Blood on the Ropes in UCC!

There was no event more eagerly anticipated within the hallowed halls of UCC in the ‘60s than Boxing Night. All the sports clubs put forward likely pugilists and the whole college came together for a night of, well, bloodsport. Cassius Clay was in the early years of his pomp and boxing had a glamour and a status that is hard to imagine now. Excitement would mount in the proceeding days as a regulation boxing ring was slowly erected in the midst of the bustling student restaurant (‘The Rest’) and match-ups would be made and challenges laid-down among the different cohorts of students as the fever gradually took hold. There were guys who couldn’t wait to get into the ring while others made all kinds of excuses to stay out. “I’d lick any fellow in the college with one hand,” a friend of mine, Frankie Galvin, once famously claimed, “except I can’t find any guy with one hand that’ll fight me!”

 “What in the name of God have I left myself in for?” 

The Marquis of Queensbury was very much in evidence on the morning of the event as officials from the Cork boxing fraternity, resplendent in their Aran sweaters, arrived in The Rest and weighted-in the combatants in a ceremony far removed from what we are now used to in Las Vegas. Our ceremony was much more subdued as the reality of their situation began to dawn on many boxers and a palpable air of  “What in the name of God have I left myself in for?” began to permeate the proceedings. However, it was now too late to pull out and the only option for many was to camouflage their trepidation with a display of bravado as their self-appointed handlers bustled about them and filled their heads with wild talk of first-round KOs and standing counts.

fellows walked into haymakers from opponents who, very often, were fighting with their eyes closed,

The mob that milled around the guillotine in post-revolutionary Paris had nothing on the crowd that packed ‘The Rest’ to the rafters on fight night. The combatants would, in the main, be drawn from the various GAA, rugby and soccer teams in the college and would have huge cohorts of raucous supporters to roar them on in their various bouts. In most cases it would be the first time any of the boxers had pulled on a pair of boxing gloves or stepped into a boxing ring and, boy, did it show. In fairness to the Cork B.C. officials, they made every effort to protect the boxers and to keep anybody being unduly hurt or humiliated but, occasionally, fellows walked into haymakers from opponents who, very often, were fighting with their eyes closed, flailing about as if warding off a swarm of bees, only to land a lucky punch that brought the crowd to its feet and that particular bout to a premature end.

The Doc collapsed, blood pumping from his broken nose

Yes, there was some good fighters on show: Billy Morgan, Michael O’Halloran, Mattie O’Connell and Gerry O’Sullivan are four names that come to mind fifty years on and there were some classy contests but many of the fights were pure carnage. One student doc, who had just persuaded a glamorous Arts student that he had been chasing for some time to accompany him to the Medical Ball the following night, had declared his intention of getting his bout over in double quick time before he could suffer any facial damage and spoil his chances. When the bell went at the start of the first round he rushed across the ring while his opponent still had his back turned getting final instructions from his corner. Hearing his onrushing opponent he swung around in alarm with his arms raised and caught the hapless Doc flush on the nose with his elbow. The Doc collapsed, blood pumping from his broken nose and was thus – in an instant – deprived of the fight, his good looks, his dignity and the Arts student. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth” – or, in this case, the nose!

There were times when I couldn’t take photographs for drinking my tears with laughter at the action in the ring.

Through it all I sat ringside with my camera and flash gun ready on the apron of the ring to capture the action. Some bouts were really engrossing and worth the entry price on their own: others were over in a flash as one or other of the combatants was cradled in the arms of a sympathetic referee and spared further punishment. One class mate of mine who had been gently ushered out of the ring and advised to use plenty of ice when he got home, sidled up to me at the interval and said excitedly, “I really had him worried there for a while, hadn’t I? He thought he was after killing me!” There were times when I couldn’t take photographs for drinking my tears with laughter at the action in the ring. But one lesson I really learned ringside was a right uppercut is one of those things much more blessed to give than to receive!


The common denominator in all the fights was blood – lots of blood!  Maybe that’s why the medical faculty took such an active part. A particularly memorable bout featured Gerry O’Sullivan from Caragh – later to be President of The College of Surgeons – and his fellow medic, Michael O’Halloran from Ballinlough. Two feisty scrappers, neither of whom would take a backward step and didn’t allow fellowship in the lecture theatre get in the way of a full-blooded – in every sense of the word! – three rounds. Gerry, whose passing away much too early some years ago was a huge loss to the medical world, got the verdict on a controversial split decision on the night and wasn’t adverse to reminding his colleague of it over a pint from time to time in the following decades.

It was the two Cork Iron & Hardware buckets that really gave the game away! Bought earlier in the week to service the combatant’s corners & filled at the start of proceedings with cold water and a sponge, they stood unreplenished from first fight ‘til last. By the night’s end the contents would have kept a whole faculty of medical students in blood samples. A fighter revived mid round with a refreshing sponge emerged for the next round like Dracula on his way home from a particularly good night at the castle. Health & Safety was a term yet to be coined and it certainly did not find its genesis in the raucous cauldron that was Boxing Night in UCC in the 1960s.