Irish boxing mourns the loss of Saints stalwart Harry Cunningham

Harry Cunningham, pictured with sons Harry jr and Liam, was recognised by the IABA back in January for his years of dedication to boxing
Neil Loughran

IRISH boxing is in mourning following the loss of one of its greatest servants, Harry Cunningham.

The 75-year-old passed away yesterday, and tributes from family, friends, boxers and coaches - spanning all generations - have poured in ever since, such was the esteem in which he was held after a life dedicated to the sport.

Vice-president of the County Antrim Board he served with such distinction, and a stalwart of the Saints club in Twinbrook, yet Harry Cunningham’s influence on boxing extended far beyond Belfast.

And while it is a huge loss for lifelong friends such as Patsy McAllister and Paddy Fitzsimons, the same applies for the hundreds of young boxers to have been taken under his wing during international trips across Europe with Co Antrim through the years.

“Harry was special, one of the real characters of boxing up here,” said County Antrim Board president Paddy Barnes sr.

“He was one of those guys who just had the respect of everybody. Harry would fight his own corner no matter what, speak his own mind, and a lot of times you couldn’t argue with him because he’d been there, seen it and done it all.

“But everything – and I mean everything - he did was for the betterment of boxing and boxers; there was never another agenda. When my Patrick was a kid, boxing out of the East Coast club, Harry was one of the few people who would let us come up and train during the week.

“It was never a problem. No matter what you wanted, Harry would’ve tried to sort you out. He was an absolute gentleman, just a fantastic human being.

“He’s a massive, massive loss to the sport, and to everybody who knew him.”

Earlier this year Harry was honoured for their years of dedication at the Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s annual awards dinner.

A talented boxer with the St Matthew’s club in his youth, making it to Ulster and Irish senior finals, he started his coaching career in the Short Strand too before being offered the role of head coach at Saints.

There, he helped guide many county, provincial and national champions along the way, as well as being involved with Irish teams at all levels.

However, the highlight of his coaching career arrived in 1999 when sons Harry and Liam became the first pair of brothers since the 1960s to win Ulster and Irish elite titles in the same year.

Liam also claimed Commonwealth silver at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpar, with Harry landing a silver medal at the World junior championships the same year.

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