GEMMA GRANT recalls the life and career of one of the greatest Belfast fighters of all time
Belfast, with its well earned reputation for producing ‘tough boxers’, reached the heights once again with the arrival into the ring of John Joseph ‘Rinty’ Monaghan. Rinty, small in stature but large in stamina and endurance, entertained his fans not only with his boxing prowess but with his singing voice.
Born in Lancaster Street, North Belfast, on August 21, Rinty attended St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ School in Donegall Street. By the age of eleven, he entered street boxing contests, often picking up the winner’s purse of a fish and chip supper.
In an interview with RTÉ in 1970, Rinty recalled his first ring fight. Believing he was going into the ring to sing, he was asked by the promoter if he could fight another boy named McKee. Never one to run from a challenge, Rinty replied, he could.
The problem for the promoter wasn’t getting Rinty to fight but finding him suitable boxing shorts. He made his boxing debut in an oversized pair of blue bloomers, reaching below his knees. The fight between the two lads lasted for three one-minute rounds. It was declared a draw, as not a single punch was landed on either boy.
The promoter then asked Rinty if he could sing. Rinty obliged by launching into a rendition of ‘Sally’ followed by what would go on to become his theme tune, When Irish Eyes are Smiling. Money was thrown into the ring, more for Rinty’s singing then for his boxing ability!
Delighted with his ‘purse’, Rinty made his way home to present his winnings to his mother. His mother believed her son had stolen the money and informed his father. Rinty tried to explain, but received a slap to the ear for lying and stealing.
His father frog-marched him back to the boxing club, with the money in hand. When the promoter reassured his father that Rinty was telling the truth, Rinty, cocky as ever, proudly proclaimed, “I told you so.” His reply earned him another slap for being cheeky.
By the age of fourteen, Rinty was training hard in a run-down gym in Hardinge Street and picking up a few shillings in winnings. As his career in boxing progressed his training regime and his ‘purse’ increased. After work in Belfast docks he would go for runs along the Cave Hill and train hard in the evenings in the gym.