TO MARK their golden jubilee, the Cork Ex Boxers Association are producing a souvenir publication.
The period will cover Cork boxing from 1972 to the present day. It will feature many photographs and gems of memorabilia which is hoped will rekindle great memories while acknowledging the stand out boxers and clubs from each era.
Today, in this column, we take a brief look at the 70 years which preceded this. Around 1900 boxing had strong holds in Blackpool, Mallow, Bandon and Cobh.
The household names from that period included Jimmy Brown, Jack Stout, Tommy Doyle and Napper McGrath.
The boxing landscape in Cork changed in 1912 with the arrival of Pakey O’Mahony and Lesley O’Sullivan. Both men went on to become heavyweight champions of Ireland. O’Mahony famously fought for the British title but was beaten by Billy Wells after a very plucky display.
The people of Cork were so proud of O’Mahony that they presented him with a very expensive silver belt replication of the British belt.
In 1911, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association was founded. Three years later, the Cork County Board was established, and in 1916 the Glen BC was formed.
Few knew then that this club would go on to become an institution in Irish boxing folklore.
Amateur boxing ebbed and flowed in the 1920s with clubs coming and going.
The big names around that period were Willie Boy Murphy, who boxed with the Army and Garda clubs and represented Ireland at two Olympiads at Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928.
In 1927, the Sunnyside BC was founded and went on to become Cork’s most successful club. Cork boxing continued to flourish in the 1930s and produced many top athletes, including Mike Jordan.
Boxing was also blooming in Mallow and produced the great Buckley brothers. Ireland became the envy of the boxing world in 1939 when the National Stadium was opened as the first purpose build boxing arena in the world.
The sport was very popular in the 1940s, with huge tournaments taking place at City Hall. There were many nights when the crowd outside the door was three time greater than the attendance inside.
In 1946 and 1947, two senior titles came to Cork. Jimmy Gunner Murray brought glory to the Glen while the great Tommy Hyde put the Sunnyside BC on the map.
In 1948, Tim O Sullivan, boxing out of the CCNBS club, qualified to represent Ireland at the London Olympics. However, boxing politics raised its ugly head and Tim did not travel to the Games.
The IABA subsequently acknowledged the injustice and presented Tim with a medal depicting the spirit of the Olympics. The Year 1948 was an outstanding one for Glen boxer Ernie Keeffe. He was on the first Irish rugby team to win the grand slam and two weeks later boxed for Ireland against England at the National Stadium.
The 1950s saw the City Hall rock thanks to great nights organised by John Birmingham, a man of vision who was Secretary of both the Glen BC and the County Board.
He later became Lord Mayor of Cork.
One of those nights at City Hall during this period was when Paddy “The Champ” Martin beat Joe Bygraves. In 1960, Paddy Kenny from the CCNBS Club represented Ireland at the Rome Olympics, where he shared a dressing room with Muhammad Ali.
In 1961, the first team to represent Cork defeated Dublin to win the Inter-City Cup. IN 1962, Dom Murray, today an active member of CEBA, made history when he became the first boxer to win National Senior and Junior titles.
He made his international debut against Germany following that double. In 1963, Mick Leahy put Blackpool on top of the world when he won the British middleweight title.
In 1964, Jim McCourt won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics and later that year presented the medals at a UCC Boxing night.
This mid-1960s saw Harry Butt of the Fr Horgan’s BC become the first Cork TV boxing star when he won the RTÉ Ringside Cup.
With the exception of the Fr Horgan’s club, boxing then went into decline. In the early 1970s, Cork boxing was facing decimation. The glory days were over. There were no more bumper crowds. Like the recent pandemic, few in the Cork boxing world saw this coming.
However, amongst these darks and dreary days, a silver lining was about to emerge. Cork boxing always had a proud tradition, and from that foundation came four men.
Victor Aston and Dan O’Connell set out to reorganise the County Board while former international boxers Paddy Martin and Tim O’Sullivan, around the same time, set up the Cork Ex Boxers Association.
Cork boxing was on the march again, and the CEBA souvenir publication will capture the great years which followed.