Cork's boxing heroes have left a lasting legacy on Leeside

Cork's boxing heroes have left a lasting legacy on Leeside

An Taoiseach Michéal Martin at The Glen Boxing club where he presented his fathers cup The Paddy 'The Champ' Martin cup to Christine Desmond winners of the champions cup signing the boxing canvass

OVER the last nine months, many of the main articles in this weekly column have reflected on the glory days from Cork's boxing past.

This nostalgic trip through many of Leeside's boxing lanes has been facilitated through the lack of competitive action as a consequence of the Covid-19 virus.

However, the response from the Cork boxing public has been phenomenal, and this view has been shared by the diaspora who keep in touch weekly via the popular Echo live.

When the Taoiseach autographed the canvas of the ring during his recent visit to the Glen BC, he referenced many generations of Cork boxers.

He spoke with passion about Corkonians who have loved the sport and recalled some of the legendary boxing tales his late father Paddy told his sons around the fireside on a cold winter's night.

On the Northside of the city, Shandon Street has always been called the Boxing Boulevard. Over the years, the area and its surrounds have seen the emergence of many clubs.

As time passed, some of these clubs came and went, but the sport always survived. Many of the names cited in the aforementioned features are often the subject of debate in and around the heartland of Cork boxing.

Arguments concerning the sport are settled in such venues as the Plaza in the Blackpool Shopping Centre, the top of Fair Hill, outside the GPO on a Friday morning, the famed Tinny Shed in Douglas, the reading rooms in the city library and many Cork bars.

Recently, a group of city taxi drivers debated Cork boxing in the 1960s when the sport was flourishing. 

It began at the start of the decade when Irish Elite champion Paddy Kenny from the CCNBC club in Cork travelled to Rome where he represented Ireland with distinction at the 1960 Olympics.

Two years later, Don Murray of the Matt Talbot BC, who is today a prominent member of the Cork Ex Boxers Association, made history after he became the first Leesider to win Irish Junior and Senior/Elite heavyweight titles in the same year.

He subsequently went on to claim his first international vest against Germany. In 1963, former Glen BC ace Mick Leahy secured the British middleweight title and returned home with the Lonsdale belt. 

Leahy also beat Sugar Ray Robinson who many believe is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.

In 1964, Belfast's Jim McCourt did Irish boxing proud after he claimed a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. 

In the mid-1960s, RTÉ produced a boxing sports show called "Ringside". The production was a black and white weekly programme which showcased a high standard of boxing.

Noel Andrews, the well-known and respected commentator, featured. Cork had one boxer. Here, Harry Butt from the Dean Sexton BC began to enjoy success week after week and became Cork's first TV sports star.

The Rebel flyweight became a big name in Leeside sport with more and more people tuning in each week to follow his progress.

However, many homes in Cork at the time did not have a TV set, and numerous fans flocked to the local pubs to see Harry in action. 

Others, such as schoolboys and those who did not drink, gathered in droves outside TV shops in the city.

To promote the sale of televisions at that time, many shops, such as Fitzgerald's Electrical on Grand Parade, placed a number of TVs inside the windows of their shop and wired the programme for sound, courtesy of loudspeakers.

Many Corkonians enjoyed crisps and ice lollies as they cheered on Harry week in and week out. 

To the delight of all, Harry won the RTÉ title and became a local hero. Boxing became the buzzword on Leeside for months after.

A few years ago, Butt's triumph was recalled at a Cork Boxing Breakfast, where he and his family were guests of the Cork Boxing Fraternity Association.

Cork boxing once again celebrated a cherished memory from yesteryear as all rejoiced on seeing a delighted and proud Harry Butt being presented with a replica of the specially designed RTÉ trophy.

Over the last ten years, the Cork Boxing Breakfasts have become a morning of magic memories for those being honoured. 

It has also become a unique social occasion for members of the Cork boxing family.

Followers of the sport are now looking to a new dawn. 

With the resumption of boxing in 2021 new stars will emerge to embrace the future with confidence which will further enhance the spirit of the sport on Leeside.

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