Few sports are as well-known to the Irish people as boxing. Overall, the country has won 31 Olympic medals, and boxers have won more than half of those medals (16) including two golds.
Ireland has a long history of producing outstanding heavyweights, like Jimmy McLarnin and Steve Collins. However, it’s interesting to note that it was until Irish American boxers took the sport back to Ireland, that they were the ones who made it popular. The contemporary kind of boxing that we see today has its roots in fights in the United Kingdom. But Ireland didn’t enter the ring until Irish immigrants started fighting in the USA.
This, however, just tells a portion of the story. Boxing has evolved significantly throughout the years, from the equipment we use to our most basic training methods. Therefore, it remains interesting to examine the history of boxing in Ireland to comprehend how the sport there first gained popularity more than 100 years ago.
Before the 1850s, boxing was in the midst of what is known as the “bare-knuckle era” (no gloves necessary), which endured in England until the London Prize Ring rules were created in 1838. This kind of boxing quickly became popular among the police, the British military, and English public schools. During this time, it is thought that British Army soldiers brought boxing to Ireland.
Over a million Irish left Ireland in large numbers because of the Great Famine, with many going to the US. Irish immigrants started boxing as a hobby in Boston and New York, where the sport was already popular. Irish-born Yankee Sullivan was defeated by Irish-born boxer John Morrissey in a bare-knuckle combat in 1853 and the Irish American obsession with boxing was reawakened as a result of that fight.
It took until 1911 for the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) to become the first recognized boxing organization in the country. The National Stadium in Dublin, which is still in use today and was built by the IABA in 1939, was the first boxing venue ever built. Even now, the association still acts as Ireland’s national regulating body for amateur boxing.
Ireland gained the right to send a team to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928 once they attained independence. They were able to send eight boxers for these first Olympic Games. Unfortunately, the nation did not take home any medal in the boxing competition that year and it would take more than 20 years to get a medal and more than 60 years until they brought home a gold in the sport of boxing.
The first victory resulted in Ireland’s first silver medal in the sport at the 1952 Olympics, thanks to bantamweight athlete John McNally.
Finally, Ireland won their first boxing gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona thanks to Michael Carruth, who won the welterweight championship that year.
Today, Irish fighters such as Conor McGregor reached such heights that even as a mixed martial art professional, he has participated in boxing events. His fame and talent made him land more than 100 million dollars for fighting against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
Irish boxing has become a global phenomenon, raising interest from fans from as far away as the Asian continent for instance, as the activity of the best sports betting sites in India can witness, with hundreds of available bookmakers ready to offer odds on boxing just like they do with other popular disciplines in the region like football, horse racing or cricket.
Betting has always been a big part of boxing and it exists practically since the start of the sport, so having betting sites dedicated to boxing in foreign countries is always a good indicator of the popularity of this discipline.
And besides the fights Conor McGregor, fans have been able to enjoy contemporary Irish fighters like Wayne McCullough who was responsible for entering the exclusive group of Olympic medalists of Ireland in 1992 thanks to winning a silver medal in Barcelona.
Steve Collins was also a multi-champion Irish boxer in the 1980s nicknamed the “Celtic Warrior” with a record of 36 wins out of 39 fights (including 21 KO wins), one of the most successful Irish boxers of all time.
Irish boxing owes a lot to these athletes and all the pioneers who crossed the Atlantic in the search of a better life. Irish boxing wouldn’t be the same without their effort.