By Noreen McEldowney
From the foothills of Slievenamon to the foothills of the Sperrins, Jim Noonan, a name synonymous with Irish boxing left a lasting imprint on the hearts and minds, of those who learned from him and those who loved him.
Jim passed away on September 15, 2017, following a brief illness. For the second year running those who knew Jim best have organised the Jim Noonan Memorial Boxing show in his memory.
Described as a wonderful story teller, an excellent communicator, known for his charisma as well as his good looks, Jim is fondly remembered all over the world for one of his greatest loves, boxing.
His legacy includes the formation of Ballinascreen Amateur Boxing Club, becoming the first ever Derry man to be appointed honorary register to the Ulster Council I.A.B.A (Irish Athletic Boxing Association), an established Master of Ceremonies (MC) who covered many sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games, numerous international tournaments in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and of course, being the beloved husband to Mary and father to their three sons; Paul, Maurus and Steven.
Born in Drangan, county Tipperary in 1935, like many young Irish people of that generation, Jim moved to London in the sixties.
It was here that his passion for boxing continued and he joined a local club. However Jim soon realised that he preferred to be outside the ring, rather than in it and began to focus his attention on training and managing others in the sport.
Getting work at the famous Café de Paris, he soon rose through the ranks and quickly became assistant manager of the premium entertainment venue. Under the employment of the equally famous Eric Morley, founder of the Miss World pageant, Jim was compere for the 1965 Miss World final which was held in London.
Not long afterwards Jim would meet his own ‘Miss World,’ when he met and fell in love with a young Cranagh woman and staff mid-wife at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, Mary Gormley (SRNSCM).
It was their marriage in 1966 that saw the young Irish immigrants make the decision to leave London and start a new life and home, in Ballinascreen in 1968.
Very soon after his arrival in Draperstown, Jim began working on setting up a boxing club in the area and as a result of his passion and love of the sport, Ballinascreen ABC (Amateur Boxing Club) was formed.
Initially it began in the back of the parochial house with the permission and support of Fr Michael Collins. It then moved to the former Cornstore Youth Club building and later the Bamba Hall at Straw.
Jim’s dedication to the sport and his boxers, soon reaped the benefits and produced a stable of fine fighters, including Ulster Heavyweight boxing champion, Mick McKee.
In fact, many local fighters and others in the province who trained under his watchful eye went on to become professional world famous fighters.
Through his natural ability to communicate, Jim was able to introduce many local boys to the sport of boxing, providing an inclusive setting which give many young men who were uninterested in football or hurling a challenging and empowering alternative.
Jims work with local youth however did not end at the ring.
Following a brief time as a handyman with Scott's in Toome, he took up position in Cookstown Job Training Centre as manager. In a role which was met with challenging economic times, Jim was not deterred and was successful in helping many young people to gain employment, giving them hope and ambition for their future careers.
One person who was greatly influenced by Jim was Swatragh man and the Jim Noonan Memorial Tournament organiser Ciaran Quinn.
“There was more than forty years between Jim and myself but it didn’t matter he was my friend as well as my coach,” said Ciaran.
“I joined Ballinascreen Boxing Blub when Errigal Boxing Club, Ballerin, closed and I soon became involved with helping Jim coach the boys.
“Jim was a character and a great story teller. I enjoyed nothing more than heading away with him every weekend to boxing venues all over the country. I was like his co-pilot and I knew when I went places with Jim, I was with the voice and face of boxing in Ulster.
“This event which is now in its second year will be an annual memorial to Jim. He was an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to inspiring others to be winners, to have self-confidence and believe in their achievements, both inside the ring and outside it,” continued Ciaran.
“He helped a lot of people from all over South Derry, by providing them with a space, a goal and a mind-set, if you work hard you will achieve. Especially at a time when there wasn’t much for around for young people to do. When the club closed in Ballinascreen myself and Jim set up St John’s Boxing club in Swatragh in 2010 and it has been going ever since.
“Even in death Jim continues to inspire myself and others to do as his did, encouraging and supporting young people through boxing.”
It was said on the morning of Jim’s funeral when his coffin was leaving his home mourners saw a number of large bumbles bee’s swarm by. When Jim was lowered into the ground a large brown butterfly was seen settling on top of his coffin. As one mourner remarked in fitting tribute, ‘Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’
St John’s ABC Swatragh will host the Jim Noonan Memorial Boxing Show on Saturday, May 4 at Michael Davitts GAC, Swatragh. Doors open at 7.30pm. Adult admission £7 and £3 for U16s.
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