Lives Remembered

Compassionate 'hard man' had fists of stone



HE HAD fists of stone and the arms of a circus strongman. Patrick 'Coco' McAuley belonged to an era when every area had its hard men, fearsome characters whose courage and fighting strength were renowned. However, Patsy was also a man of compassion and his death marked the passing of a north Belfast legend whose exploits became known far and wide.

Born in Ardoyne's Brompton Park in 1943, he was one of six children of Harry McAuley, a former professional boxer, and Sarah Monaghan, a sister of the legendary 'Rinty' Monaghan. It was a local man, Patsy Gillespie, who christened him 'Coco' after he had been discovered in the back of an upturned van covered from head to toe in cocoa powder. Boxing was in Patsy's blood and he won many Ulster and Irish titles during his career in the ring.

However, he was an all-round sportsman of note, winning the Northern Ireland Billiards Championships and excelling at snooker and darts.

A break of 135, achieved in the Shamrock Club in the 1970s, stood as a record in the Ardoyne district for many years.

Patsy married Rose O'Kane in Holy Cross Church in 1964 and they had three children, Tanya, Eamon and Paul, who predeceased him in 2012.

One of his proudest moments came in 1985 when Eamon claimed the ABA lightweight title in a fight shown live on TV.

Patsy worked in many jobs, and as Belfast was engulfed by the Troubles he travelled to London in search of employment.

On returning to Ardoyne it was inevitable that he would be affected by the violence, being injured in crossfire on three occasions.

In 1977 he was also caught up in a loyalist car bomb in Etna Drive which claimed the lives of Sean Campbell and Sean McBride, and left Patsy very lucky to be alive.

Patsy was a genuine Belfast 'hard man'. He feared nobody and his reputation with his fists put him up among the legends like 'Silver' McKee and 'Stormy' Weatherall.

But he was also known for his compassionate side. In the 1970s, he was awarded the Queen's Award for Bravery when he waded into the River Lagan to save a woman who had thrown herself into the freezing water.

On meeting up with her three weeks later, she attacked him with her umbrella for daring to risk his life. It was an episode of black humour that strangely summed up his life. Illness was to confine Patsy to his home in recent years and he passed away peacefully on December 12. His large funeral was testament to the esteem in which he was held, with the sporting fraternity of north Belfast represented in great numbers.

His life had been truly colourful and his name will be spoken of for generations to come.

Barry Flynn

Lives Remembered

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