The Early Years (Stephen Shields)


          As the club approaches its golden jubilee, this seems an appropriate time to celebrate some of the characters who have made boxing such a fascination for the people of Loughrea through the years. As with any good story, there is a colourful yarn, which precedes the setting up of the club itself that reflects the character and vitality of those attracted to the sport and who provide its thrills and spills.
          The natural place to begin is with Mike Farrell, "The Fighting Irishman", Canadian Lightweight champion in the early Twentieth Century and the proud boxer on our club crest. Mike suffered an eye injury in a kick from a horse, when a youthful amateur jockey, but this did not prevent him from becoming a professional boxer, when he emigrated from his native Loughrea to the USA and Canada. He is reputed to have fought 386 professional fights, some at middleweight and even against some heavyweight opposition. Before one fight, the inspecting doctor is supposed to have remarked on Mike's bad eye. "I'm not here for a beauty contest," was Mike's terse comment. Al McCoy, the world ranked contender described him as "the toughest guy I ever met." The Loughrea journalist and columnist, J.B.Donohue described him as even in later life having muscles like iron and a chin like an anvil. See Profile
          The first attempt at organising a club in Loughrea was thanks to Vincent Finlay, Mike's nephew, who returned from the USA circa. 1920. Training was carried out at Mattie Keane's Eggstore, now the FCA Barracks, at Abbey Terrace and tournaments took place in Joe Gilchreest's Hall at Castle Street. Vincent Finlay's own bouts with a George Trapp, a steamroller driver from Wales, were legendary. Also on the bill would be Vincy Shaw, who went on to become the Irish Army Flyweight champion. Potch Casey, who lived at The Courthouse, was a colourful character inside and outside the ring. His habit of sunbathing led to his being mistaken for a coloured man at a tournament in Ballinasloe and causing consternation in those less cosmopolitan days. The other peculiarity he had of fighting with his mouth open caused more comment among boxing purists. J.B. Donohue recalled that Tommy Holland had also started his career during this era and thought him possibly the most stylish and crafty boxer of the time. He relished one confrontation he saw between Holland and the Irish/British Universities, a man named Kelly, champion at the Hangar in Galway. Another notable fighter mentioned from those days was Lennie McGrath, husband of the late Josie McGrath, who was herself one of the pair of sisters that ran the renowned "Aggie Madden's" bar in Main Street. Lennie was a member of the team, which brought the All Ireland Hurling Championship to Galway for the first time in 1923.
          Shortly after this Eddie McNally came to town, from Coalisland via Galway, and became trainer to the club. Eddie's northern twang was to be a feature of the sport in Loughrea for the next forty years, and to date three generations of the family have committed enthusiastically to the club's cause.
          In the Thirties, the man, whom J.B. Donohue considered the best Loughrea boxer of them all, took part in the most legendary bout ever to take place in Joe Gilchrist's Hall. He was Fardy Whelan, a lightweight, and his opponent on that auspicious night was Sean Hynes of Galway, later a Golden Gloves champion in the USA. The two boxers put on a display, which it would be hard to equal at the Olympics, and the judges were unable to separate them at the final bell. JBD felt Fardy had been done an injustice and should have been declared the winner. Other boxers of the era included Columba Carty of The Hill and Paddy Grace, admired for his extraordinary toughness in the ring.
          The Second World War, as with so much else, interrupted organised boxing in Loughrea, and it was only through the efforts of individual boxers themselves that the "noble art" was kept alive. Patrick "Rouser" Connelly, the Connaire brothers, Dominic and Michael, Joe Marmion, Pauly Healy and AJ "Bomber" Fahy all followed the romance of the sport without the advantage of expert coaching or guidance.
          Then in 1954 a remarkable sporting odyssey began in Loughrea itself, which was to prove the catalyst for the emergence of a new boxing club in the town of the grey lake. Two victories within the distance on one day set our hero on his path. He describes how he even had to borrow a pair of togs from one of his opponents, so badly equipped was he. At the end of his journey he had been crowned Connacht Flyweight champion, defeating a man named Harney from Ballinasloe in the final at Castlebar. His opponent was coached by the resourceful Galway hurling trainer, Inky Flaherty. And the champion from Loughrea: Paudeen Tully, who was later offered a chance to box for Ireland, but without financial support from the IABA or the resources of a club behind him he had to pass up on the opportunity. However, his example and the enthusiasm he generated for the formation of a new club was about to change the face of Loughrea boxing at least for the next fifty years.


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