Cork Boxing celebrates one of its greatest humanitarians John Birmingham

Cork Boxing celebrates one of its greatest humanitarians John Birmingham

Son Brian Birmingham, brother Jerry Birmingham, sister Noreen Birmingham, Lord Mayor Cllr John Kelleher, Lady Mayoress Imelda Power, daughters Joan and Maura Birmingham of the late John Birmingham 

THIS week Cork boxing proudly celebrates the Centenary of the birth of one of the greatest humanitarians Leeside has ever produced.

John Birmingham was born in a small terraced house in Spring Lane in Blackpool in 1921.

After basic primary education, he went to work at 14 years of age and was employed by D & A Printers in Washington Street.

As a youngster, he spent most of his nights in the Glen BC. Aged 19, he was elected Secretary of the club.

John immediately displayed great flair as an organiser and introduced many changes to the unit's set up.

He produced a format for the club to facilitate boxing taking place seven nights a week. 

This system was devised to cater for the 120 athletes registered with the club.

One night per week, the most senior boxers in the county and beyond would train and spar in the Glen BC.

These included Tomm Hyde from the Sunnyside, Paddy Buckley from Mallow and the iron man Peter Crotty from Dungarvan.

As a club secretary, John did tremendous work around Blackpool. 

He regularly visited schools and encouraged youngsters to join the Glen.

The membership requirements were respect, discipline, dedication and the spirit to represent the club with pride.

Each athlete was to provide three pence a week, and if youngsters had difficulty paying, John would talk to their parents and waive the fee in certain circumstances.

Young Birmingham was also a great man to organise their famed Christmas draw. A book of six tickets costs five shillings with substantial prizes on offer.

Birmingham ensured that Blackpool's main employers, including Murphy's brewery, Goulding Fertilizers, the Sunbeam, and HJW Paints, would provide the prizes.

The draw would take place each year on the Friday night before Christmas in Mollie Howes Bar, which was also patronised by Glen Rovers supporters.

In 1951, John Birmingham was elected President of the Cork County Boxing Board. Once again, he brought his leadership skills to the fore and reorganised the Board.

During his four years as President, he also continued to serve as the Glen as secretary. Birmingham made contacts with many clubs in England and Wales.

He organised internationals and full internationals for City Hall. He also organised many tournaments in the new Glen Rovers hall in Blackpool, which opened in 1953.

These top-class international and tournaments drew full houses everywhere. John Birmingham had set excellent standards and made boxing very prominent throughout the city and county.

Simultaneously, he was also involved with many voluntary groups. 

Around the mid-1950s, a disease called Poliomyelitis spread amongst children in Cork. As a consequence, many children were disabled as there were no services to cater for the disease.

On May 29, 1957, John Brimingham and the Reverend Dean Bastible set up the Cork Polio Association.

This group provided immediate physiotherapy for those affected. Around that time, it was discovered that many children had intellectual disabilities, and in 1958 they opened two schools to cater for those.

A year later, John Birmingham became Secretary and Director of Cork Polio and worked with a small group of professionals from medicine, education and law.

Over the years, they continued to provide services for thousands of people suffering from autism and intellectual disability.

On June 5, 1988, the name of the organisation was changed to the COPE Foundation, and Birmingham continued to lead in his capacity as CEO and Chairman.

Today, COPE is a non-profit organisation assisted by state grant aid. The tiny flicker of light ignited by the Glen BC Secretary in 1957 has now developed into a radiant beacon of hope for so many.

COPE now employs 1,600 people and has 69 locations throughout the city and county.

As a Fine Gael Councillor, John Birmingham was elected Lord Mayor of Cork in 1968. Amongst the first to congratulate him was the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch, a fellow Glen man.

In 1995 Birmingham was named Corkman of the year, while on May 24, 1997 he was conferred with the ultimate accolade, the freedom of Cork.

John Birmingham died on November 1, 2000, aged 79. In 2008 his son Brian was elected Lord Mayor. Brian is also a great friend of Cork boxing and is a vice president for the Cork Ex Boxers Association.

Last weekend, the President of the Cork Board, Michael O'Brien, said a plaque would be erected on the Boxing Wall in Bishop Lucey Park to mark John Birmingham's contribution to boxing.

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