Boston wrangler – Frank McNally on Myles, Massachusetts, and Dropkick Murphy

An Irishman’s Diary

If you've been to a rugby match at Lansdowne Road in recent years, you'll be familiar with the song I'm Shipping Up to Boston, by the Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. Adapted from lyrics by Woody Guthrie, it is on one level an unusual anthem for an elite sports event, telling the story of a one-legged sailor on a mission to find his missing prosthetic. Even so, it's a suitably raucous backdrop to the fireworks and general drama that accompany Ireland teams onto the pitch these days.

But there is also some curious serendipity involved in its choice (unless the IRFU knew exactly what it was doing, which can never be ruled out). Because when the Dropkick Murphys recorded an album called “Live on Lansdowne” back in 2010, it had nothing to do with Dublin 4.

No, the Lansdowne in question there was Lansdowne Street, located in the same city wherein the sailor is looking for his leg. That Lansdowne is synonymous with Boston’s nightlife, music venues especially, hence the live album. But Lo! It too is home to a famous sports stadium: the baseball cathedral that is Fenway Park.

If you didn't know otherwise, you might also suspect a rugby link to the band's name. In fact, the original "Dropkick Murphy" was a wrestler, nicknamed for his trademark move: a two-footed assault, as perfected in a later era by Eric Cantona. Strange to say, he was also known as "Dr John Murphy" because, even stranger, he was a qualified osteopath. But he never practised, opting for a career in breaking bones rather than setting them.


There is remarkable footage on YouTube of a 1930s tag-wrestling bout in which Murphy and a colleague take on a pair of opponents, one of whom goes by the name "Hard-boiled Haggarty".

The latter was an ex-American football star and later a Hollywood actor. Indeed, as "Haggerty", he was acting even then: his unhibernian real name was Don Stansauk. But with all four men in the ring simultaneously, it resembles something you'd see outside a pub at 2am, just before police arrive. By comparison, the modern-day MMA looks (almost) like a sport.

Dropkick Murphy did eventually graduate to a career that might now be considered medical. From 1941 until his death, he ran a sanatorium in Massachusetts: newspaper ads for which recommended it as a place of refuge for "nervous, tired people".

That was a euphemism for "alcoholics". It was a drying out facility, an early version of the Betty Ford Clinic (like Ireland's Mount Melleray Abbey), for the era before alcoholism was officially a disease, offering discreet treatment to a clientele that included many sporting celebrities who could meanwhile use its elite gym facilities.

This was how the name came to be adopted by the band, apparently. The wrestling was forgotten by then, but they had grown up listening to various old-timers around Boston talking about their stays at the sanatorium.

If Hard-boiled Haggerty and Dropkick Murphy had not already existed by the time he came along, Flann O’Brien might have been forced to invent them. As it is, the best-known “Wrastler” in his books is a powerful beer of that name, served in the pub of The Third Policeman’s one-legged protagonist and guaranteed to deprive customers of the use of both their legs by closing time.

Of course, as Myles na gGopaleen in this newspaper, he also often wrote about Boston, the Irish Empire's second city. In a proposal worthy of Boris Johnson, he once even urged the construction of an undersea tunnel between Galway and there, via which this island could be gradually evacuated.

That was 1958, just after Aer Lingus’s first transatlantic flight, a loss-making affair that the Government nevertheless justified for its strategic importance.

Encouraged by the suggestion that money was no object, Myles was also worried about the heating up of the Cold War and specifically (with a resonance in our own times) about Russia’s westward expansion. Thus he called for a tunnel feasibility study, Irish style. Or as he put it: “All we need – but soon! – is a handful of determined Irishmen, a room in Jury’s, and the birth of Cólucht Tróglóidideach na hÉireann.”

The tunnel hasn't happened yet. But the subterranean Lansdowne link and other semi-mystical connections continue to multiply. Myles would hardly have been surprised when, some years ago, his archive ended up in Boston College. Nor that the sixth biennial International Flann O'Brien Conference will take place there this coming April. Scholars interested in shipping up to Boston to present papers can still submit abstracts (via But they need to hurry. The closing date is February 28th.