Irish boxers who deserve Immortalisation

News emerged today that TD’s are to discuss a petition to put UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor on the €1 coin.

While the chances of ‘The Notorious’ making it on to our currency are slim, it got irish-boxing.com thinking – what Irish pugilistic stars, past and present, deserve to be immortalised, whether it be through coins, stamps, statues, or otherwise?

After much deliberation, we have somehow narrowed our list down to 10:

Jack McAuliffe
The Cork-born boxer was the last ever bare-knuckle lightweight World champion, reigning between 1896 and 1893. One of only 14 World champions to retire undefeated. The Leesider moved to the U.S as a youngster and was known for his unorthodox style and quick reflexes which saw him defend his crown seven times. McAuliffe died in 1937 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.

Nonpareil Jack Dempsey
The Kildare man was the first middleweight champion of the World – despite never weighing more than a welterweight. The New York-based fighter was nicknamed ‘Nonpareil’ (French for ‘Without Equal’) due to his air of invincibility and his pure boxing style. Dempsey sadly died of tuberculosis in 1895 at just 32 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

Joe Lydon
The Swinford welterweight was the first Irish-born boxer to win a medal at the Olympics. Fighting under the American flag, Lydon claimed bronze at the 1904 Games. A well-rounded sportsman, the Mayo fighter also won silver at the same Games as part of the U.S football team. Lydon died in 1937, committing suicide to escape a painful illness.

Jimmy McLarnin
Ireland’s first, and only, two-time World champion. The Down-born boxer is viewed as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. The Baby-Faced Assassin moved to Canada as a child and later to the U.S. to further his boxing career. Fighting from flyweight right up to welterweight, McLarnin faced and beat some legendary names before winning World titles at welterweight in 1934 and 1935. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991 before passing away in 2004 at the ripe old age of 96.

The Forgotten Olympians
Paddy Dwyer (Welterweight, 1924), Frank Traynor (Bantamweight, 1928), Jim Murphy (Light Heavyweight, 1932), and Mick McKeon (Middleweight, 1948). Four names which may not be familiar to Irish fight fans but, under current rules, all would be Olympic bronze medalists. Unfortunately, before 1952, losing semi-finalists were forced to box-off for the bronze medal. Even more frustratingly, Dwyer, Murphy, and McKeon were all forced to withdraw from their box-offs due to injury.

Johnny Caldwell
The Belfast man won flyweight bronze at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and then turned his attentions to the pro game. In the paid ranks, Caldwell won and defended the bantamweight World title against Alphonse Halimi before losing to legendary Brazilian Eder Jofre. Caldwell then took part in one of the most famous all-Irish fights in history against fellow 1956 Olympic bronze medalist and Belfast man, Freddie Gilroy – losing due to cuts in the 9th round.

A statue for Caldwell in Belfast’s Dunville Park is currently in the works.

Barry McGuigan
A unifying figure during some of the most violent days in Ireland’s history. McGuigan transcended sport and the ‘Clones Cyclone’ famously won the WBA featherweight title against the legendary Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road stadium in 1985. The Monaghan man has now entered the business side of the sport and has guided Belfast’s Carl Frampton to the IBF super bantamweight title – and there certainly are parallels between the two.

Michael Carruth
Back in the days before the medal conveyour-belt that is the High Performance Unit, the Dubliner became the first Irish boxer to win Olympic gold. The Drimnagh southpaw edged Cuban four-time World champion Juan Hernández Sierra to end Ireland’s 36 year wait for Olympic gold and grab our first in the ring.

Katie Taylor
Ireland’s most decorated athlete ever. Queen Katie currently has an eye-watering 18 major international Gold medals (1 Olympics, 5 World Championships, 6 European, 5 EU, 1 European Games). The Bray boxer was instrumental in getting women’s boxing included in the Olympics and is regarded as the greatest female fighter in the history of the sport.

Mick Conlan
Still only 24, Conlan is already one of Ireland’s most successful boxers ever. Last year the Belfast man became Ireland’s first every World Championships gold medalist. The medal joins an Olympic bronze, European gold and silver, and a Commonwealth gold on the bantamweight’s matlepiece. Conlan will hope to secure many many more honours over the coming years.

Honourable Mentions
Dan Donnelly – The first Irish heavyweight bare-knuckle World champion.
Paddy Ryan – Bare-knuckle heavyweight World champion. Lost his title to the first World champion, John L Sullivan.
Mike McTigue – The first Irish man to fight for and win a World title on home soil.
Wayne McCullough – Won Olympic silver and a professional World title.
Steve Collins – Ireland’s first, and only, two-weight World champion.
John Joe Nevin – Won Olympic silver and is the first, and only, Irish boxer to win two World Championships medals.
Paddy Barnes – The first Irish boxer to win two Olympic medals.

And one boxer who has been honoured:

Rinty Monaghan
The Belfast boxer was World flyweight champion from 1947 to 1949. A popular figure, Monaghan became famous for serenading his fans from the ring afterwards with his trademark renditions of ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling.’ Retired due to illness as reigning World champion, and Belfast’s first, Passed away in 1984 and was honoured last year with a majestic statue in his home city.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]