Few among even the most dedicated sports fans have any inkling that some of the earliest Irish prizefighters to make their names in America had any link to Hemel Hempstead – but this is just one of the hidden gems that Boxmoor author Patrick R Redmond uncovered while working on his newly-published book.
Patrick’s fascination with Irishmen in American sport goes back almost two decades to when he was writing his dissertation as a mature student.
He realised he was delving into a previously untapped area of sporting history that would eventually lead him to crafting his book, The Irish and the Making of American Sport, 1835-1920.
Patrick, whose father John was a proud Dubliner, eventually settled on a dissertation on the prizefighting era in America, but wanted to pursue his research further after realising that there was very little literature about Irish-American sporting history as a whole, outside individual autobiographies.
Years research followed – trawling internet archives and scouring dusty volumes at the British Newspaper Library – and, bit by bit, Patrick put together an in-depth chronology of the tales of Irishmen who had gone to the USA to grasp fame in the sporting arena.
“I knew I had a great idea, that nobody had written about in detail before,” said Patrick. “It took about 18 years from the idea first entering my head to eventually finishing the book.”
As a testament to the quality of the book, the finished work was snapped up by the first publishing company he sent it to – North Carolina-based McFarland & Company.
“I was pleasantly surprised that they had gone with it and that they didn’t insist on cutting it down,” Patrick said. “People always say that you get your list of rejection letters before you get there but thankfully this wasn’t the case for me.”
Despite the years of hard work he has put into writing the book, Patrick, 48, is realistic about what he will make from it money-wise, but insists his journey was never about making a fortune.
“I don’t think that I will make much money out of it but it was more of a passion for me than anything else,” he said. “If you write a good fiction story you can make a lot of money, but that’s not really the case in factual writing.”
The first chapter of the book has a strong link to the Hemel Hempstead school where he honed his flair for writing.
On May 30, 1833 two Irish prizefighters, Simon Byrne and James ‘Deaf’ Burke, were battling it out in a small village just outside St Albans for the Championship of England.
Byrne had been beaten so badly he required urgent treatment at the hands of renowned Hemel Hempstead surgeon Sir Astley Cooper.
The doctor was unable to prevent Byrne from dying, – and Burke was eventually forced to flee to America.
Cooper is recognised as a medical pioneer and has a Hemel Hempstead secondary school named in his honour.
And it was at this school, many decades later, that Patrick developed his love of the written word.
At the time it was still known by its original name, Highfield School.
But it’s where the talented author first started his journey into writing, much as Irish prizefighting first started its journey across the pond in a brutal bout in a small Hertfordshire village all those years ago.