Over 50 years ago Liam Neeson and Peter Mullen boxed on the same bill in Castlebar
THE boxing ring at the Royal Theatre Castlebar in the 1968 twin-town inter-club tournament gave present day film star Liam Neeson his stage start to launch his career.
The Chamber of Commerce in Castlebar and Ballymena had started a twin-town arrangement between their communities and their respective boxing clubs were very involved.
All Saints club in Ballymena were invited to Castlebar and the Castlebar club made return visits to Ballymena.
Liam Neeson is now well-known for his starring roles in Schindlers List and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his lead role in the Irish film, Michael Collins.
In the 1968 Castlebar boxing tournament, Neeson met another Michael Collins of the Castlebar team in their Youth Heavy contest. They again met in the semi-final of the National Youth Championships, with Neeson getting the decision on both occasions.
The press report of the Castlebar contest was as follows: “Liam Neeson, Ballymena, hammered out a good win over swarthy Michael Collins. There wasn’t a lot in it but Neeson was perhaps the more aggressive and was also able to box on the retreat. Collins tried all he knew to bring home his sledgehammer right but he couldn’t penetrate Neeson’s defence set-up.”
There was another Collins on the bill, Michael’s brother, RTÉ ringside champion John Collins, who KO’d G Dempster (Ballymena) in their light middleweight bout.
Of another Mayo team member, Joe Charles, also still serving in boxing administration, the report said: “Joe Charles started slowly in this fight, and when he did attack he found O’Regan an elusive target. O’Regan softened Charles with good rights but the chunky Claremorris man kept moving forward in the last round and won a points decision, but there wasn’t much in it.”
Top of the bill contest was the Peter Mullen (St Anne’s, Westport) versus Sam Corbett (St. Gabriel’s Belfast). Reporter Jonnie Mee said: “Nineteen-year old Peter Mullen from Sheroe, Westport met one of the best of the visiting scrappers in Belfast’s Sam Corbett, but Mullen wasn’t a bit overawed by his opponent’s reputation.
“This lanky Westport lad wasn’t a bit afraid to mix it and he landed some very heavy punches at close quarters. Corbett countered well but he found it hard to stop Mullen, who chased him all the time.
“This was Mullen’s best win to-date and reflects much credit on the trainer of the recently-formed Westport club, John McGreal”.
Other ring men to feature on the night were Peader Kilcourse (Castlebar), Brendan Heneghan (Westport), Seán Hopkins (Castlebar), Seán Walsh (Ardnaree), Chas Guthrie (Castlebar), John Jordan (Claremorris), Stephen Melia (Ardnaree), C Gibbons (Castlebar) and Wille Hopkins (Westport).
The Ballymena team also featured T McEvoy, T O’Neill, M Dempser, T Loughran, E Copeland (Belfast), T Hammond (Belfast), H Mc Keown (Belfast), M McMaguire (Belfast) and M O Regan (Belfast).
Of the tournament, press reporter Mee said: “This is the first visit by a Ballymena boxing team to twin-town Castlebar. Let’s hope it won’t be the last, for the northern and Castlebar selection provided some of the most entertaining boxing seen in Mayo capital for many years.”
In the end the Castlebar selection beat Ballymena’s selection by seven bouts to six, and with four supporting bouts ensured a great night of amateur boxing.
The North v West competition and Duggan Shield Interprovincial Tournaments became the highlight of Castlebar club promotions into the mid seventies, with big sell-out events like the Easter Sunday clash in 1974 tournament with the reigning National Junior champion brothers, Eddie and Charlie McDonnell of Gorthaganny, Co Roscommon, boxing for the Garda and St. Francis Club, Limerick in return contests with the Young brothers of Belfast, Gerry and Terry, and billed as “potentially explosive” top of the bill contests.
These contests were the long-awaited return contests from the Irish championship finals, when Charlie and Eddie Mc Donnell powered their way in controversial fashion to Irish titles at the expense of Gerry and Terry Young.
On the way to the finals the Young brothers had blasted aside all opposition inside the scheduled three rounds and were red hot favourites to beat the McDonnells in the deciders, but the decisions went against the Youngs and all interest now focussed on the return bouts in Castlebar where victory again went to Charlie and Eddie McDonnell.
1974 was also the year that the two-story building on the Mall in Castlebar, whose basement housed the Castlebar boxing club, came on the market.
The club members took a bold step and decided to purchase the building, though it badly needed renovation and extension to provide space to expand the club’s juvenile boxing, and provide new dressing rooms, showers and toilets and start on fundraising and building works.
This purchase move resulted from a contribution of £100 sterling given by a good friend, Willie O’Kane of Ballymena, at one of the Twin Town Tournaments in Ballymena, a sum which the club used to a start of a building fund, deposited in their local bank.
It had given the impetus for the club to consider buying their building and a bank strike at the time gave some breathing space and time to organise collecting some of the early finances needed to complete the deal.
When the restoration and the extension were completed, the Castlebar club relocated to the first floor and the senior citizen’s club took over the basement area.
The honour of performing the official opening of the new premises was given to Mr Willey O’Keane of Ballymena.