Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fr. John McLaughlin and the Irish Boxing Association

‘The Bell’, a monthly magazine edited by Sean O’Faolain, made its first appearance in October 1940.  It appeared until 1948 and restarted two years later.  However, its irregular appearance in the book shops soon lead to its demise in 1954. 

I was trawling through some of the earlier numbers of ‘The Bell’ during the week and came across an interesting article entitled ‘Boxing in Eire’.  It appeared in the October 1943 edition and prominently featured in that article was Fr. John McLaughlin, Chaplain to the Irish Defence Forces.

It was the same Fr. McLaughlin whom I remember as the senior curate in Athy in the 1950s.  He was, if I remember correctly, the key man in the Parish of St. Michaels during the last years of the elderly Parish Priest Archdeacon McDonnell. Fr. McLaughlin had the responsibility of initiating and developing the Church building fundraising activities which culminated in the opening of St. Michael’s Parish Church on 19th April 1964. 

I served Mass in the Parish Church for several years and recall the trips to Dublin which were arranged each year for the Mass servers.  We travelled in hackney cars, enjoying the same programme each year – a visit to Dublin Airport in the afternoon, followed by an evening’s entertainment at the Boxing Stadium on the South Circular Road.

It was only on reading ‘The Bell’ article of 68 years ago that I understood why the Boxing Stadium was such a prominent part of the annual outings for Athy Mass servers.  It had been opened in March 1939, eleven years after Fr. McLaughlin first became involved with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.

Fr. McLaughlin was Honorary Treasurer of the I.A.B.A. at the same time when he was Chaplain to the Irish Defence Forces.  The National Boxing Stadium was built at the cost of £13,000 without any contribution from the State or from Dublin Corporation.  Five years after its opening the Stadium’s authorities still owed the sum of £5,000 and it was a measure of Fr. McLaughlin’s success as Treasurer of the I.A.B.A. that the debt was eventually paid off.  No doubt the experience gained during that early period of his clerical career stood him in good stead when he was entrusted with the task of funding the building of a new Parish Church for the most southerly parish in the Dublin diocese.

It is interesting to note that at the time the article ‘Boxing in Eire’ appeared in October 1943 there were approximately 132 boxing clubs in Ireland.  I wonder if the Athy Boxing Club with which Sydney Minch was involved was included in that number.  I am told that Sydney, who served as a Cumann na nGaedheal T.D. for Kildare following the 1932 and 1933 elections and was re-elected as a Fine Gael T.D. for Carlow/Kildare in 1937, started the local boxing club which operated out of St. John’s Hall.  When and for how long the Club was active I cannot say but I’m sure that there are many readers who can answer those questions.

Several years ago Pat Mangan gave me a billiard cue which had been presented to Fr. McLaughlin.  The inscription on the silver band around the stock of the cue reads, ‘Presented to Rev. J. McLoughlin (sic) C.F., to mark his Silver Jubilee 1922-1947 by the Staff Army Club Dublin.’  For me it is a treasured memento of a man who was greatly admired during his time in Athy.

Fr. McLaughlin was a brother of Thomas McLaughlin, engineer and originator of the Shannon Electricity Scheme.  It was Thomas McLaughlin who, realising that water rather than turf held the key to the manufacturing of electricity, devised a hydro-electric scheme based on the River Shannon.  After leaving Athy Fr. McLaughlin transferred to Celbridge as Parish Priest.  His legacy and that of the many others, both lay and clerical, who were involved in fundraising campaigns in St. Michael’s Parish for more than a decade, can be seen in the present day Parish Church of St. Michaels which an eminent architect once claimed ‘was unnecessarily large and lacking in the kind of human reference which I would call “human scale”’.

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