Boxing is part of my family’s story. It’s part of many Irish families’ stories. Think of how much the teenage fights of Roy Keane and Liam Neeson have been mythologized.
My father, Francie, was a boxer. To middleweight. He had a punch, a real wallop, but he didn’t spend too long studying the Queensbury Rules.
After knocking one opponent out, he stayed put, standing over him in the ring. The referee had to tell him to go to a neutral corner.
Francie had never heard of it before.
There are details of some of his fights in Chris McNulty’s history of boxing in Donegal. It’s great that they’re down in black and white because his memories of him have been lost to the fog of dementia.
My brother, Paddy was a boxer. To welterweight. The boxing club in Glencolmcille was long gone by the time we were growing up so he came to it late, first lacing gloves with Ealing Boxing Club after he’d move to London to work on building sites.
Paddy ended up writing about the sport too, interviewing many of the greats of the 1980s and 1990s. We have the pics at home.
Paddy with the likes of Chris Eubank and Steve Collins and Barry McGuigan and Michael Watson.
One of the most brutal fights of that era was the one between Nigel Benn and Gerard McClellan on February 25, 1995 at the London Arena.
McClellan was left with devastating life-changing injuries. In 2011, ITV showed a riveting documentary about the two men – The Fight of their Lives.
I was sitting at home watching it when I jumped out of my seat. The doc showed some of the footage of the fight and, at one stage, panned to the crowd. A camera zoomed in on my brother, Paddy.
It was a jolt to see him as he passed away from cancer at 26 in 1996.
I lived with him at the time in London and one of the abiding memories of the blurred week afterwards was how upset the Pakistani newsagent in Hanwell was when I called in to cancel Paddy’s subscription to Boxing News, and explained the reason why.
For episode two of our Shadow Boxing podcast, we settled on the title ‘The Ties That Bind’.
Irish boxing has often been a family affair. Coaches have often been surrogate fathers and, more recently, mothers, to young boxers.
It is a sport that does great social good, and that is why the involvement of Daniel Kinahan has been so damaging.
Brian Kerr is the quintessential Dublin football man, but he loves his boxing too.
That comes from his father, Frankie, a six time Irish champion who would go on to found Drimnagh Boxing Club – the club that produced Ireland’s first Olympic champion in the ring, Michael Carruth.
Frankie moved into coaching after hanging up his gloves, and was in charge of the Trinity College boxers for years.
Sometimes, his son would follow him to the university gym or to tournaments in different clubs, taking in the sights and sounds.
“One of the things that stands out was the bandaging of the hands before fights,” said Kerr.
“There would be no talk. It would be eerily quiet, almost like a religious ceremony.
“That tension in the air – you could almost touch it. I loved being in the sanctuary of the dressing-room when that was happening. You felt that you were part of the inner sanctum of something precious.”
In January 1968, Frankie Kerr passed away from pneumonia. He was just 51, Brian was 14.
As the years have passed, his son has become ever keener to learn more about Frankie’s career.
“Funnily enough, one of my Saturday morning duties growing up was to polish the linen in the hallway,” he said.
“And I’d use one of his international vests to do it. We weren’t aware of how precious that stuff was.
“But, a few years ago, a fella managed to find one of them in a storeroom in the Naul area of Dublin.
“There was a vest with a little label on it – ‘Frankie Kerr, Irish champion’, so it’s great to have that now.”
There is a quiet fury in Kerr’s voice when he talks on Shadow Boxing about the damage Kinahan’s involvement has done to the sport here.
He also feels there is far too much lip service paid towards boxing in Ireland.
“I sometimes go down to the Drimnagh club and see the work they do – they’re almost like social workers,” he said.
“It’s such an inclusive place, and that would apply to boxing clubs all around the country.
“Boxing clubs are rarely in fashionable places, or areas where there’s a lot of money, but they’re highly respected for the work they do.
“That’s because of the inclusive nature and basic decency of the coaches and people involved.
“They might produce the odd champion but they’re more appreciated by the community because, for example, they take in kids that might struggle with the discipline involved in being part of team sports.
“Boxing coaches perform a hugely important role that’s not appreciated enough.
“I’m often frustrated when there’s a huge outpouring of support and interest in boxing around the time of the Olympics every four years.
“Afterwards, it just fizzles out. There isn’t substantial funding for these clubs, or the vital work they do in guiding a lot of these kids along the right path and giving them a sense of confidence and purpose and self-esteem.
“It isn’t helped by the chaos around the organization itself. The boxing authorities here don’t help themselves with the way they go about things.”