Jimmy enjoyed life as he rolled with the punches

John Knox

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John Knox

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jknox@kilkennypeople.ie

Jimmy enjoyed life as he rolled with the punches

Jimmy Walsh with County Council chairman, Matt Doran

There are times when he feels every minute of his 84 years. Other times he feels great, but no matter what, there is always a spark there.
And when he delivers a "wait 'til I tell ya......." line you can rest assured a laugh, or giggle at least, is in the offing.
Jimmy Walsh, proud son of Callan, has enjoyed a good life. He took the good with the bad, the highs and lows with equal grace. And he still drives on in the sport he loves....boxing.
He suggested, however, he might have been long gone out of the sport and over the horizon had it not been for a chance meeting 12 years ago.
A shy young girl came in to train in Jimmy's court at Callan boxing club. She was hanging around more than involved in anything. Jimmy, as ever, coaxed a bit of chat out of her and found out she wanted to box.
He said sure, why not.
Being short female fighters at the time, he put her into the ring against a young lad. He warned the lad to take it easy.
"I warned the wrong one," Jimmy smiled when he recalled what was a life changing experience the night boxing sensation Claire Grace first stepped into a boxing ring. "She was well able to look after herself I can tell ya."
Five senior Irish Elite championships later, and with a one time World ranking of 8th in the 69kg division, the softly spoken Tullahought lady still ranks as Jimmy's No. 1 champion. Claire was the first Irish female outside Katie Taylor to win a European medal when she claimed bronze in Bucharest five years ago.
"You know, when Claire came along I forgot how old I was," Jimmy laughed. "She gave me a whole new lease of life. She was wonderful to train. She would listen, put in the hard work, do everything that was right.
"I stayed on with her and the years flew by. Every time she won a fight, a championship it nearly made me feel younger."
Although Claire is not fighting these times, the pair have an unbreakable friendship. Jimmy was her Cus D'Amato (the shrewd, caring one who guided a crude Mike Tyson during his early career in professional boxing) in this tough and deaming sport, and Claire's career flourished.
Fading sight and trouble getting around means Jimmy doesn't travel the roads any more. He continues as Head Coach at the club he helped establish in Callan, but he leaves the heavy lifting, if you like, to others.
Some weeks ago Callan honoured Jimmy Walsh for his contribution to life and sport in the parish. County Council chairman, Matt Doran presented him with a scroll on behalf of the people and Local Authority in recognition of his devotion to boxing and for his work for youngsters in the area.
An army of fellow travellers in the boxing world, locals and other well-wishers attended to pay tribute to a man who said he was just doing something he liked all is life.
"What I did was no big deal," he said of his contribution to sport in the area. "I liked the game. I wanted boxing to have a place in sport in Callan. I appreciated what the people did for me, it was great, but it was totally unexpected."
Jimmy Walsh, who was born on January 2, 1933, to Patrick and Brigid Walsh, Green Street, Callan, has been involved in boxing since he was 11. His first boxing match was in the St Patrick's club in the old school in Kilkenny City.
Who did he box? Tony Coyne, he replied, in a flash.
Who won?
"Ah, there was no decision," he smiled mischievously, watching to see were we believing.
And then: "He won. He was at it a while before me."
"Then I boxed a lad by the name of O'Sullivan from Mountmellick," he continued. "That was my next fight. I beat him. That was the start of it."
His haul during a career that was interrupted by emigration included victory in three county championships; one Leinster senior. He boxed at lightweight and contested national finals twice. He was beaten in both by the eventual winner, both in the National Stadium.
Jimmy boxed in tournaments all over the country, which were huge at the time. St Patrick's ran one every year, often with teams from England involved. The Carrick club did the same in the old Castle cinema around the sixties
He boxed the orthodox style, but was he good: "I had a bit of a puch with the right," he suggested. "I put a good few down.
"I saw the lights go out myself once in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. I was fighting a lad by the name of Joe Payne, the Ulster senior champion. That was at middleweight. I wasn't a middleweight at all."
Apparently the Irish boxing authorities were assembling a 16 man team to travel to South Africa for a six week tour. Rather than let the chance of a glamour trip go, Jimmy had a go.
"I forgot to duck," Jimmy laughed when he recalled the night.
Of course, there was another story. It was the time he got into the ring with the great Gussy Farrell, who was Irish senior champion at the time.
Jimmy was finished fighting, but he was still in training. There was a tournament being organised in the Mayfair Ballroom in Kilkenny, but the man lined up to face Farrell in the featured exhibition bout cried off.
One evening there was a knock on Jimmy's door. Outside were Sean Bateman and the late Flukey O'Neill, two great boxing men in Kilkenny. They wondered would Jimmy help out, and get into the ring with Farrell.
The haggling started. How much? The initial purse offered was £10. No deal. Jimmy said he "wouldn't chance Farrell for ten". A deal was struck on £15, which represented two weeks wages at the time.
"I told them if the price was right I would do it," Jimmy said amusingly. "I had been in the ring with the roughest and toughest in England, so Farrell, for all his power and reputation, at least it would be a clean fight."
The contest went to the four rounds before it was stopped. Walsh had a cut eye, a bad one.
"At least I made a few pouds out of it," he assured.
He broke his leg when knocking timber in the wood. It was for the coalmines in Wales. They knocked and drew it to Fiddown. Unloaded there for the boats.
He went to school where the boxing club is now situated on the Clonmel Road. His teacher was Joe Golden, who he described as aproper gentleman. Jimmy left school when he was 15 and he went to work in the forestry, although under the legal age to work.
He gave nearly three years working with the forestry. Then he got a job hauling timber to the ships for export to the coalmines in Wales, but he broke his leg in an accident and was laid up for ages. He was only 17. At this time he was an avid hurler with John Lockes (Callan) GAA, but his career was halted.
He was out of work for nearly two years after that, but with work scarce there was little opportunity around. He eventually made his way to London, as many an Irishman did at the time. He wasn't alone. His brother-in-law, Johnny Donovan from Callan went with him.
The pair got work asa grave diggers in England.
"It was no bother to us to dig a hole," Jimmy laughed when he looked back.
They later worked in a crematoreum and steel yard, the latter opposite the White City stadium.
"There were a lot of Kilkenny lads there, three from Walkin Street, the Dreas from Ballymac, myself and Donovan," he recalled.
He got to see the dark side of boxing in London. At the Fairground Fair there were attractions called the Boxing Booths, where all comers could take on a so called champion. This was no holds barred stuff. It was survival of the fittest and toughest.
If you floored the champion you got a few pound. Of course Jimmy had a go. During his time in London he picked up a few princely sums, but it was raw, tough, not to be recommended, he admitted.
He returned to Callan in January 1957, but it took him a while to get work. He pulled beet the first Winter to make ends meet. Generally he worked a day here, a day there.
Jack Gardiner was over John Lockes around this time, and he scouted for work for his friend. At the time Jimmy and his family were living with his mother and father in Green Lane, a good stone's throw from where he now resides in Mill Street.
Jack came to him one day and told him there was a job as a postman going. Johnny Donovan had come home from London as well, and because he felt Donovan needed the job more, he let him have it.
Jimmy's good deed was rewarded about six months later when another postman in the area retired. Gardiner told him it was my chance. Senator Paddy Teehan, who was in the hurling club too, met Gardiner and Jimmy and wrote the letter of application.
"I got the job," Jimmy recalled. "I got a letter from the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs telling me so. I still have it."
He spent 23 happy years as a postman covering the Physicianstown, Tullamaine and Kilkenny Road areas. He cycled 27 miles a day, six days a week on his round, after a 6.30am start.
He was a John Lockes man from the day he could swing a camán. He shared in the big day with the club, the winning of the senior championship in 1957, beating Slieverue in the final (4-4 to 0-5).
Good life
He had won a minor championship in 1950, but he missed the junior success in between (1952) because he had a broken leg. The club served him well, and in return he did his best for the club.
But boxing stole his heart. With his great friend, Johnny Donovan he started Callan BC in 1959 with the base in the Workhouse, where the County Council offices are now. The history was chequered, and it often fell apart, mainly because of a lack of finance.
When Johnny died, Jimmy pledged he would start a club in his honour. With support from the local doctor, Dr Jim Ryan and others, Callan BC was reformed. It acquired a new home at the old Vocational School on the Clonmel Road. The current run is the longest the club has ever enjoyed.
Callan BC have a 25 year lease on their present home. Their proud boast now is that they have won 28 Irish titles and about 40 Leinster since the relaunch.
"It has been a great journey in life," Jimmy assured. "I would love to get a crack at it again and live it all over again, tough times and all. I enjoyed every second.
"I am blessed. It is a good life I can reflect on," he insisted.