28 October 2008 – By Cormac Campbell
Belfasts boxing history has always been acknowledged amongst fight fans. And although the vast majority of promotions today take place in the Republic, there is an unspoken truth that the Northern city is the capital of the Irish fight game. Much of this reputation lies at the doorstep of former World Flyweight champion John Joseph Rinty Monaghan.
The wee man from Sailortown, who picked up his moniker due to his love of celebrity canine Rin-Tin-Tin, was a captivating presence both inside and outside the ring during and following WWII. It seems fitting that now, some 24 years after his death a book be written in his memory.
The man charged with producing such a historical work is Eamonn OHara, the renowned Irish News journalist, son of fellow scribe Dennis and brother of Sean, a major player at Setanta Sports.
Speaking to irish-boxing.com OHara admitted that he and the Monaghan clan found it somewhat strange that his would be the first book dedicated to Rinty.
The family found it odd that nobody had done this before, he said.
Rinty had become a forgotten hero and the family wondered why. I asked if they had any objections about but they were delighted at the prospect of a book.
In hindsight it is remarkable that such a project was never undertaken before as Monaghan was undoubtedly a phenomenon.
At that time, boxing was nearly a bi-nightly event in Belfast at several different venues. A lad could have 60 contests before he was considered for a title shot. The history of the Kings Hall, one of the most famous boxing venues in the world, when he fought Jackie Paterson in 1948 for the World title it was the first world title fight to take place there and of course so many great fighters have fought there since. That is where the history started.
But it wasnt just boxing that Rinty used to entertain the masses. He did a boxing and singing routine, said OHara.
He was a huge entertainer from he was a young boy and used to sing during the breaks in the Pathe news reels when he was a young boy for a few pennies. His signature was to sing from the ring after a bout win, lose or draw. Even the time when he got knocked out by Jackie Paterson at the Oval!
Piecing together the story of any man, no matter how famous, proved to be a time consuming diversion and lead to what OHara calls lost weekends in the dedication of the book.
I spent an awful lot of time in newspaper libraries trawling for information. That was one part of it. The other was tracing down as many of the family members as possible. Rinty has two surviving brothers. He had a brother Charlie who died towards the late 60s. Patsy lives in Belfast and Tommy, who left Ireland in the late 1940s and married and lived in America so it took eight months to get hold of him.
It is one thing listing records, stats and achievements, but for OHara there was a necessity to discover what sort of person Monaghan really was.
There were various layers involved. Getting under the skin involved talking to the family. The more you talked to them the more interesting things were revealed in tangents. Even after the book was finished I learned more things but you have to cut it off somewhere.
I wanted to get back in to the old Belfast where he actually grew up and the family provided a lot of the gritty material of growing up in the old mill houses.
The Monaghan story is one that transcends boxing. Famed for his singing and bubbly personality, OHara remembers meeting the former champion as a youngster, but concedes that at the time the significance was lost on him.
My father knew him very well. I had met him when I was younger but didnt realise how important a man he was. His last job was at the Shamrock filling station quite near to the Irish News, which was owned by the Moleys. The queue of cars it was probably the slowest petrol station in the city because everyone just wanted to have a chat with Rinty. That was a common occurrence but people were willing to wait.
Rinty The story of a champion by Eamonn OHara is now in bookshops. Stay tuned to irish-boxing.com for a review next week.