Irish sporting icon Barney Eastwood leaves a lasting legacy

Glory days. Barney Eastwood with Barry McGuigan and Eddie Shaw
Glory days. Barney Eastwood with Barry McGuigan and Eddie Shaw

IRISH sporting icon Barney Eastwood, the legendary boxing promoter and manager, passed away yesterday after a long illness at the age of 88.

Born in Cookstown in 1932, ‘BJ’ built a bookmaking empire from humble beginnings after buying a pub in Carrickfergus with wife Frances at the age of 19. Boxing and Gaelic Football were his twin sporting passions and he was an All-Ireland winner with the Tyrone minors in 1948, scoring four points in the Croke Park final against Dublin. However, it was in the ‘noble art’ that he made his name on an international stage and on which he leaves a lasting legacy.

As the Troubles raged in Belfast throughout the 1980s, Eastwood’s Gym in Castle Street was a beacon of hope and a hub for fighters from around the globe. It produced world champions in Barry McGuigan, Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley, Cristanto Espana, Victor Cordoba and Paul Hodkinson.

McGuigan and Olympic Games medallist Hugh Russell were Eastwood’s first signings after he’d made a return to boxing following a successful first spell as a promoter in the 1960s.

“He managed me from the start to the end of my career, from 1981 to 1985,” said Russell, who went on to win the British title at bantamweight in 1983.

“He signed Barry and then he signed me. I got on exceptionally well with him, we always had a good relationship and we still talked right up to recently. We still talked about things even when he wasn’t too well.

“He was a very honest, a very sincere man and the amount of talent he put through his gym will never be surpassed. He had multiple world champions back when there were only maybe two versions of a world title. People from all over the globe fought in his gym.”

Russell added: “He pulled people together, that’s what he did and to do something locally that went globally was massive.

“He had Don King, Bob Arum… all the big names flying in and out of here so it’s a very sad day.

“I have nothing but fond memories of the man, I went back a long, long time with him and there was never anything in my whole career that he said he would do for me that he never did.”