The title of the new book – “The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down” – pretty much captures the spirited life of its main character, the Irish American boxer and onetime world championship contender, Sean Mannion.
On Sat., June 23, an overflow gathering packed JJ’s Pub on Dorchester Avenue in Savin Hill to celebrate the release of the biography of Mannion by the Irish author Ronan Mac Con Iomaire. Mannion, who has maintained roots in Boston and in Dorchester since arriving from Ireland at age 17, was in attendance, along with Mayor Martin Walsh and scores of the boxer’s friends, family, and fans.
The book chronicles Mannion’s move to America, his rise to the top of the light middleweight rankings in the US, his involvement with members of the Irish underworld. in South Boston, and the various obstacles he faced along the way.
“I grew up in Connemara, and in the early ‘80s, Sean Mannion was a childhood hero to us,” said Mac Con Iomaire. “The fact that there was someone on the world stage from the area that we came from and who spoke Gaelic on the world stage, it was a big thing for us.”
Mayor Walsh, whose parents hailed from Mannion’s hometown of Ros Muc in Connemara, spoke to his personal connection to the boxer and echoed the author’s remarks about his wide range of influence. “When Sean came to Boston and America, it was a proud moment for a lot of people I know in Ireland,” Walsh said, “because on his shorts he had [written] Ros Muc, but it was also a proud moment for a lot of Irish Americans, because it truly is the American dream, coming to this country and making good.”
The book launch marked the release of the English language version of the book; the Irish language version was published in 2014.
“Sean told me that he had been approached a few times already about a book and turned them all down because he wanted the book to be written in Irish first, and then in English, and that’s exactly what has happened,” said Mac Con Iomaire.
Mannion, now 61 and known for being humble and soft-spoken, elected to only speak a few sentences of thanks at the event, and they were met with raucous applause. Mac Con Iomaire said that the boxer took it upon himself to set the record straight and put ‘truth’ at the core of the book. “There were stories out there that weren’t true, but in order to kind of establish them as not true, you have to kind of admit the stories that were true as well, you know, take the good with the bad,” he added.
In a broader sense, Mac Con Iomaire says he saw Mannion’s story as a universal one, and one that spoke to the reality of an immigrant’s sense of belonging.
“Beyond the boxing thing, [the book] gives that Boston-Irish social history, those links from both sides of the Atlantic, from the Irish perspective of coming over, and the Boston perspective of being here, so it adds that strain of immigration, and the question of ‘where’s home?’ When you come over to live in another country at the age of 17, you know, and all your friends are here and your work is here, is this home? Or is the other place home? So there’s that kind of dynamic in there.”
“The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down,” which has already been made into an award-winning documentary film, “Rocky Ros Muc,” paints a vivid portrait of a flawed yet courageous man. Mac Con Iomaire offered Mannion’s indomitable spirit as one of the book’s main takeaways:
“I think it captures the human frailties in a sense, you know, like someone’s ups and downs, but how sticking with their principles kind of brings them through. One of Sean’s strong points has always been that he’s been very principled and adhered to certain rules in his own life, put certain things – put family, put Ireland, put friends – ahead of other things, quite often to the detriment of his own boxing career. But I think the upside of that for him now is that he’s gone through all of that, and you don’t come across people who speak ill of him.”
The book is available for purchase online at macconiomaire.com and at amazon.com.