John Joseph “Rinty” Monaghan, world flyweight boxing champion from Belfast, is born on August 21, 1918. He becomes famous in the post-war period, eventually rising to become undisputed world champion and a hero to many people in his home city.
Born in Lancaster Street in north Belfast, Monaghan attends St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ School in Donegall Street. A noted fighter at boys’ level, he entereds the paid ranks in his mid-teens. After a short period of wartime service, he resumes his career and his burgeoning reputation draws huge crowds from all parts of Belfast. In particular, bouts at Belfast’s King’s Hall are the highlight with that venue normally packed to the rafters.
In October 1947, the National Boxing Association world crown becomes Monaghan’s after outpointing American Salvador “Dado” Marino at Harringay Stadium for the vacant title. The mantle of undisputed champion of the world rests on his shoulders after he defeats the tough Scottish fighter Jackie Paterson on March 23, 1948. Paterson is to prove one of his major adversaries.
By the time that a long-standing chest complaint forces his retirement as champion in 1950, Monaghan’s trophy cabinet contains the British, European, Commonwealth and World crowns. Of the 66 official bouts he fights during his illustrious career, he wins 51, draws 6 and loses 9. He endears himself to his supporters after his fights by singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to the King’s Hall audience, which joins in the singing.
A part-time cabaret artist, Monaghan tours western Europe during World War II with other notables of the period including Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and George Formby, and later forms his own band.
Monaghan’s nickname “Rinty” comes from his fondness for dogs. According to his daughter Martha, he brought home injured dogs so often that his grandmother called him Rin Tin Tin, after the film dog, and shortened it to Rinty.
Monaghan marries Frances Thompson in 1938 and moves to nearby Sailortown. He has three daughters, Martha, Rosetta and Collette, and one son, Sean. In later life he has a variety of jobs but remains true to his working-class roots and stays in Belfast. He dies at his home in Little Corporation St. on March 3, 1984, at the relatively young age of 65. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.
To mark the influence of this “home-town hero”, the Ulster History Circle and Belfast City Council provide a plaque in Monaghan’s honour at the King’s Hall that is unveiled, in the presence of many of his family circle and friends, on May 3, 2007.
Belfast City Council erects a statue to Monaghan at Cathedral Gardens on August 20, 2015. The 10-foot high bronze statue on a granite plinth is designed by Alan Beattie Herriot and features Monaghan holding a microphone and singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”