Tuesday 19 March 2019

Tony gives it socks as statue unveiled

AN EMOTIONAL Tony Socks Byrne unveiled a lifesize statue of himself at a function in The Westcourt Hotel on Friday night just days ahead of its installation at Scotch Hall.This event brings back great and sad memories, said a tearful Tony, a bronze medal winner at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The people of Drogheda put money into the Send

By Caroline Kavanagh

AN EMOTIONAL Tony ‘Socks’ Byrne unveiled a lifesize statue of himself at a function in The Westcourt Hotel on Friday night just days ahead of its installation at Scotch Hall.

‘This event brings back great and sad memories,’ said a tearful Tony, a bronze medal winner at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

‘The people of Drogheda put money into the ‘Send Byrne to Melbourne’ appeal in the Drogheda Independent as athletes had to pay their own fares. They raised enough that time to bring two of us over. 50 years later you are doing it for me again!

‘Frank Godfrey started this committee making me the first boxer in Ireland to have a statue dedicated to him! No-one else would do what the people of Drogheda have done. On behalf of my wife Honor, my children and grandchildren – thank you!’

The E30,000 statue, commissioned by a local voluntary committee and designed and made by French sculptor Laury Dizengremel, drew positive comments from all who saw it, including 300 family and friends, Olympic Council representative Dermot Sherlock and former 1956 Olympic medal-winning boxer Johnny Caldwell who travelled down unexpectedly on the night to see his old friend.

‘I hadn’t seen Tony until recently since we competed at the Melbourne Olympics 50 years ago when he carried the flag and I carried the Ireland sign. I think it’s a great honour and I wish someone would erect a statue of me in Belfast,’ he said.

Accompanied by daughter Patricia and husband Brendan Burns, Johnny said he met Socks at a recent 50 year Olympic get-together and recognised him straight away.

‘Maeve Kyle was the first woman to represent Ireland at the Olympics and she looked after us in Melbourne. Our own trainers couldn’t travel and we had to raise our own funds to compete.’

Drogheda mayor Michael O’Dowd gave an entertaining speech in which he put Socks’ achievements in context with the time and the fact that the town had sent him to Melbourne.

‘There were collections in factories, pubs, whist drives and donations from business,’ he said.

‘The cheque was presented to the secretary of the Irish Olympic Council at a function in the Gate Cinema.

‘Socks was accompanied on his journey to Shannon Airport by Joe Mullally, President of Tredagh Boxing Club, his trainer Rory Everitt, and Jimmy Carroll, the manager of Galbraith’s Bakery where Tony was employed.’

A true community effort.

Committee chairman Frank Godfrey said this statue is a worthy permanent reality of one of Drogheda’s greatest sporting ambassadors.

Newspaper cuttings, old photographs and memorabilia were exhibited around the walls of the function room, compiled by photographer Noel Carter.

A DVD of interviews with Socks Byrne, local boxing champions and members of the public produced by Ben Corcoran of BB Videos rolled in the background.

Tony Byrne invited Alacoque Everitt, widow of Rory, Tony’s former trainer, to cut the anniversary cake with him, an emotional moment for sons Joe and Rory.

Himself a champion boxer Rory Everitt was from Magdelene Street and worked in the Lourdes hospital.

‘I remember all the fights when he would head off with Socks, a nickname Tony has had since childhood,’ said Alacoque.

MC for the evening Gerry Kelly made reference to the huge community effort to send Socks to the Olympics.

The Glenn Miller Legacy with Louis Smith packed dancers onto the floor all night with vocalist Brendan Crean.

However, Socks’ rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World’ brought the house down.

Sponsors Drogheda Concentrates were represented by Elaine Grennan. Floral bouquets were presented to a number of people by Cllr Malachy Godfrey.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics saw 12 athletes compete for the Republic of Ireland, winning five medals, including gold for Ronnie Delaney, who sent his best wishes on the night to Tony, captain of that superb team.

Tony proudly displayed his Olympic medal on the night.

Winner of the Olympic Gold Medal was boxer Scot Dick McTaggart, who was well beaten by Socks Byrne just weeks later in the Albert Hall!

European champion boxer Bernard Dunne recognised Socks’ achievement and sent his best wishes on the night.

The Byrne family turned out in great numbers, including Tony’s brother Frank, Marian Park, and sister Ethel, London, the only survivors of a family of nine.

Tony and his wife Honor now live in Edmonton in Canada.

Originally from Hardman’s Gardens, Tony’s late mother Brigie Byrne was given a television (one of the first in town – a little 14” black & white set with a snowy reception!) to watch her son’s fight in Melbourne, but couldn’t bring herself to!

However, hundreds of friends and neighbours packed into the house and garden to watch, some climbing onto the shoulders of friends to watch tv through the sitting room window!

‘We were so proud of him,’ recalled brother Frank.

‘We accompanied Tony to the airport leaving and met him coming home from fights. I drove him everywhere, and to the National Stadium on Friday nights to compete. We then packed into McKinney’s in Pearse Park to watch the Albert Hall fight.’

Amongst those in attendance were Charlie Hurley and Dessie Fagan, who captained the Drogheda United team for 10 years with Tony as a player.

‘If I had his hand in my boots I’d be an international player,’ Dessie quipped. ‘I’m delighted to be here and thrilled at his honour.’

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd attended with wife Agnes, as did Cllrs Leonard Hatrick, Ardee, Malachy Godfrey, Ged Nash, Jimmy Mulroy and Anthony Donohoe, Drogheda.

Mick ‘Tec’ Holden and wife were there, as was Honor’s school friend Kathleen Murray and husband Michael.

‘Despite emigrating to Canada we have kept in contact all of our lives,’ said Honor, originally a McCormack from Trinity Gardens.

‘Tony’s niece Frances Lynch sends us the Drogheda Independent for all the news!’

The Tony ‘Socks’ Byrne statue will be erected and officially unveiled today, Wednesday December 6, at 12 noon at Scotch Hall/South Bank.