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10th Jun 2019

Carl Frampton and Donald McRae on boxing’s extraordinary influence in Troubles Belfast

Wayne Farry

donald mcrae

McRae’s latest book looks at how boxing helped ease tensions during the Troubles

On Round 18 of TKO, Chris Lloyd and Carl Frampton were joined by journalist and sportswriter Donald McRae, author of some of the best boxing books of all time, including A Man’s World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith and Dark Trade: Lost In Boxing.

McRae had interviewed Frampton on many occasions in the past, and shares the Belfast fighter’s view that the Northern Ireland capital is, also, the fight capital of the world.

McRae’s latest book, In Sunshine or in Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles, looks not just at boxing in the city and its wild popularity, but also the impact that the sport had on sectarian tensions during the Troubles, and the occasional reprieves that it granted those involved in boxing.

“We talk about sport building bridges, but I think it is boxing in particular that builds bridges in Northern Ireland. It allows people to do things that other sports, you don’t do, and that you don’t get away with in other sports,” said Frampton.

“Boxing in particular in Belfast, it saved so many people from joining paramilitary groups. Maybe even being in paramilitary groups and saying ‘aw, I want to get out of this’, and becoming a boxer and keeping them out of jail.

“It has saved so many people in Belfast, and Northern Ireland, and Ireland.”

“Charlie Nash, who was the best amateur boxer in Ireland, he was one of 11 kids and Willie was the boy youngest to him. Willie was a beautiful dancer, but a bad boxer, they called them ‘Stiff Nash’ because he was so stiff. But get him on the dancefloor and he was as fluid as anything,” said McRae.

“Willie Nash unfortunately got killed on Bloody Sunday and Charlie – again, such a gentleman, such a peaceful man – obviously he was devastated. And the (IRA) gunmen came to him within days, and they said ‘You must join us Charlie. You will be the symbol, the figurehead. We will get justice for our people’.

“But Charlie said ‘No – what justice is there in killing other people?’  – he would not move. He said ‘I will not support you, I will not become part of your movement. I’m a fighter, I will continue to be a fighter’. And I found that so moving and so powerful.”