Pet lambs in Dublin
U 10.1134-6: Myler Keogh, Dublin’s pet lamb, will meet sergeantmajor Bennett, the Portobello bruiser, for a purse of fifty sovereigns.
Myler Keogh, sometime champion of all Ireland, was one of Dublin’s middleweight boxing heroes during the 1890s. Many of his fights were staged at Dublin’s Antient Concert Rooms on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), well known to Joyce and his father. As Keogh fought before the modern era, he is all but forgotten - though his memory lives on in Ulysses, where he is referred to as "Dublin's pet lamb".1
Sport (1899), 21 January
Boxers’ ring-names sometimes include the epithet “Lamb” (used ironically with reference to their aggression), but apparently ring-names do not extend to “pet lamb”. Perhaps Myler Keogh was considered a sacrificial lamb at the altar of A. Percy Bennett, British Consul General (and parodied here as “the Portobello bruiser”), with whom Joyce clashed in Zurich.
John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley’s Slang and its Analogues (1896-1904) includes entries for lamb and Nottingham lamb in the sense “rough, bruiser”.
But the history of the word pet suggests that there is more to it than this.
Pet is one of the few high-profile words in English to derive from Gaelic. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its borrowing in the early sixteenth century from Scottish Gaelic peata “tame animal”, noting that the same use occurs in Early Irish petta and modern Irish peata.2 The Gaelic word can be used adjectivally before the name of an animal, parallel to English pet lamb (OED instances Early Irish petta eoin a pet bird, lit. ‘a pet of a bird’). The primary sense in which the word pet was borrowed into English in the sixteenth century was as “pet lamb”.
The meeting was memorable because the Oxford Pet, Jack Perkins, inflicted Dick Curtis’s only defeat – by a knockout in the eleventh round.
Perkins also fought as The Chorister and The Oxford Jewel.3 He was not unusual in being nicknamed after his home town. The Dublin Observer for 25 May 1833 reports on a “fight between Jones (the Welch Champion) and Young Brag (the Yorkshire Pet).
Dick Curtis and the Oxford Pet
Myler Keogh was a local favourite – a “pet” in the boxing parlance of the time. Joyce associates him with his home town (he lived in Donnybrook, Dublin), and extends the word “pet” to “pet lamb” to indicate cosy familiarity or perhaps sacrifice. The strange description is not out of place at all.
1 For further information on Myler Keogh (born Myles Keogh) see John Simpson, “Myler Keogh: Dublin’s pet lamb”, in James Joyce Broadsheet No. 88 (February 2011), p. 1, and “Myler Keogh and James Keogh: the story of a boxing family”, in Dublin Historical Record (Spring 2011; vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 2-12). See also Keogh’s entry in Vivian Igoe, The Real People of Joyce’s Ulysses (2016), p. 164.
2 "pet, n.2 and adj." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2018. Web. 18 June 2018.
3 Sporting Magazine (1832), February p. 315.
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