IF you ever wanted a little window into the wonderful world of sport, it was opened wide in the Clare County Council headquarters of Áras an Chláir on Monday evening on what was a special occasion for one of the great Townies.
It was the occasion of a Civic Reception that was granted to Colum Flynn – a celebration of his years of dedication to the sweet science of boxing and of the special place that the sport has in the county capital.
Flynn is the godfather of the fight game in Clare, the man who in between doing many other things – be it family, be it hurling at county level whether it was Clare of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Galway of the ‘80s and Clare of the ‘90s and 2000s, be it his beloved Éire Óg hurlers in all decades or his time with the Faughs footballers on the ‘60s – has been the driving force of Ennis Boxing Club these past 50-plus years.
The Civic Reception couldn’t have been given to a nicer man – the quietly spoken Townie who has given so much to generation after generation of fighters in Ennis. Fighters from the town, fighters who came into the town, anyone who had the courage and fortitude to don a glove and take their chance – Colum Flynn was always in their corner and in the process did more work for the youth of the county capital than one could possibly quantify.
Work, work and more work. Hard work too. Not that he ever looked on it in those terms, when it was always a labour of love. It’s why talking to him for a few minutes on Monday was illuminating, providing as it did that little window into one man’s passion, drive and determination for a great game.
“I was always mad to fight – I loved the one-on-one concept of the fight game,” he revealed, before delving deep into an Ennis of a different time when Paddy Con McMahon’s Hall on Station Road became a Mecca for fight fans.
Clare’s answer to the National Stadium on the South Circular Road.
The place maybe be famous because Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers were headline acts there in their day, while Georgie Best also dropped in for a look when the 1960s were in full-swing.
But for Flynn, Paddy Con’s means boxing – the great fight nights that were there and that put him in boxing’s thrall as a kid and has sustained his involvement in the sport to this very day.
“There was no boxing club in Ennis when I was young, but there was a very strong club in Kilrush,” he revealed. “They had some great boxers – Senan McNamara, Michael Tubridy, Michael Enright, John Kennedy, who were all Irish champions in that era.
“They used to run their major tournaments in Paddy Con’s, the New Hall as it was called. There was even one international against Finland. The Kilrush club had was a standard booking Palm Sunday night – with no dances during Lent at that time so it was always the night Kilrush had their big boxing show.
“It was always the tournament you’d want to get in and see. It was a huge, huge thing in the sporting calendar of Ennis at that time. I’d be there if I could afford it – I didn’t always have the money to go but always tried to be at it. Sean Mahon used to be on the door there and if he was outside, he’d pull me in and give me a job around the ring, or I might get a small job from the Kilrush lads around the ring. It was huge for me. I have been around the ring ever since,” he added.
And, Flynn’s fascinating lesson in the boxing history of Ennis and Clare didn’t end there, because it was one of those Kilrush fight nights in Paddy Con’s when the current Ennis boxing story started.
It was 1961 and Colum was based up in Claremorris with the Post Office service – of course he was boxing up there and was a founder member, the driving force in fact, when it came to establishing Claremorris Boxing Club that also thrives to this day.
And it was up there that his love of the sport hardened, something that eventually brought him back to Ennis, for work, but as much as for boxing as anything else.
“I can remember the first time I saw boxing on television,” he revealed on Monday. “It was when Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the Olympic gold in Rome in 1960. I watched it on street corner – the television was in the window of Killeen’s Electrical Shop in Claremorris. It was great to see it.
“In Mayo I won a Connacht Junior title and Aidan Cahill who was the man in Kilrush Boxing Club – he was secretary, organiser, the whole lot – asked me if I’d come down box on the bill in Ennis. I was delighted. It was huge for me to be on the bill.”
Little did Flynn know that that Palm Sunday night in 1961 in Paddy Con’s would represent the beginning of the Ennis Boxing Club of the modern era – there’d been a great club in the town from the 1920s to the ‘40s, but this was the club’s new coming.
“At those nights in Paddy Cons, the locals used to do all the jobs,” revealed Flynn. “They’d erect the ring, do stewarding, the tickets, all that sort of things. There was a fella called Paddy McNamara, who was a councillor and the man who McNamara Park in Ennis was named after.
“He was the master of ceremonies and was so passionate about the whole thing. I was nervous going into the ring and here was this man saying ‘it’s Colum Flynn and we’ll show that we have boxers in Ennis’. He immediately put a lot of pressure on me, but I came through the fight and won.
“Afterwards he made a speech in the ring, ‘there you are, there’s an example of what Ennis can have’ and said to all in sundry in a packed hall ‘why can’t we get together and have a boxing club that would be as good as anything in the country’. It took off from there.”
Colum Flynn was on the committee of Ennis Boxing Club that was formed in 1961 and within a few years was back in Ennis to drive the boxing revolution in the county capital.
It was great to see him honoured by his own in Clare County Council on Monday.