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Donnelly's Arm
Allen Abel
February 20, 1995
Revered Irish boxing champ Dan Donnelly died in 1820, but his once-feared limb endures
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February 20, 1995

Donnelly's Arm

Revered Irish boxing champ Dan Donnelly died in 1820, but his once-feared limb endures

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"What?" I reply.

"I would like to take it to America and march with it in the St. Patrick's Day Parade."

We're looking up at the display case where the relic rests, along with a couple of contemporary portraits of the champion and a copy of Myler's book. The arm is fully extended, the fingers curled, with the exception of the index finger, which is pointing right at the ale taps, as Sir Dan himself undoubtedly would be were he still alive and attached. A couple of bus tours have arrived, and delegations of well-lubricated Britons are snapping photos of the hoary thing.

So far, insurance costs and fear of mishap have kept the arm from being paraded up Fifth Avenue. Once, when a visiting Welsh rugby team let slip that it planned to swipe the arm and hold it for ransom—probably beer—Byrne took it home for safekeeping. The next morning, upon opening the pub, he found a "bloody" joke-shop hand in the locked and alarmed display case. So he's skittish about transporting his meal ticket over the sea.

"How much do you think it's worth?" I ask.

"I can't value it," Byrne answers. "There's only one of it."

"Unless we dig him up and take his left arm," I interject, cleverly.

"I have this belief," Byrne goes on. "Things like this only have value when they're on the wall. Off the shelf, where people can't see it, it has no value. Look at all the Van Goghs disappearing into private hands. That's terrible."

I ask Byrne if I may take a photograph of him with Donnelly's Arm. He unlocks the display case and takes the arm out and sits on a barstool, holding it tenderly, around the wrist, like a father leading his child to school.

"I suppose it brings out the cannibal in us," my host says, pondering the remnant of humanity with which he is posing on a perfect Saturday noon in the green heart of Ireland.

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