Jack Doyle was born at 12 Queen’s street (now Conolly street) Cobh on 31st August 1913 and christened Joe Doyle. At 17, he enlisted in the Irish Guards where his potential as a boxer was quickly noted. His idol was Jack Dempsey. At six foot five inches tall, a build to match and a devastating right hand his army boxing career was highly impressive – 28 fights, 28 wins, an incredible 27 by knockout.
Jack possessed not only a power of punch, but also a charisma that would attract crowds. His singing voice could also hold an audience spellbound! He was bought out of the army.
His first professional fight saw Chris Goulding hit the canvas. Nine more victories followed within a year as his opponents all came, barely saw and were stopped.The British Heavyweight title fight against Jack Petersen at White City stadium incredibly attracted over 90,000 fans. Doyle was disqualified for punching too low and was suspended for 6 months.
Jack soon realised his show business potential and his first tour commenced in Dublin to capacity audiences.
After his suspension, Jack’s comeback fight was the 83 second destruction of Frank Borrington. He fought four times in the US, but his defeat in controversial circumstances by Buddy Baer led him to abandon boxing for a while. His return fight was in England in 1937 against Alf Robinson. Here he was again disqualified. He next demolished Harry Staals in the sixth round and this contest was quickly followed by a points win against King Levinsky (see Jack in jubilant mood above after the fight). In 1938 and 1939 Jack was knocked out twice by Eddie Phillips, the 1939 fight attracting a crowd never before seen in London.
His only Irish fights were during the war years. The fight against Chris Cole was lost when it was stopped in the first round. However Jack knocked out Butcher Howell in the third round of this contest. Many believed that Doyle was too good looking to be a boxer. He possessed the power to be a world champion but it was said that there was a defect in his character, described as a serious lack of purpose.
Jack loved the high life and spent with abandon. He attracted women with ease and although married twice this didn’t stop his womanising. He drank heavily, battered his movie star wife Movita and alienated his music hall audiences by appearing drunk. He starred in three movies and recorded many records. His earning potential was enormous but as well as drinking he gambled, was swindled and bought drinks all round. He was declared bankrupt twice and spent time in Mountjoy prison for assaulting a detective. His time as a wrestler ensured easy money for him, but it also proved that he could still attract audiences like no other. Eventually, Jack became permanently drunk, losing all self respect of which he possessed plenty.
He died homeless and destitute in London on 13th December 1978 and was set for a pauper’s grave. However, upon hearing of his death the people of Cobh, in conjunction with undertaker Paddy Barry, brought his remains home. Locals lined the streets as a lone piper led his casket through the town. A single red carnation – Jack’s signature – topped his coffin.
Before his death, Jack was asked by a journalist if he regretted spending his money frivolously. Jack replied, “None at all,” he said, “twas never a generous man went to hell.”
Jack’s remains lie in Cobh’s Old Cemetery. There is a mural of Jack Doyle painted by Jack Hickey near the cathedral,