Boxing accounts for more than half the medals Ireland have won across 29 Olympic Games.
Before Tokyo Irish boxing boasted fifteen medal winners, sixteen Olympic medals, and a production line of pugilistic brilliance that has firmly established this little island as a genuine global boxing heavyweight.
After two weeks in Japan, those numbers were increased. Ireland now boasts seventeen boxing medal winners and eighteen medals.
The tale of Ireland’s boxing medallists at the Games has been rewritten and we have added the latest chapter below.
Silver, men’s bantamweight, 1952, Helsinki
Many followed in his wake, but John McNally will always be the first. The Belfast bantamweight won Ireland’s first-ever boxing medal at the Helsinki Games in 1952.
The Immaculata BC fighter claimed silver over half a century ago.
McNally was awarded a bye through the first round before he beat the Philipines, the Italian boxer and a South Korean boxer – all by unanimous decisions – to advance to the final, where he was edged to gold in a 2-1 decision against home town fighter Pentti Hamalainen.
Silver, men’s welterweight, 1956, Melbourne
Four years later and Fred Tiedt was adding Ireland’s medal tally. A fighter renowned as one of Ireland’s finest amateurs claimed silver in Melbourne in 1956.
Tiedt, who some may remember as a referee, had as tough a fight to get to Melbourne as he did to secure during the Games. He had to defeat rival Harry Perry in a box-off to get on the plane.
Once in Melbourne he hit peak form and steamrolled to the gold medal fight, where he lost to Nicholai Linca of Romania on a 3-2 split, a result that has held it’s ‘controversial’ status to this day.
Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1956, Melbourne
One of Drogheda’s most famous sons Socks Byrne also medaled in Melbourne. The captain of the Irish boxing team secured bronze in the lightweight division.
Byrne relied on donations from residents and local businesses in Drogheda to fund his trip to Australia, where he carried the Irish flag at the opening ceremony and duly led by example in the ring, beating Czech and US boxers to reach the lightweight semi-finals.
In the fight to get into the decider, he suffered defeat to German Harry Kurschat.
Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1956, Melbourne
Another remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest, John Coldwell medalled at the same Melbourne Games. The Belfast ‘wee man’, who isn’t just famed for his Olympic success, managed to secure flyweight bronze in Australia at the tender age of 18.
‘The Cold Eye Assassin’s semi-final defeat is questioned to this day. Caldwell, who would go on to share the professional ring with Melbourne teammate Freddie Gilroy, became the first Irish Olympic medal winner to go on and win a world title.
Bronze, men’s bantamweight, 1956, Melbourne
Caldwell’s friend and rival Gilroy helped make sure Melbourne was the most successful boxing Olympic journey.
Another long since revered talent, the Belfast fighter started with a bang defeating Boris Stepanov of the Soviet Union by knockout.
He then defeated Italy’s bantamweight before losing to Germany’s Wolfgang Behrendt in the silver medal fight. As a pro Gilroy won Commonwealth and European titles.
Bronze, men’s lightweight, 1964, Tokyo
The last Games to visit Tokyo produced an Irish medal winner in the form of Jim McCourt.
The European Championship and Commonwealth Games medalist picked up Bronze in Japan in 1964.
Having navigated three challenges the Belfast southpaw, a seven-time Irish senior champion, lost via a 3-2 score to Velikton Barannikov of the USSR.
Bronze, men’s flyweight, 1980, Moscow
After waiting eight years for McCourt’s medal Ireland had a 16-year medal Olympic boxing medal drought before Hugh Russell came along.
Another Belfast little man was next to add his name to the prestigious list medalling in Moscow in 1980.
Wins over Iraqi, Tanzanian and Korean opponents secured him a semi-final spot in Moscow, where he was beaten by Bulgaria’s Petar Lesov, the eventual gold medallist.
Before leaving Moscow, Russell spent the last of his roubles on a camera, which he used to ignite a career in photography.
Gold, men’s welterweight, 1992, Barcelona
In 1992 Micheal Carruth went where no Irish fighter had gone before to the top of the Olympic podium – and beat a Cuban to do it.
In fact the Driminagh BC legend became Ireland’s first gold medal winner since Ronnie Delany won gold in the 1500m in Melbourne 36 years previous.
After disappointment in Seoul four years earlier Carruth found himself in the final against Cuban star Juan Hernandez. The Dub won 13-10 via computer scoring, registering a result that sent him hopping around the Barcelona ring and people all around Ireland jumping around their living rooms.
Silver, men’s bantamweight, 1992, Barcelona
‘The Pocket Rocket’ didn’t quite reach the moon in the same Barcelona Games but did come back with a precious silver medal.
Like Carruth the Belfast bantamweight was a competitor in Seoul in 1988 and like Carruth he found himself against a Cuban in the final in 1992.
Joel Casamayor defeated him in the gold medal fight, but a superb silver medal was just reward after an outstanding week in the ring. As a professional McCullough’s talent blossomed even further: he held the WBC bantamweight title from 1995 to 1997 and challenged for world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight.
Silver, men’s light heavyweight, 2008, Beijing
After another 16-year medal drought for Irish boxing came to an end at the Beijing Olympics as three extremely popular fighters medaled.
Dublin darling and amateur favourite Kenneth Egan claimed one of the three, winning silver on 2008.
The Neilstown BC fighter reached the light heavyweight Olympic final where he faced local Xiaoping Zhang and lost 11-7 to collect a medal that was celebrated across Ireland.
Bronze, men’s middleweight, 2008, Beijing
The late, great Darren Sutherland’s infectious smile was at it’s brightest in Beijing. The all-action middleweight coasted the semi-final where he met old rival James DeGale of Team GB.
‘Chunky’ managed to defeat the infectious character for the first time and the only time in five fights to progress to the decider where he won gold.
Sutherland came home with Bronze and a place in Irish hearts.
Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2008, Beijing
Bronze, men’s light flyweight, 2012, London
The only Irish boxer in history to win two Olympic medals, Barnes’ place in the pantheon of Irish sport is already firmly secured.
The first of the three time Olympians came in Beijing. The European Championship gold medal winner was beaten by Zou Shiming in the semi final of the ligh flyweight competition. The Chinese fighter managed to record the same result over the Belfast fighter, although this time only by a 45-44 count back score, after an Olympic classic.
Gold, women’s lightweight, 2012, London
Katie Taylor got the Olympic medal her amateur career deserved in London 2012.
The Bray fighter was utterly dominant heading into those London Games, winning her fourth successive AIBA world title in China three months before. In London, she forged a status as Ireland’s most admired sports star as she progressed to the gold medal clash with Russia’s Sofia Ochigava.
Taylor won a tense fight 10-8 to etch her name among the immortals.
John Joe Nevin
Silver, men’s bantamweight, 2012, London
John Joe Nevin was just 18 when he made his Olympic debut at the 2008 Games in Beijing, where he bowed out in the last 16 to eventual champion Badar-Uugan Enkhbatyn of Mongolia. It was an experience he would put to good use, maturing in the years that followed into one of the world’s best amateurs.
In London, he reached the Olympic final in London where he lost to Team GB star Luke Campbell by a score of 14-11.
Bronze, men’s flyweight, 2012, London
Michael Conlan most famous Olympic moment may have come in Rio for all the wrong reasons, but he does have some happy Olympic memories.
Conlan won bronze at the Games and started a process that saw him ascend toward Irish greatness.
The Belfast fighter beat Ghana’s Duke Micah and France’s Nordine Oubaali with ease to reach the flyweight semi-final. He lost that bout to the eventual champion, Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba.
Bronze, men’s welterweight, 2021, Tokyo
In the first half of 2019 Aidan Walsh wasn’t even deemed #1 in Ireland but by the Summer of 2021 he was standing on an Olympic podium.
The Monkstown clubman qualified for the Olympics on the same day as his sister Michaela and didn’t travel to Japan as the fighter most backed to medal.
However, he produced brilliant performances and secured wins via a unique matador style to become the Irish boxing breakout star of the Olympics. Unfortunately for the Belfast medalist, he was denied the chance to fight for a place in the final after suffering a freak injury while celebrating his quarter-final win.
Gold, female lightweight, 2021, Tokyo
Kellie Harrington earned gold and a place in the hearts of the nation in Tokyo. The Dubliner was brilliant in and out of the ring in Japan, as she charmed the public and followed in the footsteps of Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor, securing a place on the top of the podium.
To claim the gold the St Mary’s boxer had to defeat a Worlds finalist in the semi-final and the reigning world champion in the decider.