ITC: St Comgall’s Centre, Belfast

November 29 2023

Boxing's unique social value on full display as Matchroom are welcomed back to Belfast.

With our last visit to Northern Ireland coming six and a half years ago for Ryan Burnett’s World Title unification contest against Zhanat Zhakiyanov, Matchroom Boxing made a triumphant return to Belfast this week for a special event celebrating the unique and powerful impact the sport has had in bridging physical and sectarian boundaries in a city with a turbulent past.

On Wednesday evening, Jamie Conlan and a host of local boxing personalities were greeted at the historic St Comgall’s Centre in West Belfast by over 100 local youngsters from across the city. Representatives from 6 local boxing clubs – Immaculata Boxing Club, Holy Trinity Boxing Club, Cairn Lodge ABC, Ledley Hall ABC, Star ABC and Ormeau Road ABC – were present, as well as the R-CITY Youth Group, which was set up due to peace line tensions and brings youngsters from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds together for a range of community focused initiatives.

The fact that St Comgall’s Centre hosted the event is symbolic in itself, with the building – in its former guise as a Primary School – the scene of one of the first gun battles of the Troubles during August of 1969. Throughout Belfast’s history, boxing has consistently proved to be a unifying force, promoting community cohesion and acting as a safe haven for young and old.

Adding to the celebratory atmosphere were our partners at Forged Irish Stout and Everlast, with the former providing attendees with an Irish Dancing display and the latter supplying a range of kit and apparel to give away to lucky competition winners.

Communities have always mixed in boxing.

- Liam Corr

Speaking after the event, Liam Corr from the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) – Ulster Branch, was keen to highlight the vital role that boxing plays in breaking down a variety of physical and social boundaries.

“Through all the troubles that Belfast has had over the years, boxing has always been a safe haven – there’s never been an issue in boxing,” said Corr.

“Communities have always mixed in boxing and it’s great to see that happening here today ahead of Saturday’s fight night,” he continued.

“Some of these kids might not have even mixed with another part of the community – and boxing has helped them do that, which is great.”

Leading the session on the night was Brendan Irvine (Community Coach – IABA Ulster Branch), himself a former two-time Irish Olympian, illustrating the rich boxing pedigree present throughout the city.

Following the event, Brendan was quick to point out how important his role is in giving back to the next generation of boxing talent in Belfast.

It's great to give back to the next generation coming through.

- Brendan Irvine

“It was great to be involved in the event and to see such a great turnout from both sides of the community,” said Irvine.

“As we know, boxing is booming in Belfast and a lot of this is down to the Belfast Boxing Strategy, which consists of four key sections: Pathways (boxers, coaches & officials), Coach Education, Club Support and Governance,” he continued.

“I am very grateful to be employed by the IABA and to do a role that’s very rewarding. I boxed for 18 years and have been to every major international tournament. It’s great to give back to the future generation coming through.”

Amongst those to echo these sentiments was Jamie Conlan, who pointed out to youngsters the importance of chasing their dreams in order to continue adding to the rich boxing history of their city.

Enjoy your dream chasing. One day it will all come.

- Jamie Conlan

“It’s great to see so many faces here in West Belfast, where myself and Michael (Conlan) grew up,” remarked Conlan.

“I remember being in your position, watching the likes of Martin Rogan, Martin Lindsay and Kevin O’Hara, thinking one day I’ll be there. I think in 20 year’s time, there’ll be kids here watching one of you in the position that Michael, Tyrone (McKenna) and Lewis (Crocker) are all in,” he continued.

“So enjoy your dream chasing. One day it will all come. Keep learning. Keep growing. We’re the best boxing city in the world, let’s show them again on Saturday!”