At its best, the sport of Boxing can offer more than solely pugilistic entertainment; it can provide a nation with an idol who epitimises the strengths and traits of a nation. It can unite fractured and disparate communities, due to political or social reasons. It can embed its values and ethics into the fabric of a nation. When considering these aspects, the country of Ireland has produced multiple champions who in addition to being champions on their own merits, have become idols for their people, uniting and strengthening national feeling amongst social and economic difficulties, and a country whereby the ethics of the sport have been embedded and applied to all, regardless of background.
From the Hall of Fame Career of Jimmy McLarnin, to the storied careers of Stevie Collins, Wayne McCullough and Barry McGuigan, to Irish American fighters such as Gerry Cooney and Micky Ward, to the current day, where the success of Katie Taylor in the amateur games, including winning gold in 2012 Olympic Games; Ireland is a country rich in boxing heritage, providing the sport with great champions, in addition to domestic idols.
The strengths of Irish boxing and its deep heritiage and success can be attributed to many factors, but undoubtedly one of the major factors is its impressive amateur programme and the impressive history of Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA). IABA was founded in 1911, making it one of the oldest and renowned boxing associations in the world. This has led to great success for Irish boxing, from the success of John McNally, whose silver in 1952 Olympic Games, to Ireland’s first gold medalist, Dublin’s Michael Carruth in 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and the success of great amateurs such as Paddy Barnes, Darren Sutherland and most notably, the supremely talented and gifted boxer, Katie Taylor.
The sport of boxing in Ireland has had rich success in the professional ranks too; Jimmy McLarnin, recognised by many as Ireland’s most successful professional boxer, had a storied career. He was a two-time welterweight champion and was induced into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Others have followed in the successes of Ireland’s McLarnin, such as Barry McGuigan, whose success in the ring was also achieved by his achievements during the Troubles in Ireland. McGuigan was campaigning at a time when Ireland was facing troubling times, with clashes in Ireland and north of the border with loyalist and republican tensions leading to a country in strife. The success of McGuigan helped galvanize the country, providing the people with an idol to unite the Irish people during difficult and dark times. The success of Irish professional boxing continued with Stevie Collins, whose victories over Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn made him a boxing star and idol in Ireland. World champions from the Emerald Isle continued, with the likes of Bernard Dunne and Carl Frampton in recent times finding at the world stage.
In addition to the success of Irish boxers and to many outside of Ireland, many fighters of Irish heritage are recognised from American-Irish emigrants; some of the most famous fighters have Irish heritage, most notably fighters such as John L Sullivan, the first heavyweight champion of the world, James Braddock, whose inspirational boxing career is not only known by boxing fans but to the general public after the release of the critically acclaimed film “The Cinderella Man”, Paddy Duffy, the first welterweight champion of the world, and the heavyweight greats of the 20th century, Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali. In the recent era of the sport, the fearless courage shown by Irish-American boxers was shown most prominently by ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward, a courageous and fearless boxer whose trilogy with Arturo Gatti and his tremendous fandom and support was apparent to all.
Despite its small population and political strife, Ireland has provided the sport of boxing with some its most skilled and colourful characters throughout its storied history. From fighters whose success translates into stardom and representing Ireland on the world stage, to those whose skill can provide joy to Irishmen and women across the world, Ireland’s contribution to boxing is undoubtable
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