Crowds have flocked to the City Hall for years to watch Cork's best boxers in action

Crowds have flocked to the City Hall for years to watch Cork's best boxers in action

Mick O'Donovan (Front row, centre ) with his team mates from the Glen BC, Munster Champions 1957-58. Included are, front row L.Kenneally & W.Brennan. Back row: T Looney, J.Morrissey (coach) and T.O'Donoghue.

DOWN through the years, Cork's City Hall has been the Mecca of Leeside boxing.

Since it opened its doors in 1936, Friday night was always the big fight night.

Crowds would flock to its majestic concert hall where the house full sign would regularly go up long before the first bout at 8 pm.

These were the great nights of boxing in Ireland's second city during the late 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

Much of the attendance was made up of workers from Fords, Dunlops and Gouldings, supported by many dockland workers.

Before arriving at the venue, many would imbibe themselves at local bars, including the Port Bar, the Black Swan, Donkeys Ears and Canty's Emporium.

In these fine establishments, patrons would clear their throats for the night ahead while others would fortify themselves with crubeens, backbone and bodice.

Patrons coming from Cork's Northside might frequent anyone of a litany of pubs around Shandon and might stop off at John the Baptist soup kitchen in Brown Streets or the well-known chipper off Oliver Plunkett Street, affectional knowns as Barnardi and dribbles.

The new Cork County Championships medal designed two years ago features many of Cork's iconic buildings, including City Hall.

While the new City Hall was being built over 16 years following the burning of Cork in 1920. Other venues which housed boxing included the Arcadia Ballroom and the old Opera House.

While boxing has not taken place at City Hall now for a number of years, it has always been acknowledged as its spiritual home.

The last promotion to feature there was in 2013 when Cork's best took on Belfast with the MC on the night being the Echo Sports editor John McHale.

On the night Cork was victorious and in the second leg, which took place in Belfast, Cork did enough to claim the Canty Cup, which was sponsored by Ger Buttimer of Canty's Bar.

The then Lord Mayor of Cork Catherine Clancy travelled to Belfast to support the Cork boxers, further enhancing the great relationship City Hall has with Cork boxing.

Paddy 'The Champ' Martin pictured in an Irish vest during his iilustrious career.
Paddy 'The Champ' Martin pictured in an Irish vest during his iilustrious career.

Today, the crowds are seen again gathering outside City Hall. However, on this occasion, the building is hosting the most severe fight in its history.

Here, the contestants are the citizens of Cork, with the opposition being provided by the deadly Covid-19 virus. 

Among those lining up to be vaccinated, many of Cork's older generations are reflecting on great nights of boxing at the venue.

The Glen BC were the first club to host a tournament there after the building opened. 

The Sunnyside was the next club to follow, and Friday night after Friday night, the venue sold out.

Magic memories were created and became part of Cork boxing folklore. Around that time, the sport was fortunate to have some great administrators who organise these shows.

These included Tommy Fitzpatrick, Willie O Reilly, Charlie Atha, John Barrett, Brian Birmingham and a new kid on the block from the army Victor Aston.

One of the evergreen stories told of City Hall was the night Paddy Martin of the Glen BC squared up to the Jamaican champion Joe Bygraves.

Joe was a big man with a big reputation, and the hall was packed to the rafters. Following a helter-skelter battle, Martins hand was raised in victory. The crowd went delirious.

Following the result and huge cheer also went up outside of City Hall. 

Here, hundreds of fight fans who failed to gain admission were awaiting the outcome of the fight anxiously.

Amongst them was a well-known character known as the Rancher.

Now with a pep in his stop following a famous Northside vctory, he burst into an imaginary commentary of the fight, delightfully entertaining his captive audience.

The crown heard every one of Martins unseen punches, and when the Rancher finally declared Martin the winner, many jumped for joy and threw their caps in the air.

Later in his career, Byrgraves went on to win the British heavyweight title knocking out Henry Cooper, while Cooper went on the drop the great Muhammad Ali.

Following these results, students of Cork boxing, putting all the statistics in order, declared that Martin should in future be known as Paddy the Champ.

Memories of City Hall boxing nights could fill many books, and the stories are still being recalled on Leeside many years after the crowds have long gone.

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