Boxing in Ballina


Ballina Boxing Club is affiliated to the IABA whose history can be viewed here. The sport is Ireland's most successful Olympic sport, accounting for 18 of the 35 medals taken. Ireland did not compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and few would contest the fact that Ballina's Dick Hearns was denied a gold medal at cruiser weight on that occasion.
(Notes taken from memorabilia of the late Anthony Kilcullen.)
The first boxing tournament on record for Ballina took place in St. Muredach's College Ground in 1923 and this was run in conjunction with Moyalla Bazaar. It was more or less a number of exhibitions. The principal performer was Jim Coffey of Castlerea, an ex U.S.A professional, who, in his best days, went six rounds with the great Jack Johnson. The only local performer we had of note was Charlie McLoughlin, a Derry plumber. Poor Charlie, who was in his 40's, bit the dust to the younger Mick O'Grady, Westport.

It took sime time before the country had settled down after the Civil War and the principal sport in the Irish Free State Army seemed to be boxing, in which some of Ballina's young soldiers were taking part. A useful performer at the time was Henry Jordan, Knockleigh. After his discharge he, together with others, organised a tournament in the Town Hall in 1925, boxers from Westport taking part. The principal bout was a heavyweight contest -- T. Moysten, Army, and B. Murtagh, ex-British Army. The result was a k.o. for Moysten in the fourth round.
This was followed soon afterwards by a first-class tournament run by the Army in which some top-of-the-bill boxers took part. They were Corp. Paddy Hennelly,  then Army  welter champ; W. O'Shea, Army lightweight champ; M. McDonagh, Army bantam champ (afterwards Canadian champion); Willie Wright, Irish light champ (Phoenix Club); Thomas Hickey, finalist light Irish champion.
Paddy Hennelly, who who later joined the Gardaí, won the Tailteann Games middle-weight title as a Garda sergeant, was also a great international boxer. Willie O'Shea was described as one of the best amateur light-weight boxers in the world by the American press. The admission fee for this first-class tournament was very modest -- one shilling (12 old pence) up in the balcony in the old Town Hall. Although a shilling was hard to come by in those days, most scraped it together for a packed-tight balcony. It was a tournament which whetted appetites for the game.

THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST BALLINA CLUB

The Corcoran brothers, John Street, Jim and Jack, ran a good hackney service and they had rented for a garage the big shed at the back of the old Estoria Cinema. Jack had a keen interest in boxing and had a set of boxing gloves. In this shed or garage with lamp and candle-light (no E.S.B. at the time), the Garry brothers, Jack and Larry and E. Moran did their bit of sparring; they were soon joined by others, but the thing was getting too big and something had to be done. So after a discussion it was decided to to ask the late James Ahearn, who owned the Town Hall and ran a silent cinema at the time (1926) if he would rent the supper room, which was a very spacious room and ideal for the purpose. This was agreed to for 5/- per week, which included free electric light which was generated on his own plant. So was born the first Ballina Boxing Club; its sole assets were two sets of boxing gloves. A committe was formed which included the late 
Sid Ruddy and Paddy Molloy (peace to their ashes) also W. J. Loftus (victualler, Bridge St.), Jack Garry, Jack Corcoran, V. Leonard, J. Lynch and Mick Durcan M.P.S.I.  The membership was fixed at 6d per week. The first question was the raising of funds and it was decided to run a Whist drive and dance in the Hibernian Hall. Tickets were printed and sold at 2/6 for Whist and Dance, and to the credit of people of the town I don't think anybody refused to buy one. The result was a great success and left a profit of over £50 -- a fair sum of money in 1926. This equipped our gym with punch-balls, sand-bags, singlets, trunks etc. We also purchased a horizontal bar and a vaulting horse from the Rectory, Arsnaree. The late Mick Naughton, carpenter, built for us a ring so in a very short time we had a first-class gymnasium and our membership rose to over 50 members.
To gain access to the supper room in the old Town Hall we had to pass through a dressing room at the stage. This room was rented by the British Legion: to their credit they raised no objections but some of their members used to come and have a look at our efforts: Jock Shaw, A Scotsman; Jack Birrell, a Welshman, and our own Johnnie McHale, and some very good advice they gave us on how to duck and slip the straight left and right cross. Eventually Jack Birrell became our trainer: it was to him a labour of love. Next we were joined by Dick Hearns, fresh from the Irish Army. Dick was a top-class performer on the horizontal bars and spent many patient hours putting us through our paces. Later we were joined by Arthur McNamara, Western Command feather weight champion ( his daughter, Mrs. Ruddy resides at Corcoran Tce.). With him you had to learn the hard way.
The committee decided to hold club trials and all the different weights were matched -- three two-minute rounds each contest. The late George Hewson M.P.S.I. was invited to judge. He was so impressed with what he saw that he suggested to run a tournament for St. Vincent de Paul Society of which he was a member. So together with the late Eugene McConn a first-class bill was organized which included a professional contest between Battling Brannigan, Waterford, and Tiger Power, Dublin. Brannigan was a good rugged fighter and did most of his boxing Cross-Channel. It was a rather disappointing contest as Power was counted out in the 4th round. Those from Ballina included Dick Hearns, Jack Burrell, Arthur McNamara, Jim Lynch, M. J. Doherty and Jackie Barrett (brother of Willie, C.I.E.). To Jackie Barrett goes the honour that he was the very first to step into a ring for a Ballina Boxing Club wearing a black shorts and a white singlet with the B.C. monogram.
This tournament was held on 27th January, 1927.
Top of the bill that night was local man Dick Hearns' bout against the Army champion Cpl. Smutton. Dick was winner by a k.o. Other Ballina boxers taking part were Tommy Furey (paper weight), Paddy McNulty (fly), Tommy Curran (fly), Eugene Doherty (cruiser, a popular name for light-heavy at that time), Martin Mullen (middle), Kevin English (welter), Larry Brien (light) and Martin Connor (welter). The following year Ballina BC ran a tournament with Dick Hearns, Tommy Furey, Paddy McNulty, Larry Brien, James Gillespie, Ernie Devere, Willie Gaughan, Kevin English, Martin Mullen, Eugene Doherty, Tommy Curran and Tommy Kelly from Ballina BC taking part. One of the most memorable contests on the night was between Dick Hearns and Pat Marrinan of Belfast, then British Universities cruiser champion: Dick was tested but triumphed. Many fine tournaments folowed with a German V. Irish match in Russell's Store (where Clarke's Garage is now), and the Army V. a Connaught team comprising mainly Ballina boxers.



In 1929, a boxing tournament was held in Ballina's Town Hall under IABA rules at which a number of national champions appeared, Dick Hearns facing old rival army champion Private Smullen. Of note is the fact that this tournament was a fund-raiser for Co. Mayo GAA: Dick Hearns was called to train the Mayo Senior Football Team in 1936 which was a most fruitful venture, to be repeated on only two further occasions in 1950 and in 1951.
 
When the Town Hall closed the club had to go dormant until 1931 when training re-commenced in the
Old Workhouse, 
where the present day Ballina District Hospital is located. Next article on the club in the 1930s,
contributed by the late Anthony Kilcullen, is by a boxing fan who wished to remain anonymous.




The clipping on the left above ("Western People" of 1936) informs us that the club had been training for a time
 in a gym in Garden St. and that a move was being made to transfer to new training quarters at the rear
of the Garda barracks on Walsh Street.

 World War II (1939-1945) had an adverse effect on most family and sporting lives in Ballina, and the "Ballina Herald"

(clipping above right)
reported that a meeting to revive the Ballina Boxing Club  took place in the Hibernian Hall in
October of 1947. Of note is that one Mr. Jim Hearns was the unanimous choice as Honorary Secretary.

The clipping above  refers to "a parade of local talent" organised by Ballina Boxing Club just after the war.



Ballina Boxing Club officers after the club's revival in 1964

Ballina Boxing Club President, Msgr. Paddy Gallagher, was instrumental in securing the use of the old granary on the Downhill Road
(
leased from the late Paddy Murphy of Bunree Mills) as a training venue in 1978,  and Ballina Boxing Club was once again revitalised.


In the 1980s, Joe Lavelle took a keen interest in Ballina BC, and with much success. He used his contacts in England and Wales to organise international competitions/shows with boxers from the UK boxing Ballina selections. Teams travelled to Ballina from St. Pancras BC (London), Bedford, Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff, and Ballina selections were in turn invited to box in their tournaments overseas. The boxing/dinner shows were staged in Downhill House Hotel to capacity crowds for several seasons from the early 1990s onwards. Joe had honed his skills as a boxer in London, and travelled to Chicago with an Irish Team in 1983. 

Boxing programme above: P. J. Melia (bout 4) and Joe Lavelle (bout 8) of Ballina Boxing Club boxed  in Chicago in 1983 as members of an Irish Boxing Team. Gerry Heneghan (bout 2, currently coach with Aglish Boxing Club) was also on the team: both he and Joe won their bouts. The programme featured American boxers from Davis Square Boxing Club, C.Y.O and Silva Boxing Club, Harrison Park.

During this period the club thrived and coaches such as Brian O'Donnell, Gerry Hickey, Liam Collins, Tom Walsh, Joe McGarry and P. J. Melia together with Joe Lavelle ensured the boxers got the best of training and preparation for competition.
The club was given a smaller rent-free building at Pawn Office Lane close to the town centre in the 1990s. State funding to develop this facility was sought but responses did not meet expectations. In any case, AIBA rules for the dimensions of a competition ring specified that the platform dimensions be a square of side 7.80 metres with the area between the ropes being 6.10 metres on each side: the building on Pawn Office Lane was just 6.50 metres wide in total, and boxers who do not train under competition conditions will invariably be at a disadvantage.  As time went on and essential major repairs to the building without grant aid at the time were not be deemed to be money well spent, the club moved to Ardnaree GAA HQ for a season before setting up temporary base in the Ballina Stephenites Sports Centre. In 2012, the club signed a 10-year lease for premises on Mercy Road close to the site of the former Old Workhouse and the club would like to acknowledge the support of IABA (Irish Athletic Boxing Association) and Junior Minister for Sport, Mr. Michael Ring T.D. for this venture.  A search for a permanent residence for the club continued, and in 2016 a lease on a site with planning permission to build a boxing arena at Abbeyhalfquarter, Ballina, was signed, the parties being Ballina Community Sports Centre and a company trading as Dick Hearns Centre. Major efforts were made to secure state-assisted funding for the construction stage, but, as planning permission was about to expire in June of 2020, the company took the bold step to go on-site, backed mainly through a commercial loan, interest-free loans, private donations and free labour. The building on the site at Pawn Office Lane is on the market and proceeds from its sale will  be used to repay loans. After the main open-plan two-storey structure was complete, Ballina Boxing Club secured a Sports Capital Grant to aid outfitting the ground floor to serve as a gym for the club and this opened for training in September of 2023
.

The club hosted a number of International Tournaments over the years, Youth International V. Germany in 2013, more recently with a Finland/Ireland Senior Ladies International in April of 2015. A very successful Polish Training Camp was facilitated by the club in December 2015 which led to an invitation to participate in the Kielce Box Cup, Poland subsequently. Club boxers have been on tours to America, Spain, Italy, England and Scotland after Ireland opened up following the lifting of the restrictions of the pandemic. The club has facilitated an Ireland/England male/female Training Camp in Ballina from 3rd-7th April 2023, ending with a tournament on Good Friday.  Much success at all competitive levels has come to the club over many years (six Connacht champions in 2022/2023 season) and this is due to the committment of the boxers, good coaching and the prevailing inclusive ethos in the club which is enjoyed by each and every member, without distinction being made between class, creed, colour or nationality. A caring, professional team is in place to ensure those who wish to join the club are welcomed and well treated in a manner akin to being family members, and all IABA membership requirements are met.