Wednesday 20 November 2019

Ulick O'Connor: Let's honour the father of Irish boxing

It's time we had a statue of WRE Murphy, who laid the foundations of our Olympic success, writes Ulick O'Connor

Ireland has won more medals in the boxing ring in the Olympics than at any other sport. But is the haul this year the best of all?

There will be arguments about whether this victory exceeds that of Melbourne in 1956 or Barcelona in 1992. But there is no argument that the Irish Amateur Boxing Association has shown throughout the years an advanced gift for sports administration. Its foresight and sense of structure, exemplified in such sections as the National Coaching Commission, have set a high standard that is hoped can be emulated in other sports.

But there had been arguments in boxing circles as to which has been the best achievement by an Irish boxing team in the Olympics.

Take Melbourne 1956. There, we won three bronze and a silver. In Barcelona, Michael Carruth won gold medal and Wayne McCullough took silver. But this year in London we won one gold, two bronze and a silver.

It's hard to choose.

The Garda club boxers were at the height of their form in 1936 when the Berlin Olympics were held. But they were unable to compete as Ireland did not send a team because of political difficulties.

One man who would have certainly been pleased with the 2012 tally (had he been alive) was WRE Murphy.

Who was he, you may well ask? Well, he could be called the father of our boxing tradition. Murphy's connection with the sport started in the 1920s when, as assistant garda commissioner, he founded the Garda Boxing Club. In a short time, it came to dominate Irish boxing and soon became known internationally.

Garda Ernie Smith was held at the time to be the best amateur lightweight in the world and Garda Dick Hearns had a similar reputation in the light heavyweights.

The European Police Championships every year were dominated by garda boxers. It was said humorously at the time that the Irish championships were an occasion when "garda fought garda".

In 1939, WRE Murphy had his greatest coup as an organiser in the boxing world. He secured the European Championships for Dublin.

We had no building available here to house the affair. But lo and behold, the government built a stadium for him. It didn't matter that he and the minister concerned, Frank Aiken, had been sworn enemies in the Civil War. Sport healed that wound.

The Irish Amateur Boxing Association remains the only amateur boxing group in the world to own its own stadium.

We won three titles at those European championships: heavyweight (Gearoid O Colmain), lightweight (Paddy Dowdall) and flyweight (Jimmy Ingle).

WRE Murphy must have been delighted with the fruits of his great plan as we continued to win Olympic medals.

He lived on to see Ireland's success at the Melbourne games and Tokyo but was not around when future outstanding boxing successes were achieved at later Olympics.

He died in 1975.

But this is only the second half of the story. The first part is unbelievable, except that it is documented by hard evidence. Here it is.

WRE Murphy was born in Wexford in 1890 but went to live in Belfast, where he became a schoolteacher in a Catholic school on the Falls Road. The First World War started, he joined the British army at the age of 25 and in three years had become a colonel in the South Staffordshire regiment when the war ended in 1918. He had fought in the battle of Loos and the battle of the Somme with exceptional bravery on the field and was awarded the Military Cross and the DSO.

He returned to Ireland and worked for Michael Collins in the War of Independence and when the Irish State was born he became a major-general. He moved from there to the post of assistant commissioner in the Garda Siochana.

A man of such high achievement should be commemorated with a statue.

How about it, Dublin Corporation?

Sunday Independent

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