Achill-Cleveland story lives on in the exploits of a true trailblazer, Johnny Kilbane
Croí Trodach (A Fighting Heart) is the epic story of a world featherweight champion on TG4 tonight
Johnny Kilbane’s reputation flourished to such an extent that at one point, the section of Cleveland where he lived was called Kilbanetown. That he chose to stay in the city rather than relocate to the jazzier American cities mattered to Clevelanders. Kilbane was influenced by none of boxing’s darker roads and became celebrated for his generosity. But after he died in 1957, his legacy quickly fell into obscurity.
Des Kilbane’s documentary has coincided with a revival of the recognition of his achievements. The name of Kilbanetown has been revived and made official on the west side. The American Archive Society has commissioned Irish bronze casting sculptor Rowan Gillespie to create a commemorative piece depicting Kilbane in three phases of his life – boy, boxer and politician. Kilbane’s film captures what may have been his greatest contribution to Cleveland: he thought it to be the best place he could possibly lived.
“He stayed in Cleveland too rather than going to California or New York or Boston where the Irish were. He would not change that,” said Des Kilbane, who enlisted Willie Vlautin, a dedicated fight fan and front man with the inimitable Richmond Fontaine to compose a soundtrack for his film, which will show at both the Celtic Media Festival and the Arizona Film Festival in April.
The interest has helped provoke a new wave of interest in a boxer whose reputation after death was remembered only by aficionados of the game like Mike Tyson. Two thousand and twenty two will mark the centenary of Johnny Kilbane’s visit to Achill. The locals have acknowledged his memory in a way he would have most approved, by getting the Achill boxing club up and running again.
n Croí Trodach will be shown tonight on TG4 at 9.30pm.