Boxing legends join Eastwood family in a ‘Celebration of the life of Bernard Joseph (BJ) Eastwood’

The funeral of Barney Eastwood takes place at St Colmcille's Church, Holywood. Pictured front are Danny Juma and Barney's son Peter. Picture Mark Marlow.
The funeral of Barney Eastwood takes place at St Colmcille's Church, Holywood. Pictured front are Danny Juma and Barney's son Peter. Picture Mark Marlow.

FAMOUS faces from Irish boxing’s golden era regrouped to lay their mentor Barney Eastwood to rest yesterday.

Dave Boy McAuley, Hugh Russell, Ray Close, John Breen, Neil Sinclair, Bernardo Checa, Eamon McAuley and many others joined ‘BJ’s’ wife Frances and the Eastwood family at St Colmcille’s Church in Holywood for a ‘Celebration of the life of Bernard Joseph Eastwood’ after the legendary promoter, manager and businessman had passed away on Monday after a long illness.

Born in Cookstown in 1932, BJ’s introduction to the noble art came from watching US soldiers box at Killymoon Camp, just outside the town, before they were shipped out for the D-Day Landings.

His schoolmaster would also “clear the desks and match boys for boxing” during BJ’s school days and Gaelic Football was his other lifelong sporting passion.

He was a talented left-half forward on the Tyrone team that swept to glory in the 1948 All-Ireland Minor Football Championship. The Cookstown Fr Rock’s clubman scored 2-3 in the Ulster final and four points in the All-Ireland final against Dublin.

BJ and wife Frances married at 19 and together took over a pub in Carrickfergus from which the prodigiously talented BJ began the bookmaking business that made his fortune. From those humble beginnings, he established a chain of 54 shops which he sold to Ladbrokes for £117.5million in 2008.

Fortune came in business and fame came as a boxing promoter who was synonymous with fighter Barry McGuigan throughout the early 1980s.

With practically the entire population of Ireland enthralled, ‘Clones Cyclone’ McGuigan won the WBA featherweight title on an unforgettable night at QPR’s Loftus Road in June 1985.

Although he and McGuigan later parted company, Eastwood’s Gym in Castle Street, Belfast continued to be a fertile breeding ground of world champions.

Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley took over McGuigan’s mantle, winning the IBF flyweight title in 1989 and defended it five times in a series of thrilling fights. Crisanto Espana was king at welterweight and Paul ‘Hoko’ Hodkinson was Eastwood’s second featherweight champion.

Throughout his days, BJ was regarded as a generous, down-to-earth person who remained unaffected by his wealth and stature as an Irish sporting icon.

“If he was on your side, you wouldn’t make many mistakes,” said Dave Boy McAuley.

In a recent interview with The Irish News, BJ recalled the night Paul Hodkinson fought Eduardo Montoya in Manchester.

“Hoko threw a punch and the Mexican hit him on the chin and down Hoko went,” he explained.

“At the end of the round, we freshened Hoko up but he still wasn’t too good. He was saying:

‘Where am I? Who’s winning the fight?’ I thought hard about pulling him out and I was 90 per cent sure I would.

“Then it struck me: Montoya had lost seven pounds to make the weight. He could hardly stand never mind box! I thought: ‘I’ll let Hoko out and if he hits this boy with one punch it’ll go our way’.

“Hoko went into the middle of the ring, caught him and the other boy was sprawled out, out for the count.”