Sunday, November 27, 2011

'Kid Shamrock' Play Triggers A Trip Back to My Irish Father's Childhood in New York City

KID SHAMROCK PLAY Triggered a Trip Back In Time for My Irish Father.

Tonight, I was reminded of the gap between my father’s generation and mine.  I took my father to see the play “Kid Shamrock” at Manhattan’s TADA! Theatre.  The play tells the story of “Kid Shamrock," an Irish boxer based on real-life boxer Irish Bobby Cassidy, a world-rated boxer from New York.  Cassidy was an alcoholic and in the play, his fictional counterpart Kid Shamrock loses one of the biggest fights of his life because of his drinking.  The real Cassidy eventually conquered his alcoholism and quit the sport of boxing, becoming a better husband and father. The play is told through flashbacks, as the older Kid Shamrock recounts his career and struggles to a fan at an Irish bar.
The real Bobby Cassidy Sr., right, in action against Macka Foley.

The show's cast and crew is made up mostly of former boxers, which adds a great deal of realism to the work.  Interspersed throughout the play are monologues from the cast about the glory and pain of boxing.

At the play's end, the cast and crew hold a dialogue with the audience, mostly answering questions about being a fighter.

John Duddy, a middleweight with a 29-2 record, plays young Kid Shamrock, while former heavyweight Seamus McDonagh plays him aged.  The real Kid Shamrock, Bobby Cassidy Sr., also appears as himself for a few monologues.  Even the play’s director Michael Bentt is a former heavyweight champion.

As my father read about this cast in the playbill, I began hearing little “oohs” and “ahhs” from him that I didn’t expect.

“Interesting: Mark Breland’s in this,” he said.

“You knew him?”

“I never met him, but the guy was a five-time New York Golden Gloves winner: of course I knew him!”

This was fascinating to me: Here was a man whom I’d come mostly to associate with our suburban family life in Westchester County, and a career spent as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and he was looking at me as if it was obvious that he would have known this Golden Gloves champ.

I forget sometimes about the differences between my dad’s experience and mine; growing up in affluent Westchester, just north of New York City, in the 1990s, boxing meant nothing to me -- the biggest boxing match I heard about was Tyson-Givens.

Sunnyside Garden boxing arena, in Queen
My dad had a very different history.  Dad was raised in Highbridge, a neighborhood in the Bronx a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium that was mostly Irish until the late 1960s.  He was born in 1939 and when he was growing up, it was common to listen to boxing matches on the radio, or go see them on the big screen at the RKO movie houses of the old days.  (Those houses are almost all torn down now.)  He’d even go watch live fights at Yankee Stadium, back when getting good seats didn't cost a week's pay.  
In my Dad's childhood, boxing had widespread popular recognition among the Irish and the general public that’s gone today.  No longer is there just one heavyweight champion, but a champ each for the WBO, IBF, WBC and WBA. The fights play in casinos now, not in neighborhood clubs.  As cast member and boxer Mark McPherson told the audience, “Back in the 70’s, if you asked me who was the heavyweight, the middleweight, the lightweight champion, I could have told you.  These days, you don’t know those names. … The sport has become so divided and diluted that it’s cannibalizing itself.”  John Duddy, the ex-boxer who plays Kid Shamrock in the play, put it more bluntly: “Professional boxing is dying.”
Given that, “Kid Shamrock” serves as an interesting gateway to a very different era for the Irish and New York boxing, a time when old boxing clubs like Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and St. Nick’s in the Bronx attracted droves of crowds waiting to see the next contender.  Those venues have all shuttered, as the Irish-American population has shifted from cities, and boxing itself has become a sport associated with big money, casinos and pay-per-view.
However, the fighters of those glory days are still around, and through "Kid Shamrock" we have a chance to remember the sport in its heyday.

The play runs until December 4 at the TADA! Theater in Manhattan.  More information is available at

DANIEL MARRIN is a Queen's, N.Y. -based journalist and videographer.

No comments: