Derry came to life in the 50s. It was a city of dance, drink, boxing and ‘birds’. Politics belonged to the intellectuals and traditionalists. Teen life was cinema, rock and roll and fish and chips.
Fighting was the norm in Rossville Street, William Street and the Strand Road every night, although at weekends when the drink flowed it was more colourful with visiting army, navy and air force personnel adding some reason to the madness of male machismo and eagerness to fight.
In Foyle Street they trained for boxing in the Derry Sports Club and for fighting in the Criterion (otherwise known as ‘The Crit’) using bottles and boots brought back by rock and rollers named ‘teddy boys’ .
The Guildhall was the centre of boxing at its best - and fighting at its worst. The bouncers, mainly ex-boxers, always managed to keep the fights from lasting too long by dragging the brawlers outside, head or feet first.
Boxing brought purpose to Derry life, with clubs springing up to fill the new interest brought by old ‘Spider’ and young Billy Kelly. A lot of the fighters put the gloves on thanks to the Kellys.
Boxing was inevitable in our family. My dad, Fred, and his brother, Ted, were in an out of it, mainly for the cakes and lemonade which were the only rewards in the 1930s.
The Derry Sports Club was at the centre of the boxing boom in the town, if not all of Ireland. We had the Kellys; Belfast had Freddie Gilroy and Johnny Caldwell.
The Club had Jack McCauley as its chairman, Leo (Red) Deehan as trainer, and Mr Grant (The Pork Store owner) as treasurer. Volunteers included ‘Caker’ Casey, who would sometimes take the place of a boxer who didn’t turn up. Very brave! Jimmy Loughery was the resident professional and top contender for Northern Ireland Flyweight Champion.
Boxers in the sports clubs yearned only to get a place at the major shows in the Guildhall, which hosted international amateur team contests. They were great nights.
Two heavyweights in a boxing ring is quite a sight - so big and powerful. George Dinsmore and Robert Moore were the top heavyweights in the town.
I followed my brother, Raymond, into boxing. All his friends boxed, Eddie McLaughlin, Neil McCloskey, Jarleth Bradley, and Matt O’Kane. All were good in and out of the ring.