Swinford Boxing Club came into being on a cold evening in october 1932 at a time when about fifteen other clubs in the county were in their infancy. The club was formed by Andy Casey, Pat McCallister and Jim Coffey. Jim had previously been a professional heavyweight and was eager that Swinford should have a new band of potential champions. By November of 1932 the club had 350 members…yes you’ve read it correctly, 350 members. The club trained in the Town Hall and this venue also staged club tournaments and the Mayo and Connacht championships. Indeed what was one of the finest venues in the country, hosted capacity crowds with 360 views on all sides of the boxing ring. It was also said that “many a view was had from above the ring”, interesting considering there was no upstairs?
The first officers of the club included, President – Dr Michael Henry, Vice President – Superintendant Doyle, Secretary – Brendan Howley, Treasurer – J.B. O’Connor and committee members Martin O Keefe, Eddie Casey and Fr. Thomas Morrin. The committee included George McDermott, Dr. Henry, Tom Toner and Paddy Feeney. William Cooke the town tailor, made shorts for the club and J.B. O’Connor sponsered a pair of sandals for every boxer. As training, twice weekly the boxers were taken to Charlestown and had to run back to Swinford where a cold shower (a bucket of cold water), awaited them at the town hall. Michael and Pakey McCormack gave the boxers meals after tournaments and if anyone had sustained a black eye, Paddy Smyth would put a liver on it, and if required Dennis O’Connell kept leetches! A funny story told of the time involved John Egan from Swinford who fought Killala Garda John Martyn. The lights went out during their contest and when they came back on Martyn had had enough!
Among the members of the day was Dominick Lydon. Dominick was to become the club’s first National Champion in 1935 at Senior Heavyweight, sucessfully defending that title in 1936. Dominick, by now a Garda went on to represent Ireland on numerous occassions and after, became a professional heavyweight. It is said that if not for reoccuring injury, Dominick would have had a shot at a World title but c’est la vie. Another Irish international from the club at the time was Jimmy Price who represented the country in 1933 and ’34. During the war, boxing declined considerably in Swinford but the upsurge of boxing fortunes post-war brought a revival to Swinford.
Around 1952 the club was going strong once again under the stewardship of President – Fr. Paddy Towey, Treasurer – Superintendant Fahey, Secretary – Eddie Higgins and P.R.O. -Dr. Philip Cawley. John Nestor upon his return from England became head coach and within 10 years the club had become the largest in Mayo. Taking over from John, Kevin Quigley became head coach in 1960. Sucess at the national championships in 1960 and ’61, came in the shape of the great Youth Heavyweight, Gerry Ginty. Also boxing in numerous finals in the 60’s were Tommy Kilgallon who himself would become a coach in later years, Tommy Conway, Marty Lyons and the Biesty brothers Kieran and Jimmy.
In the late 60’s Dr. Cawley had taken up the presidency with Louis Horkan as treasurer and Eddie Higgins as secretary. Boxing 6×2 minute rounds, sucessful boxers of these years included, Paul Casey, David Gallagher, Tom Gavaghan, Tony Spain, John McNulty and Pat Brady. A highlight of the time was the visit of Jim McCourt and John Fitzsimons Irish Olympic heroes to a packed town hall. In the early 70’s Martin Mellet took the reins at the helm of Swinford Boxing Club, assisted by fitness and boxing experts Paddy McIntyre and Tom Walsh. Boxers of this period included Ian McHugh, James and Henry McNulty, the Moores Gerry and PJ, Andrew Forkan and Liam Devaney. Little did the club realise that a hero of the club from 40 years earlier was also to return and secure the future of the club for the next 40 years.
In 1980 Philip Conway joined the Swinford Boxing Club committee. Philip was one of the first boxers to box for Swinford Boxing Club in the 30’s. This was to be the start of a period of great success for the club. The committee at the time was made up of some of the longest serving and dedicated members of club including, Paddy McIntyre, Bob Doyle, Tommie Moore, Martin Loftus, Johnny Lynskey, Tom Gibbons, Martin McDonagh, Liam Forkan, Kevin Quigley, Tom Kennedy, John Bolingbrook, Eddie Higgins and Johnny Geraghty with Pat Walsh as head coach. Pat is attributed with laying many of the coaching foundations which have made the club the success it is today, bringing his vast experience and knowledge as a boxer and coach to the club. The club was training upstairs in Swinford Community Centre and held the Mayo and Connacht Championships each year at the same venue. Two of the clubs most successful boxers ever, multiple Irish title winners Frank Walsh and Frank Sheerin were the most decorated boxers of the 80’s with Frank Walsh sucessfully representing the country on numerous occasions including the European Championships.
Later in the 80’s the club made the short move to Lislackagh and into the old Lislackagh national school. Swinford B.C. became Mayo’s most dominant club, winning Best Mayo and Connacht Club in successive years, with boxers such as Michael Oliver, Tony Lynskey, Paul Walsh, the two Paul Byrnes, Thomas Byrne, Tommy Regan, Thomas Lavin and Brendan Mullaghy dominating on the local scene. This reign at the top of the sport in Mayo and Connacht continued into the 90’s with the club winning Best Club and Johnny Geraghty and Tommy Byrne winning most active judge/referees on an annual basis.
The early 90’s brought muliple sucesses at national level with Patrick Deane, Philip Byrne and Declan Murtagh bringing home gold. By now the club had 70+ members and the vast majority of them competing at a high level. Johnny Geraghty and Joe Byrne forged a formidable partnership in the corner and with officers such as Neil Breen, Tommy Byrne, Philp Conway, Martin Loftus and Paddy McIntyre, County and Connacht representation came almost weekly for the club. Hosting the championships was an annual highlight, and inter-county teams from Cork, Dublin, Donegal and Clare were regular visitors. The mid 90’s saw one of the greatest ever days for the club when it made history in becoming the first club to win two national intermediate titles on the same night when Adrian Sheerin won at middleweight and Patrick Deane at lightheavy. A huge travelling Swinford contingent rocked the stadium on the night which prompted club interviews with Jimmy Magee.
This was quickly followed by another national boys title from the gloves of Barry Durkin and preceded what was undoubtedly the greatest night in the club’s history. Adrian Sheerin after many years of trying was back in the National Senior final at lightheavy. A wave of anticipation and excitement had overcome the town and the surrounds and people sensed that this might be the year.The county hadn’t seen a national senior title in over 25 years and the club, only two in it’s history. Crowds of people had travelled and tickets were at a premium, but even still it seemed that most of Swinford had managed to get in. The fight was being aired live on Mid West radio with the legendary Willie McNeely on commentary. The stadium had never seen such a crowd and when Adrian took to the ring it had never experienced such a roar. Following four rounds of top class boxing, the result brought the house down! Sheerin was Champion. Tears of joy and songs of jubilation followed long into the night and Willie McNeely duely described the event as the greatest sporting night he had ever, and was likely ever to witness. Adrian went on to represent and captain the Irish national team on numerous occasions all over the world, narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification. At his side for much of this period were Johnny Geraghty as national coach and Tommy Byrne as an international referee and judge.
Building on the sucess of the 90’s Philip Byrne added another intermediate title to the club tally. Another tremendous night for the club in the stadium and an even better one in Bohola upon his return. After what was a short lapse in national success, with Niall Breen and Robert O Brien being shortlisted for the unluckiest boxers in the country, Swinford BC made it another day on the double in 2006 with Michael O’Brien and Darragh Campbell sucessful at the national stadium with Campbell following up with his second the following year.
The late 2000’s saw the introduction of ladies boxing in Ireland and Swinford BC was early to recognise the potential that it would bring. A plan for women’s boxing was put in place and reaped rewards in 2010 as Louise Loftus boxed her way to national glory. Louise paved the way for other female boxers such as Ciara Sheedy narrowly beaten in 2012’s All Ireland final and for Irish International Aoife Hennigan, the most decorated boxer in Swinford club history with 5 Irish titles and national representation at the European championships. And it doesn’t end here.
Today the club is as strong as ever. In 2012 the club moved to a larger, more modern premsies in the Newpark industrial estate. It wasn’t easy leaving Lislackagh the spiritual home of Swinford boxing, but it’s a sign of the times and the sucess of the club. The larger facility was needed and it is hoped that the new gym will be as sucessful as Lislackagh was. In naming the new gym the club recognises the father of Swinford Boxing, Philip Conway. A boxer in the founding year, a coach from the 1940’s to the 1990’s, Treasurer in the 80’s and 90’s and Team manager, mentor and friend to the club and it’s members until his passing. Philip was Swinford Boxing! He and indeed his wife Peggy, travelled the length and breadth of the country for the club, and when times were tight, funded the club from their own pockets. Testiment to Philip’s committment to boxing and to Swinford BC was that the Mayo county board honoured him with the boxing “Hall of Fame” award.
And so in 2013 as we open the doors to the new “Conway Gym and Fitness Centre”, “home of Swinford Boxing Club”, we too honour Philip, and remember all the boxers, officals and friends who have proudly worn and supported the Royal Blue and White of Swinford Boxing Club. We look forward to many more successful years of boxing in Swinford, by it’s people for it’s people.