Thursday, 6 June 2013

Big Henry Sproule and the Famous Fight

My father was a strong, gentle kind of a man.  He was a peaceful homebird, not much of a drinker, and very rarely raised his voice. It appears that at least one of his uncles was a Sproule of a very different type! Henry Sproule, born in 1879 and the twin of my grandfather Robert, was renowned as a fighter in their neighbourhood of Clady, County Tyrone.

The Ballad of Big Henry Sproule

The story we were told was that Henry had been in a serious fight with another man in Clady, and because of this, he had left Tyrone and went to live in Dublin.  The fight was famous in the neighbourhood, even giving rise to a song, ‘The Ballad of Big Henry Sproule’.  I hunted for this ballad for a long time without success. Thanks to a kind lady who saw this blog, I now have the elusive ballad, and the story of the infamous uncle who was known here by the more familiar, ‘Big Harry Sproule’.

Bye the way, there was a view in the family that Henry had actually killed his opponent, though my father said that this was not true. If it was true, can I apologise to the nice lady who showed me the ballad, as she is a relative of Mr McKinney!


The Sproule & McKinney Fight by Johnny Burns


It was on a winter’s night somewhere on Clady street
That two of Ireland’s champions in a great contest did meet
These Irishmen were drinking for some time at the bar
When after some hot argument they agreed to have a spar

McKinney went out like a policeman on patrol
To decide the fate of him so great, I mean Big Harry Sproule
Harry he went out with one great tiger spring
For Irishmen were always first and foremost in the ring

Before the fight began Sproule said, "remember John"
"I never was the man to run when fighting must be done"
"Well", said John "Now Harry I may now tell you straight
There never came from Tullymoan a man I couldn't beat"

At this the battle started and for awhile they fenced
When after some manoevuring a brutal fight commenced
McKinney he went rushing in and tried a left hand clinch
But Harry stood determined not staggering half an inch

Harry somewhat lost his head and putting out his foot
He landed in poor McKinney a brutal uppercut
McKinney he fell senseless upon the frozen ground
And the look on Sproule did terrify the lads who stood around

Harry fought so quickly he did his hands control
I thought it was Jack Johnston and not big Harry Sproule
Though McKinney was knocked out he fought with skill and pluck
He was active as Jim Corbett till the fatal blow was struck

So Irishmen be careful wherever that you be
Never say you can fight until you try and see
Always keep your temper and don't lose self control
For in a simple contest you might meet a Harry Sproule

Strabane & West Ulster In The 1800s: History From The Broadsheets: Selections from The Strabane Morning Post 1812-1837 [Paperback]
Thanks to Maeve Rogan for finding this ballad.

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