Polly Burns once fought an
exhibition match in Dublin with the heavyweight champion of the world (Jack
Polly Fairclough (Burns), center
Lady boxers were a circus attraction
Patrick Dillon (grandson of Tommy & Polly) notes:
Polly is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery just outside Dublin and Tommy Burns is
buried with him. We did take our children to Ireland when young and took a
photo of the grave, but we did not have time to go back to see it this time.
Polly was known by several names and it has proved nearly impossible to
ascertain her birth with any amount of accuracy. We believe she was born Mary
Agnes Taylor (or Thornton) in 1881 in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Her father's
occupation was stated to be a horse dealer on her marriage certificate to Tommy
in 1925. His name was given as James Thornton, BUT on my mother's birth
certificate it states Polly's maiden name as Taylor, confusion reigns over
this! My mother's father was supposedly a comedian named Thomas Harris
Fairclough-Padmore and Polly's name was given as Padmore-Fairclough.
In the 1901 London census Polly is named as Polly Fairclough - music hall artist
- aged 20 and married. She was also world champion lady boxer having gone to
Paris to fight an American called Texas May ? who did not turn up for the fight
so Polly fought a man instead!
It is rumoured that Polly met Tommy in 1913 when she boxed at the National
Sporting Club in London, the only woman to have done so - we are still
investigating this point but not getting anywhere at the moment. My mother was
born in 1913 and always went under the name of Burns, even on her marriage to my
father Christopher Dillon it was stated that her name was Burns and her father
was Thomas Burns. Subsequently, of course, it was realized she was not Tommy's
blood daughter - quite a shock for her.
About two years ago our daughter Catharine was 'surfing the net' and came across
an article about a film having been made of Polly's life by her great
granddaughter (also named Catherine). She had quite a shock as we had no
knowledge of any other children Polly might have had and, as you can imagine, I
was very skeptical of this.
It was produced by someone called Adrian Lynch. We contacted him and told him
we were coming over to Dublin and would like to meet him as he might have some
further information for us, particularly about the two children Polly was
supposed to have had prior to 1913 when she was married to a Thomas Lynch. We
also asked for a copy of the film. Now, here is where the story gets a bit
muddled. Although we went twice to his studios by appointment he was never
He gave us a cassette of the film but it would not play on our equipment (or
anyone else's). Eventually we got a disc from Radio Eire via a contact of our
daughter-in-law and have seen the film. Obviously, there is no mention of my
mother, although she was the one who lived with Tommy and Polly. It seems from
speaking with my sisters that there was a woman called Agnes who Polly used to
see and we now believe that this may have been one of the other daughters as
that was the name of Catherine Morley's grandmother. She worked on a market
stall in Dublin. We tried all ways to find out information while in Dublin,
without much success. We even phoned a number we had but when we gave our name
were told that they knew nothing. Strange that, as I would have thought that
they would have been happy to meet long lost relations.
They may have thought we would discredit some of the information in the film or
at least challenge it but as they say in England 'nowt so queer as folks'
See this article on Aunt Polly titled,
"A Woman Who Was More Than A
Match For The Men.", where it appears that she met Uncle Tommy (her second
husband), while fighting him in the boxing ring.
"She was supposed to have fought men at the National
Sporting Club in London, and one of her opponents there became her second
Aunt Polly Burns is also discussed in the book "The
Boxer's Heart: How I Fell in Love With the Ring",
by Kate Sekules, and Polly Burns was the subject of a documentary film "My
Grandmother Was A Boxer" on the RTE network in Ireland.
"RTE screened an amazing documentary in its 'True
Lives' slot on Monday night. 'My Grandmother Was A Boxer' told the story of
Polly Burns, who became the Women's World Boxing Champion in 1900, through
the eyes of her Dublin great -granddaughter, Catherine Morley. . .
She was born in 1881 to an old established Lancashire
circus family. After the death of her mother in a trapeze accident her
father remarried to a member of "the famous fighting Fairclough family".
Polly went into the circus life early and eventually became a 'strongwoman',
famous as "the lady who held up donkeys with her teeth".
Connected as she was to a famous family of pugilists it's little wonder that
Polly strapped on a pair of gloves and entered the boxing ring. She was 16
when she began her boxing career, fighting in booths at fairs, and mostly
against men. "She was one of the few women at the time who fought men," said
Lynch "She made thousands out of it.
A lot of the respected experts, especially the male
ones, don't believe Polly was a fighter. At the end of her life, living in
poverty in Dublin, she sold her story to the British tabloids "
"She was one of the few women at the time, who fought
men," said Morley "She made thousands out of it." According to the
documentary Polly Burns had an exhibition match with Jack Johnson (then
heavyweight champion of the world) in Dublin.
Also, she was supposed to have fought men at the
"National Sporting Club" in London, and one of her opponents there became
her second husband." (Tommy Burns)
Tommy Burns, the son of Dr.