The McTigues and
their cousins, the Rynnes and the Murphys, were stars in the Gaelic Athletic
Association, a chapter of which was formed in Kilnamona in 1884. "They were
big, fine-looking fellows," says Joe Breen, a nephew of Mike McTigue.
"Regarding sportsmanship, they could not be surpassed." They were in
any sport that was national—hurling, cross-country running, cycling, fishing,
hunting—national meaning Irish, or any sport not invented by the English.
hares," says Tom McTigue, Mike's younger brother, a ruddy-cheeked,
square-shouldered man whose care with his recollections makes you think of a
judge delivering an opinion. "You got half a crown for a hare and one and
sixpence for a rabbit. There were lots of hares in those days, but in that
rolling country it wasn't easy to get at them. As soon as you loosed the dogs,
the hares would go for the tops of the hills, and once they were there they
were gone; the dogs couldn't get to them. Mike didn't care much for the dogs.
He liked to hunt, shooting wild ducks and wild geese and fishing in the lakes
and up the river."
who held the world light-heavyweight championship for five months in 1903,
until he lost it to Bob Fitzsimmons, was born in Lisdoonvarna, a few miles from
Kilnamona, but Mike McTigue apparently had no interest in professional
fighting. Did he have any fights at all?
British ruled Ireland," Tom McTigue begins, "and when the people
couldn't pay the rent, the British would set up sentry boxes in front of the
farms. The lads would harass the sentries, and that was a cause of a lot of
trouble. One of the reasons Mike had to leave Ireland was that he hit one of
the sentries with a rock. He had to appear in court in Limerick city because of
it. And there it was that a friend of his, Pat Haggerty, was shot at. And Mike
was in a fight because of that. It was with a fellow by the name of...the
fellow that fired the shot. But I can't remember his name."
He pauses for a
full minute. "No, I can't remember it. But Mike went to England in 1910,
and then to New York in 1912. He got a job in a packinghouse, lifting sides of
beef. It was heavy work. I did that too, later on. Mike got into fighting on
that job. He had a fight with a man at the packing plant, a big man, and Mike
put him away. Someone saw that fight and said to Mike, 'You should be in the
Siki was born
Sept. 16, 1897, in a fishing village outside of St. Louis, the capital of
Senegal. At 10, he was one of the boys who dived for coins tossed by passengers
on the ships in the harbor. He was a good diver and a show-off; people
suddenly turned up in a villa on the French Riviera, adopted, according to one
legend, by a French actress and singer. One story is that the actress took him
from Senegal to France, where she dressed him up in a little green uniform and
kept him in her service. Another story is that he signed on as a seaman, jumped
ship and was stranded in Marseilles. In any case, he had lived on the Riviera,
and learned to read and write. He had been adopted and given the legal name of
When the actress
died, so the one story goes, Siki worked as a busboy in resort hotels, and then
began fighting in a fair that went from one small town to another.
Richard West, a
writer for the London Spectator, recently found a new source of information
about Siki in Roland Diagne of St. Louis, who had known Siki in his own
childhood. Unlike other blacks in French Africa, the Senegalese were French
citizens. Blaise Diagne, Roland's father, was the first African elected to the
French Chamber of Deputies. At the start of World War I, Blaise Diagne led a
drive to recruit Senegalese residing in France into the French Army. Siki was
one of these recruits, and Diagne became his friend and benefactor.
Siki became a war
hero: he was wounded, and won both the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille
Militaire. He also participated in some army boxing matches. After the war, he
was a street sweeper in Paris until a chance to fight professionally came
along. Siki's odd, plunging style, his exotic background, his heroic war record
and his recklessness made him a sensation and the darling of the