If people in Achill did not know who Johnny Kilbane was before last weekend they are sure to know more about him following the unveiling of a statue in his honour on the island.
The unveiling of the statue of the former World Featherweight Boxing champion by his great-grandson Kevin O’Toole was the highlight of the weekend’s activities celebrating the centenary of Kilbane being crowned world champion.
Johnny Kilbane was born in Cleveland to an Achill father and was the undefeated world boxing champion from 1912 to 1923 and later in life became an Ohio State Senator.
The statue of Kilbane was unveiled in bright sunshine in the forecourt of Patten’s Bar in Derreens by Kevin O’Toole who said this was a proud moment for the extended Kilbane family.
“This is a proud moment and it is great that the two communities [Cleveland and Achill] have come together to keep his memory alive, especially on the one hundredth anniversary of him winning the world championship. This is a significant event in both communities and it has been wonderful to celebrate it.
“He was proud of his Achill roots and came back to Achill in the 1920’s and was proud of his heritage. It was very rewarding to come over to Achill and be welcomed so well by so many people. It has been a great experience and I’m only sorry more of my family could not come and experience it,” he told The Mayo News.
A number of commemorative events to celebrate Kilbane’s centenary win have taken place in Achill and Cleveland and illustrates the esteem he is still held in. His title win over Abe Atell in California in 1912 sparked wild celebrations in Cleveland with 200,000 people estimated to have welcomed him home following his victory.
Many boxing historians consider Kilbane to be one of the greatest boxing champions of all time and Kevin has no doubts of his great-gradfather’s greatness.
“He was a humble man and growing up we did not talk about his fame and what he became we just talked about him as a member of the family. But there is no question he was one of the best boxers of all time. He held onto the title for longer than anyone else and back in the day then boxing was the number one sport and it was a great accomplishment.”
A large number of people were present for the unveiling of the statue including the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Austin Francis O’Malley, which was commissioned by Achill-based sculptor Philip Noonan. Pat Kilbane of the Johnny Kilbane Centenary Committee said the celebrations were a big occasion for the Achill parish and they were celebrating one of the greatest champions and the continued links with Achill and Cleveland.
The weekend’s celebrations also included a boxing tournament in association with the Geesala Boxing Club and a Kilbane Clan gathering. The opening night included a night of Irish music including an ‘Ode to Johnny Kilbane’ performed by John McNamara who wrote the song especially for to mark the occasion.
The weekends events concluded with a trip to Achill Beg island where Johnny Kilbane’s father was born where a plaque was unveiled at his former homestead.
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