóisear i gceannáras Chumann Dornálaíochta Amaitéaraí na hÉireann i mBaile Átha cliath.
Ar an 30ú Eanáir 1976 bhuaigh Seán Ó Mainnín as Ros Muc, Conamara, craobh Shóisir na hÉireann sa Staid Náisiúnta. Fuair sé an ceann is fearr ar Frank ‘Farmer’ O’Reilly (Transport), Paul Connolly (Smithboro: sean-chlub Barry McGuigan), Kenny Beattie (White City, Béal Feirste) agus Johnny Thornton (Droichead Átha) ar a bhealach chun na corónach. Chloígh sé O’Reilly and Thornton laistigh de dhá bhabhta. Breise agus ocht 1984, throid sé in aghaidh Mike ‘Body Snatcher’ McCallum as Iamáice do chraobh ghairmiúil WBA an domhain i Madison Square Gardents i gcathair Nua-Eabhrac.
I gcaitheamh na mblianta a chaith an Mainníneach sa chró gairmiúil bhí ainm ar taispeáint ar phóstaeir in iliomad áiteanna: i Massachusetts, Florida, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Conneticut, New Hampshire, Main, Rhode Island, Las Vegas, Nova Scotia i gCeanada, Páras na Fraince, Londain, berlin, Hamburg agus Dusseldorf na Gearmáine.
Ba mhó ócáid a léim sé isteach sa chró – 57 uilig (439 babtha) – ná mar a rinne a chomh-Éireannaigh cháiliúla Barry McGuigan – 35 (198 babtha) – nó Steve Collins – 39 (283 babhta), seaimpíní íomhanda an bheirt acu, bíodh gur chaill an Coileánach i gcoinne MIke McCallum i mBostún i 1990. Fuair fear Iamáice an oiread dua leis na cathanna sin gur fhórgair sé nach dtroidfeadh sé Éreannach arís go deo! Bhuaigh agus chaill Ó Mainnín níos mó troideanna (42-14) ná McGuigan (32-3) nó Collins (36-3). Ní raibh faitíos air roimh dhuine ar bith agus, in ainneoin méid, cumas nó scileanna a chéilí comharaic, agus fad na dtroideanna – cúig bhabhta dhéag a mhair an iomaíocht le McCallum – níor leagadh fear Chonamara riamh ar an gcanbhás.
Bhuail sé Ralph ‘Rocky’ Fratto, curadh Mhericeá Thuaidh (NABF) sa mheán-mheáchan éadrom i 1982 – an chraobh atá ag Andy Lee faoi láthair. Ach ba í an troid ab inspéise ó thaobh cáilíochtaí dornála Sheáin de ná an choimhlint in éadan In Chul Baek ón gCóiré Theas a tinoóladh in Atlantic City, New Jersey sa bhliain 1983. Idir Bealtaine 1980 agus Deireadh Fó˛hair 1985 leag BAek amach gach ceann dá chéilí comhraic – 36 ar fad – ach duine amháin. B’in Seán Ó Mainnín, a rug an bua leis go soiléir ar an gCóiréách thar dheich mbabtha sciliúla sa Resorts International ar an 19ú Bealtaine. Ghnóthaigh Baek craobh dhomhanda an WBA sé bliana ina dhiaidh sin in aghaidh Fulgencio Obelmejas (Veiniséala).
Go minic is clisteacht, líonra láidir teamhála, agus cumas gnó na bainistíochta a threoraíonn an dornálaí go barr an dréimire agus is cosúil nach raibh na buanna sin ag Jimmy Connolly, traenalaí agus bainisteoir an Mhainnínigh. Bíonn a dhíol féin freagrachta ar an dornálaí, ar ndóigh, agus thuic a dhíocas agus a dhúthracht i mbun traenála, mar aon lena bhuanna nádúrtha, an tÉireannach go dtí na rungaí arda ar an dréimire céanna. Chuidigh an obair a dhéanadh sé ar na láithreacha tógála le lneart agus spreacadh a chothú sna géaga agus sna guaillí, ach níorbh aon chabhair dó na sosanna idir na troideanna, cuid acu fada go leor, le smacht a choinneáil ar a mheáchan ná le barr slachta a chur ar na scileanna agus ar a chumas aclaíochta, go háirith ós rud é gur duine lách, cuideachtúil é an Mainní˜each ar bhreá leis comhluadar a chairde a thaithíodh tithe ósta Boston.
Bíodh nár eagraíodh turnaimint riamh dó in Éirinn shílfeá go mbeadh eolas fairsing air agus neart tráchtaireacht ar a chuid coimhlintí sa chró ins na meáin abhus. Ní amhlaidh a bhí. Thug Rónán Mac Con Iomaire faoin bhfaillí aisteach sin a chur ina cheart ina shaothar nua. Is iomaí beathaisnéis nó dírbheathaisnéis a eisíodh le tamall de bhlianta anuas ina dtugar cuntas ar shaol pearsana spóirt na hÉireainn: luthchleasaithe, rothaithe, marcaigh, traenálaithe, lucht peiile agus iománaíochta, gailf, sacair, rugbaí etc. Ní taise do churaidh a dornalaíochta é. Orthu siúd feictear, ar sheilfeanna shiopaí leabhar na tíre, scéalta beatha ar Katie Taylor, Barry McGuigan, Bernard Dunne, Jimmy Ingle, John McNally, Kenny Egan, Steve Collins agus Wayne McCullough, gan trácht ar leithéidí a seanlaochra Dan Donnelly nó Peter Maher agus na Gaeil-Mheirceánaigh Jim Corbett, Gene Tunney agus John L. Sullivan. Níor mhiste saothar Dhiarmuid Uí Ghráinne, An Dorn Iata: scéal na dornálaíochta (Coiscéim, 2007) a chur leis an liosta seo chomh maith.
Cuirfear go rábach lena líon sin leis an imleabhar téagartha eolgaiseach seo; trí céad seasca leathanach ar fad ann agus é tógtha ar dhúshraith agus réimse leathan taighde, in Éirinn agus sna Stáit Aontaithe. Is liosta le háireamh ainmneacha na ndaoine a thug cúnamh don údar agus é i mbun cumadóireachta, agus iad siú∂ áirithe aige sa ‘Bhuíochas’ i dtús a scéil.
Is é príomh-fhócas an leabhair saol Uí Mhainnín sa chór agus sa ghiom dornála, (agus a chuid eachtraí, idir shona agus dona, lasmuigh díobh), cáilíochtaí a chéilí comhraic agus na carachtair éagsúla a raibh baint acu lena shaolré ghairmiúil. Ach ina dteannta sin, forbraítear agus saibhrítear an tráchtaireacht bhríomhar trí chúlra agus chomhthéacs a sholáthar a chuireann go suntasach le tuiscint agus le taitneamh an léitheora. Déantar an t-aicsean a lonnú laistigh de chuntais ar mhuintir agus ar óige an Mhainnínigh, de chú®saí fostaíochta agus imirce sa Ghaeltacht, de stair na polaitiochta agus na coiriúlachta i mBoston agus de shaol na n-imirceach sa chathair. Bíodh gur léir an meas atá ag an údar ar Ó Mainnín ní théann sé thar fóir á bheannú. Mar sin féin seasann tréithe pearsanta áirithe fhar Ros Muc amach le linn na reacaireachta: a dhiongbháilteacht, a mhisneach, a ionracas, a thugthacht don chuideachtúlacht agus a dhílseacht dá áit dúchais. Cuireann na sraitheanna grianghraf, a bhformhór lándaite, barr maise ar an saothar fiúntach seo.
Rocky in Ros Muc
Boxer’s biography delivers knock-out blow
Mon, Mar 24, 2014, The Irish Times
Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí
At the beginning of Rocky Ros Muc (Cló Iar-Chonnacht), Rónán Mac Con Iomaire’s hugely enjoyable biography of boxer Seán Ó Mainnín, the former heavyweight Kevin McBride, who famously defeated Mike Tyson with a technical knock out, makes his feelings known about the light-middleweight from Connemara: “They should put up a statue of Seán in Galway, and you can put that in your book. The man is a f****** legend.”
Ó Mainnín, whose achievements have never been given the recognition they deserve in this country, was the light-middleweight champion of America during a golden age in that division. During his career, he fought against five world champions and lost a world title bid to the great Mike McCallum. In 57 professional fights, he was never knocked down.
During the twilight of his career, Ó Mainnín worked with Muhammad Ali’s former trainer Angelo Dundee who was convinced that he would have made the Gaeltacht man a world champion had their paths crossed earlier.
With 800 copies of his biography sold in the space of a few months, Ó Mainnín is still defying expectations. Such brisk sales for a book written in Irish are almost unprecedented, and the success of Rocky Ros Muc is as close to a knockout blow as Irish-language publishing has seen for many years.
Of course, it was a great help to Ó Mainnín that he had a good sparring partner and Rónán Mac Con Iomaire’s lively and evocative prose earned an Oireachtas literary award last year.
Mac Con Iomaire, the deputy head of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, who is working on translating Rocky Ros Muc to English, puts the success of the book down to Ó Mainnín’s unique story: “It’s a very human story and people are always interested in those types of stories. There were always groundless rumours about Seán Ó Mainnín, that he went drinking the weekend before the McCallum fight, for example. But the real story of the man himself wasn’t available.”
Since Rocky Ros Muc was published last Christmas, Mac Con Iomaire has encountered several people who told him that it was the first book in Irish they ever read. Is there a lesson here for Irish-language writers? “Everything depends on the story. I was lucky for my first book that this story hadn’t been told yet. It would be interesting to choose another topic and see how well I would get on. All I need now is to find another Connemara boxer who hasn’t been given the respect he deserves!”
Rocky Ros Muc is a rare thing, an Irish-language page-turner. It is also a fiercely honest book that never shirks from addressing some of the more unpalatable truths about Ó Mainnín’s colourful life: “We agreed from the outset that we would be totally honest with each other. Seán wanted to tell the truth about all the false rumours. He never denied that he drank or that he drank heavily after the defeat to McCallum, but he wasn’t drinking on the weekend before the fight.
“We both understood that there would be a price to pay for telling the truth. There are stories in the book about fights Seán was involved in outside the ring, for example, and he was understandably a little uncomfortable telling those stories. But he didn’t want to change anything when I sent him the draft apart from a few dates here and there. He accepted that if we didn’t tell the less flattering stories, it would compromise the rest of the book and undermine the account of all he achieved.”
Rocky Ros Muc is full of compelling characters, some of whom wouldn’t be out of place in a work of mob fiction. In South Boston, Ó Mainnín was surrounded by members of gangster Whitey Bulger’s notorious Winter Hill Gang, but the boxer resisted the pressure put on him to become involved in the criminal underworld.
Always a man of principle, before his world-title bout, he turned down a sponsor who offered him a small fortune – the equivalent of his purse for the fight – to display a certain brand on his shorts. In Madison Square Garden, he arrived in the ring as he always did, with the words “Ros Muc” displayed proudly on his boxing shorts. On the same night he threatened to call off the fight when news reached his hotel room that the national anthem was to be sung in English rather than in his native Irish as he had requested.
“His principles might have held him back in his boxing career, but they stood to him in the long run. Anyone I spoke to about Seán, they never had a bad word to say about him. He is a modest, gentle and kind man; the very opposite of your stereotypical boxer. He is held in huge esteem by the boxing fraternity in America, but somewhat unjustly forgotten here,” says Mac Con Iomaire.
(A version of this article originally appeared in Irish in Bileog.)
Seán Mannion, the Neglected Great of Irish Boxing
The Western People, 27 February 2014
Rocky Ros Muc, written by Rónán Mac Con Iomaire and published towards the end of last year, is a book about the life and times of the greatest Irish professional boxer you never heard of. Sean Mannion was a granite-jawed welterweight / light-middleweight who fought out of Boston, Mass from 1977 until he finally retired in 1993.
In Rocky Ros Muc, Mac Con Iomaire looks at the sport of boxing, life in Connemara, the Irish emigrant experience and the life of a man who could have been a contender. He weaves all those threads together to present an invaluable record of a way of Irish emigrant life and of a sport at a time when it was still a big deal.
Seán Mannion boxed as an amateur in Ireland before taking the plane to Massachusetts to make his fortune, like so many before him. He worked for his brother’s construction company by day and by night Mannion boxed in Connolly’s Gym.
Connolly’s Gym was on Broadway Street in Dorchester, the famous ‘Southie’ area of Boston that is famous for its Irish and its hoodlums. Mac Con Iomaire excels in portraying the atmosphere of the place at the time, when everyone knew who Whitey Bolger was and nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of him.
This is one of the many marvellous features of the book, how Mac an Iomaire is able to place you in the time and at the place. You’re in the Irish bars celebrating St Patrick’s Day, you’re ringside at the fights and sometimes you can even hear the thock! thock! thock! of the punches hitting the heavy bag in the gym as Mannion hones his trade with a line of made guys, wiseguys and plain old two-bit hoodlums looking on and hanging out.
As a boxer, Mannion had several gifts. Firstly, he was lefthanded, a southpaw. Most boxers, like most people, are right-handed, which makes fighting a left-hander an oddity in itself. That puts opponents at a disadvantage straight away.
Secondly, Mannion had great ringcraft – he was a proper boxer rather than just a brawler. But best of all, Mannion could take what was thrown at him. Seán Mannion fought fifty-seven professional fights and was never knocked down in any of them. there are very few fighters about whom that can be said.
But for all that, Mannion had one fatal flaw. When he’s in training, a boxer has to live almost like a monk. He has to exercise right, train right, eat right. He has to go to bed early and be up before the dawn, running miles, skipping rope, sparring, hitting the heavy bag, hitting the light bag.
What he’s not meant to do is to live on fried food and booze, which commodities Mannion found it hard to resist. There’s an amazing story in the book that illustrates just how far off the pace Mannion was in terms of training and just how good he could have been if he’d been better managed.
On the 20th of August, 1982, Mannion was to fight Hector Figuerora at welterweight. Welterweight boxers weigh not less than 140 pounds and not more than 147. At the weigh-in on the day of the fight, Mannion weighed in at 156. Nine pounds overweight.
Figuerora’s seconds demanded a forgeit, but Mannion was given a chance to see if he could sweat the weight off. They ran the shower in his hotel room until hands couldn’t be seen in front of faces from steam and then in Mannion went, dressed ina rubber suit and carrying a skipping rope.
After one solid hour’s skipping, Mannion was weighed again. Four pounds lost, but still five overweight. Back into the rubber suit with Mannion and he started running up and down three flights of stairs. Up and down, up and down.
After half-an-hour he was back on the scales. Another four pounds gone but still one left. Figuerora’s corner wouldn’t concede the pound, even though Figuerora’s opponent was surely spent after all this.
Finally, a last resort. Mannion was given a faw rubdown by one of his trainers – a massage without oil. The trainder more or less skinned Mannion to lose that extra pound. After the rubdown Mannion, naked and red as a lobster, climbed onto the scales and made the weight. Then he beat Figuerora on points over ten rounds. After all that working out, Seán Mannion was still able to box ten rounds and win.
Mannion got his shot at the world title eventually, against Mike McCallum. It didn’t go well. Mannion had been injured in training before the fight but even if he hadn’t McCallum would still have been too good. The great names of middleweight boxing in the 1980s were Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler, and not one of those four ever got in the ring with McCallum.
Seán Mannion’s is an extraordinary story of wins and losses inside and outside the ring and this book is a treasure. So much so that there may be people reading this who will wonder why, if it’s so good, Mac Con Iomaire wrote it in Irish.
Firstly, Irish was very important to Mannion. He insisted on one of his brothers being one of his cornermen so that they could speak in Irish during fights, and also insisted that Amhrán na bhFiann be sun, in Irish before he fought McCallum. And secondly, why shouldn’t it be written in Irish?
Books written in Irish are not always good, and the currently ill-judged emphasis on spoken Irish doesn’t do much to help. The market of books written in Irish, what gets published and what doesn’t is a debate for another day. Don’t begrudge us our treat.
Besides; people often say that they would warm up their school Irish if only they got a chance. The chance is here now with the publication of Rocky Ros Muc. Seconds out.