Tuesday, September 4, 2018

St. Michael's Boxing Club Athy

Boxing has for many years featured as a favoured sporting activity here in Athy. In the 1930s Sydney Minch and others founded a boxing club, which in the tough economic times of the day offered a sporting outlet to young boys whose lives were dominated by widespread unemployment and lack of opportunities. It is one of the regretful aspects of local history of years past that insufficient attention was given to recording local events and the people involved. For that reason there is little or no information available today on the boxing club of the 1930s, other than a few slight references in local newspapers. I remember interviewing Bill Hayes some years ago when he recalled the annual boxing tournaments between the Athy club and Sydney Minch’s old school, Clongowes Woods College. The boxing club went out of existence, when exactly I cannot say, but in 1966 Fr. Denis Laverty, then a curate in Athy, founded the town’s second boxing club. It was based in St. John’s Hall which had been built in 1926 as the British Legion Hall. The club’s membership included Dom O’Rourke, one of four O’Rourke brothers of Geraldine Road who were all involved and Noel O’Meara of Greenhills. The club faded away in the early 1970s, but Dom O’Rourke and Noel O’Meara would later bring alive the Athy boxing story with the foundation of the current St. Michael’s Boxing Club in 1993. Noel O’Meara was one of a small group of people who came together in the early 1990s to seek ways of arresting the social decline of the town. The group would eventually disband, having succeeded in setting up a community council, two play schools and a boxing club. Noel it was who was charged with the task of setting up the boxing club and he often claims that he was told ‘get it up and running again’. Noel sought Dom O’Rourke’s assistance and it was Dom with Jimmy Walsh, Pat Nolan and Mary O’Rourke as club treasurer who resurrected the boxing club which soon thereafter became one of the most successful clubs in Ireland. I have written previously of the club’s early successes achieved by the Sheahan brothers, Tommy, Gary and Roy by Patrick Phelan, David Oliver Joyce, John Joe Joyce and Eric Donovan. The early successes of Athy boxing club were achieved at a time when the club premise was a disused malthouse in Nelson Street. The facilities may have been primitive, but the hard work of all those involved in the club ensured that the youngsters availing of the facilities were well prepared to represent Athy at championship and subsequently international level. Indeed, the club was also represented in the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 by John Joe Joyce and in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics of 2016 by David Oliver Joyce. To date St. Michael’s Boxing Club has amassed in excess of 180 Irish championships ranging from boys to senior championships and all grades in between including youth, cadet, junior, under 21, under 23 and intermediate. It is a very impressive record for a young club. The success of St. Michael’s Boxing Club led to the Irish boxing authorities approving the holding of a senior international boxing match in Athy between Ireland and Canada. This was, I understand, the first senior international boxing match held outside Dublin and on that day those boxing for Ireland in the Grove Cinema Athy included Athy club members James Phillips, Tommy Sheahan, John Donovan and Vivian Carroll. The club was later granted a civic reception by Athy Town Council in honour of its achievements, both at local and international level. It was fitting, given the club’s success and the part played in that success by Dom O’Rourke, that Dom should later be elected president of the I.A.B.A. It is not often that Athy men or women head up Irish national sporting organisations and on his appointment Dom joined another Athy man in those top ranks, George O’Toole, who was then president of the Irish Community Games Association. Another Athy connection with the I.A.B.A. was Fr. J. McLaughlin, a curate in Athy in the 1950s, who in his time spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the Parish Church opened in 1964. Fr. McLaughlin in his younger days was chaplain to the defence forces and during time he was also national treasurer of the I.A.B.A. In that capacity he was responsible for raising the finances for the building of the National Boxing Stadium in Dublin which opened in March 1939. St. Michael’s Boxing Club is Athy’s most successful sports club with wonderful facilities in it’s new premises at Dooley’s Terrace, Athy. I visited the club last week and was pleasantly surprised to find so many young people using the club’s facilities and training diligently in the hope of becoming sporting stars of tomorrow.

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