CORK’S iconic Boxing Wall will be in line for an upgrade when work commences on the €1.5m redevelopment of Bishop Lucey Park.
The Wall has cemented its stature as a feature of the existing amenity which was opened in 1986 and named after the Bishop of Cork, Doctor Cornelius Lucey.
The revamp will make provision for all existing plaques in addition to creating new surrounds to further enhance and chart the history of the sport on Leeside and the proud Rebel boxing narrative.
The current structure carries the names of Cork’s legendary fighters, including our only world boxing champion, Jack McAuliffe, and British middleweight titlist Mick Leahy.
Moreover, since Ireland first entered the Olympics at Paris 1924, the names of all of Cork’s boxing Olympians, down to the appearance of Michael Roche at Sydney 2000 and Christina Desmond at the Youth Olympics at Nanjing 2014, feature on the Boxing Wall.
Many other household names are also on display. These include Pakey O’Mahony who was Irish heavyweight champion in 1913, while Ireland’s oldest club, the Glen BC, also holds pride of place.
The renovation will incorporate plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Cork Ex Boxers Association (CEBA), In existence for half a century, the CEBA is the third oldest organisation of its kind in the world.
While officially founded in 1972, the CEBA began operating unofficially in 1971. A first meeting took place in Tim O’Sullivan’s office on Maylor Street where the founders of the organisation, Paddy “The Champ” Martin and O’Sullivan, charted the formation of the unit.
Following the establishment of the CEBA, and an invitation from the then European champion Maxie McCullagh, O’Sullivan attended a meeting of the Dublin Ex Boxers Association.
O’Sullivan teamed up with Martin following one of those encounters in Dublin, and they called a conference to form a group named the Cork Ex Boxers Association. A few weeks after that get together, the CEBA was created at the old Glen Rovers Hurling Club Hall in Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool.
Among the attendance was, Ray Donnelly, Dan Kelleher, John Martin, Kid Cronin, Eamer Coughlan, Jim Fitzgerald, Tim O’Sullivan and Paddy Martin.
At subsequent meetings, many former and prominent boxers joined the group, and the organisation began to expand in size and influence. They were also active as a benevolent fund and aided former fighters who had fallen on difficult times.
The funeral of Jack Doyle is but one example. After the 'Gorgeous Gael' died in poverty in London in 1978, the CEBA played a significant role in having his remains returned home and buried in the holy ground in Cobh.
In 1977, the CEBA introduced their Hall of Fame Award. The inaugural winner was Mick Leahy, the former Glen BC man who beat Sugar Ray Robinson. Paddy 'The Champ' Martin and O’Sullivan followed Sugar Ray’s conqueror into the Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Martin was the recipient of a presentation at a Dinner Dance at the Sunset Ridge. Poignantly, this presentation was made by his son, Micheál Martin, on behalf of CEBA. Cllr. Martin was acting as Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork at the time.
The following year Tim O’Sullivan was honoured, and the word on the street spread that the presentation was to be made by none other than Muhammed Ali, who was due to visit Leeside.
The story, the accurate part, went that Ali shared a dressing room with O’Sullivan’s old clubmate Paddy Kenny at the Rome 1960 Olympics, where Ali, then called Cassius Clay, won light-heavy gold. Speculation was rife that Ali was going do the honours.
However, that enthusiastic notion came to little and the presentation was made by Paddy Martin to O’Sullivan to acknowledge his contribution. The Boxing Wall in Bishop Lucey Park also eulogises the endeavours of many of Cork’s young guns and the names of Leeside’s World and European medallist are preserved and recorded with pride.
“They help to inspire young athletes to replicate such deeds and join an illustrious cast of boxers who had represented their country and clubs with distinction,” said Mick O’Brien, President of the Cork Board.
In the years ahead, many new names will be added to Cork Boxing Wall of Fame, O’Brien vowed.
He added: “The sport on Leeisde can rejoice in the knowledge that their successful past is not only shared with the people of Cork but with visitors from all over the world as the Boxing Wall now forms part of the Leeside tourist trail.”
O’Brien and the Cork Board and CEBA thanked the Cork City Council for their outstanding work on behalf of Cork boxing.