Belfast’s latest world boxing champion Carl Frampton has paid tribute to the first man from the city to reach the sport’s pinnacle – the legendary Rinty Monaghan.
“I feel like I owe him something; he kickstarted everything for boxing in Ireland and he was a legitimate world champion,” said the Tiger’s Bay boxer yesterday, as a statue of Monaghan was unveiled at Cathedral Gardens in York Street.
Monaghan was the first world champion to hail from Belfast and was known for singing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ at the end of his fights.
When Monaghan retired in 1950, he had a record of 51 wins, six draws and nine defeats.
World title holder Frampton joined a host of Northern Ireland’s top boxers at the ceremony to unveil the 10ft-high scultpure.
The super bantamweight boxer said it was “an honour” to witness the occasion.
“It means a lot to be here; I think not only I owe him something, but I think the whole of Belfast does as well. Boxing has brought communities together for a long, long time and Rinty started it off,” said Frampton.
“It was a different sport back then, it was a lot more brutal and a proper hard man’s game. He’s a proper character too. Boxing’s kind of lacking those characters these days, but I think he was certainly one of them.”
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Arder Carson, said: “It is the people of Belfast who make the city so special and it is sporting heroes like Rinty that encourage many others to succeed, so we are delighted to be honouring him today in the area where he grew up, lived and trained.”
Deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence said he hoped that young people would be inspired by Monaghan’s ability to bring the city together.
The north Belfast DUP councillor described Monaghan as “a champion, not just in terms of boxing at all the different divisions and levels that he won but in terms of actually the city”.
He said: “He was a champion of the city at a time in the 1940s and ‘50s when tensions were starting to begin to rise. He brought people together to come and see him.”
Sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot, who designed the statue, said: “I hope the people of Belfast enjoy it and it encourages ongoing recognition of the importance of boxing to the cultural life of the city.”
Belfast Boxing Ring has worked to ensure the contribution of boxing to the city is recognised and Belfast City Council is funding two more sculptures in the coming years. Eamon McAuley from Belfast Boxing Ring, who is also Monaghan’s great-nephew, said the statue is a “lasting monument to the man and the legend”.
“If he was here today, he’d be around everybody, he’d be singing, you’d hear his voice in the background, just full of energy and full of happiness,” said Mr McAuley.