The Irish flyweight giant
He was only a flyweight but Rinty Monaghan was one of the giants of Irish boxing.
Monaghan, who fought from 1934 to 1949, won the British, European and Empire titles as well as a world title in an era when there were only eight world champions.
His career was a fascinating one, and so was his life outside the ring.
Boxing enthusiasts will be enthralled by Eamonn O’Hara’s book, Rinty – The Story of a Champion, in which he relates the story of a boxer who was also a popular musician.
John Joseph Monaghan was born in Belfast, in his parents’ house, on August 21, 1920.
The Monaghans lived in what was called a kitchen-house in the industrial district a short way from huge mills and factories.
They later moved into a larger house because Martha Monaghan had nine children, besides six unsuccessful pregnancies.
Even the bigger house had only two rooms upstairs. One could accommodate a bunk bed and the children slept head to toe.
But the family had a lot of fun and Thomas and Martha often sang to their kids. Thanks to them, John acquired a love of music. He also loved Rin Tin Tin films and because he was so agile and often performed tricks in the streets he was nicknamed Rin Tin Tin; later shortened to Rinty.
He was such an energetic lad that his father, who had fought as a lightweight in the merchant navy, taught him to skip and hit a punch bag. Soon he began boxing.
At the age of nine he also began singing on stage, for which he even got paid. His rendition of When Irish Eyes are Smiling became so popular that he sang the song in the ring after his fights.
When he was still a youngster, Ma Copley’s Fair at Chapel Fields drew large crowds; especially to the boxing booth. That was where Rinty honed his boxing skills before moving on to the Saturday afternoon shows in York Street.
According to the Ring Record Book his first fight was against Vic Large in Belfast on February 17, 1935. Monaghan won on a fourth-round knockout.
O’Hara, in his research for the book, discovered that the little Irishman had had a few fights before that one.
He soon drew huge crowds to the King’s Hall in Belfast before his career was interrupted by World War II.
On October 20, 1947 Monaghan won the vacant National Boxing Association flyweight title by beating Dado Marino from Honolulu over 15 rounds at the Harringay Arena in London.
In March the next year he became the undisputed world flyweight champion by knocking out Jackie Patterson from Scotland in the seventh round. He also took Patterson’s British and Empire flyweight titles.
In his last fight, on September 30, 1949, he retained the world title and the British, European and Empire flyweight titles when he drew over 15 rounds with England’s Terry Allen in Belfast.
He also fought a South African, Seaman Chetty, from Durban. They met in Newcastle, England, on November 8, 1939. The Irishman won on points over ten rounds.
Ring Magazine, who compiled the only recognised rankings at the time, had had Chetty at No 9 in the flyweight division before he fought the Irishman.
Monaghan retired in March 1950 because of chronic bronchitis, finishing with a record of 51 wins – 20 inside the distance – 9 losses and 7 draws.
He wanted to make a comeback at the age of 33 but the boxing board refused him a licence on medical grounds.
Monaghan had saved a substantial amount from his boxing earnings and formed a band, Rinty and the Rintonians. When they broke up, he continued to entertain audiences at venues such as the Gaiety Theatre, the Clarence Palace and the Trocadero.
But he was too generous, always helping out people and lending them money that they never paid back. He also paid tax of 19 shillings and sixpence in the pound at the time.
However, he continued to accept entertainment work wherever he could and even landed a few acting jobs. He had a role in The Criminal, starring Welsh actor Stanley Baker.
Monaghan, who also worked at a garage for many years, was ill for many years before he was told in 1984 that he had developed nodules on his vocal chords. He was also diagnosed with diabetes.
His death was announced on Saturday March 3, 1984. Messages of condolence came from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Muhammad Ali. Hundreds of mourners lined the streets along Carrick Road and the Falls Road on the way to the Belfast city cemetery.
In Rinty – The Story of a Champion one can also read of other boxers, managers and the general fight scene during the time Monaghan fought. The 232-page paperback is published by The Brehon Press Limited in Belfast.