Sport

Stephen Hanna: Belfast boxing scene bids farewell to one of its most colourful characters

Former Oliver Plunkett champion went on to feature in films and on stage

Former boxer Stephen Hanna passed away last week. Picture by Hugh Russell
Former boxer Stephen Hanna passed away last week. Picture by Hugh Russell

BELFAST boxing has bid farewell to one of its most colourful characters following the sad passing of former Ulster champion Stephen Hanna.

The west Belfast man – who twice reached Irish elite final night and would later spar Barry McGuigan after turning over to the pro ranks - passed away last Thursday, and his funeral took place at St Oliver Plunkett Church on Monday.

Hanna was one of a kind, his boxing career ultimately short-lived, giving way to an extraordinary life that would see him feature in a host of films and productions after relocating to Germany.

He never lost touch with the sport, keeping a particular eye on fellow Plunkett pupil Tyrone McKenna, but was always open about what it took for anybody to step between those ropes.

“Jimmy Finnegan, God rest him, used to put us all in the ring together and we’d all fight each other,” he told me in 2021.

“I was terrified, all weights were in, big digs flying everywhere. It was madness. Jimmy was a great man, a hero who did a lot for the community in Lenadoon. He was a father, a man who was there for any fighter who needed a home.

“I remember I was to fight Hugh Russell as a juvenile and, before one of the other fights, I saw this fella’s coach pushing him up into the ring. This guy didn’t want to be there. That unsettled me; my fear recognised his fear.

“You don’t need that, because the hard part about boxing is you go in there wanting to believe you’re Superman, only to find out you’re actually Clark Kent.”

Stephen Hanna sparred with the likes of Barry McGuigan during a short-lived professional career, having boxed to international level as an amateur
Stephen Hanna sparred with the likes of Barry McGuigan during a short-lived professional career, having boxed to international level as an amateur

As for those rounds with McGuigan, he winced at the memory almost four decades on.

“He hurt me with a body shot during a spar one time… oh my God. I thought I was going to have a baby there and then.”

A singer, a painter, a poet, Stephen Hanna’s life wouldn’t be defined by what was achieved in the boxing ring, or sparring behind closed doors, as life brought him along a road less travelled one while would include an award-winning performance in the 2014 short film ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Cry’, as well as an appearance in Ronald Emmerich’s $30m 2011 period drama Anonymous.

A true one off. RIP Stephen.