Lily Joyce, first lady of boxing

Lily Joyce, first lady of boxing
Tim O'Sullivan, President of the Cork Ex-Boxers Association, pictured with Lily Joyce. Picture: Doug Minihane

THE recent passing of Lily Joyce marked the closure of another illustrious chapter in the history of Cork boxing.

Elizabeth 'Lily' Joyce, along with her husband Brian was an integral part of the Sunnyside BC. She was also the mother of the famed Joyce boxing brothers from Fairhill.

During the halcyon days of the 1980s, Senior boxing in Cork was flourishing and the Sunnyside BC was leading the way as one of the top clubs in the country.

The unit operated out of primitive conditions and shared their small premises with the local Harrier club, but despite their humble background, the outfit produced some of Ireland’s greats.

Albie Murphy and his wife Rita also played a significant role in the success of the Sunnyside BC. In effect, the Joyce and Murphy families ran the club. Tommy Hyde and many other greats hailed from the club which was founded in 1927.

The golden era evolved during the involvement of the Joyce and Murphy clans, while Lily Joyce became known the length and breadth of the nation.

For years she travelled with her sons to tournaments, and, while the family ran a successful coal business, she always made provision for training and travel time abroad for her sons.

Evening Echo sports journalist John McHale once wrote: “I also lived on Fairhill and played with the local GAA club and how I often envied the Joyce brothers and the great opportunities they got to travel all over the world while I was only going up and down the road representing my club.” 

The turn out for the funeral of one of the great matriarchal figures of Irish boxing was magnificent. People travelled from all parts of Ireland. Well-known boxing aficionado Billy Stacey said the Joyce brothers were always a big draw in Dublin.

“Many a night I met Lily at the National Stadium. She was there to support her sons, both Kieran and Gordon. She was a great woman who always encouraged everyone in boxing from all clubs. Her contribution will always be fondly remembered," he said. "She was a woman who was set in her ways but confident of what she wanted at all times.” 

The President of the IABA, Dom O’Rourke, extended his sympathy to the Joyce family on their loss.

“I was delighted to meet Lily recently at the National Convention in Cork where she attended the Boxing Breakfast. We spoke of old times and she said she looked forward to meeting me later in the year,” he said.

Former Irish head coach Billy Walsh, the AIBA World Coach of the Year as Chief Seconds with the USA, extended his deep condolences to the Joyce family from India.

“Lily was a legend. She travelled all over the world watching her sons fighting The Joyce family are one of the best fighting families Ireland has ever produced and the late Brian and Lily were the driving force behind them,” said the Wexford-born trainer from New Delhi where he’s working the USA corner at the AIBA World Women’s Elite Championships.

One minute’s silence, tolled in an out by a ringside bell, was observed at the National Seniors last weekend as a mark of respect for Lily Joyce and others involved with the sport who died recently.

Former Sunnyside greats Gordon and Kieran Joyce pictured with the renowned sports journalist and boxing writer Brendan Mooney. Picture: Doug Minihane
Former Sunnyside greats Gordon and Kieran Joyce pictured with the renowned sports journalist and boxing writer Brendan Mooney. Picture: Doug Minihane

Lily Joyce was the mother of three magnificent boxing siblings, Barry, Kieran and Gordon. Many recall the night at the National Stadium when the trio won a hat-trick of juvenile Irish titles.

Barry Joyce was a successful athlete with tremendous talent but retired very early from the sport. His son Christopher Joyce is a Cork senior hurler.

Gordon Joyce has the distinction of winning four Elite belts and was the youngest Irish boxer ever to claim one of those belts when he was just 17, the minimum age requirement at the time.

Two-time Olympian Kieran Joyce, meanwhile, was named Cork Boxer of the Century, having won six Elite titles and European Elite bronze. He represented Ireland over 100 times.

In recent years, Lily Joyce was dogged with ill health. However, she continued to maintain a keen interest in boxing and the Sunnyside BC and attended many functions, accompanied by Gordon.

The functions included many Cork Boxing Breakfasts and she also attended the Sunnyside dinner to mark the club’s 90th anniversary.

At the recent Breakfast, she was chatting with Micheál Martin, Leader of Fianna Fail Party. Martin’s father, Paddy The Champ, had an enduring friendship with the Joyce family. Martin said her passing will leave a big void in the Fairhill community.

Lily Joyce played a magnificent part in her son’s boxing careers, as acknowledged by many people, including last year’s Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Tony Fitzgerald Cork’s former first citizen described her as a beacon of light in the community who encouraged all and helped many. The President of the Cork Board Michael O’Brien led the Board and the Cork Ex-Boxers Association at the funeral.

O’Brien said: “Lily Joyce wanted to know every day what was happening in Cork boxing.” O’Brien praised Vance O'Connell, Secretary of the Sunnyside BC, who kept her up to date on the clubs throughout the county.

Lily Joyce passed as she lived, without a great amount of fuss. She was surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren whom she loved dearly. She was a woman acknowledged for her spirit and admired for her generosity.

This was acknowledged by all who attended her funeral. The First Lady of Cork Boxing had passed and as her cortege moved slowly through the Church, all stood and applauded as the theme song from My Fair Lady - On the Street Where You lived - played in the background.

It was a final tribute to a wonderful life and a wonderful lady who was arguably the mother of Cork’s greatest boxing family.

The late great Lily Joyce with Michael Martin at the recent IABA Convention Weekend in Cork.
The late great Lily Joyce with Michael Martin at the recent IABA Convention Weekend in Cork.

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