It was a night of thanks and triple celebration when Callan Boxing Club remembered the past, honoured achievement and looked to the future.
The proud club has a history that can be traced back to 1918. The club in its current guise was reformed in 2002 and life was never so rich in promise.
Members train in a fine renovated premises on the Clonmel Road; numbers are swelling and Callan BC has a European winner and world ranked fighter.
“We have done well for a small outfit,” suggested Jimmy Walsh, an octogenarian with a peerless passion for the club and sport, when Callan Boxing Club unveiled the gifts a €25,000 sports grant from Government helped them attain through hard work and careful planning.
The club has a full size, elevated ring; dressing-rooms and showers for male and female members; toilets; four heavy punching bags suspended from the ceiling; new floors throughout and the premises are wheelchair friendly.
Additional space was gained by knocking a wall and absorbing a store into the main building, and all window, doors and other fittings have been replaced.
What was formerly an old National School and later a Technical School is now, with the blessing of the VEC, a place of learning for dedicated sports people.
Callan’s European senior bronze medallist (69kgs), Clare Grace, was the focus of the evening as she was honoured at Saturday’s gathering in the club. The third year student of Sports Science and Health at DCU was made a presentation of a cup and gift voucher to mark her win at the European Championships in Bucharest and elevation to a 10th place ranking in the World in her division.
She was joined by her parents, Michael and Eileen and sister, Sarah from Tullahought when she cut a cake to mark the occasion.
There was another woman present who was celebrating too, and she forged a link between the past and present. Ann Griffin, Mr Walsh’s daughter, was the first female member of the club in the early seventies. On Saturday she celebrated her birthday on what was a very special day for the club.
The refurbishment was a testament to the hard work and commitment of club members, suggested Callan BC chairman, Dr Jim Ryan, when he welcomed everyone.
“A lot of young boys and girls have gone through the club, and we have enjoyed considerable success” he said. “Our biggest success has been to increase the numbers involved and that youngsters got to enjoy the sport of boxing.”
He said Mr Walsh had always been a driving force in the club, and there were always people willing to lend a helping hand.
“In our midst we have a Europe senior medallist,” he continued. “Clare Grace has been with the club for eight years. I remember Jimmy telling me years ago that she had something special.
“She is absolutely dedicated; never misses a training session. Clare’s honesty, integrity and gritty dedication have taken her to this level. She is an inspiration to everyone in the club.
“A boxing ring with only two fighters and a referee in it is a testing place. To be a champion at this sport takes something special. Clare has that something special.”
He reminded that on top of her latest Euro win, Clare Grace was a three times national senior champion. She was a European junior medal winner and now she was a senior Euro medal winner too, all by the age of 20.
“You are an inspiration to us all,” he told her. “If the next step takes you to the Worlds and Olympic Games, know we are all behind you.”
Mr Walsh told the attendance that he had his first fight in 1948, and he had well over 200 at amateur level before he retired.
He thanked Dr Ryan for his commitment to the club, and suggest “there would be no club without him”.
He revealed that Dr Ryan and Dr Sharkey had paid the club affiliation fee the first year Callan boxing club was reformed, and whenever there was a problem “Dr Ryan would sort it out”.
“Our backbone now is Clare Grace,” he insisted. “She never misses training. Even on St Stephen’s Day we were here. There was no heating, but she warmed up the place with the power of her work. We have her now 10th in the World. It is a marvellous achievement, not just for Callan but for Kilkenny and Ireland too.
“But I won’t be happy until I take the zero out of that,” he added with a warm smile. “She has won 10 national titles now, including two at colleges level. She has two handball All-Ireland medals as well, by the way.”
Clare Grace thanked everyone for attending, and her coach, Jimmy Walsh, for helping her achieve so much. She thanked her parents for their help and encouragement to follow whatever path she chose in sport. She also thanked the club for giving her so much support over the years.
Ollie O’Neill, Paulstown boxing club and secretary of the Laois/Kilkenny/Carlow Boxing Association, congratulated the club on developing the premises and Clare Grace on her wonderful achievements.
“Europe is a big continent,” he reminded. “You are a champion there. That took some doing. All of us in the boxing family in Kilkenny and Ireland are very, very proud of you. We wish you the very best in what is shaping up to be an extremely bright future.”
Club officers - Dr Jim Ryan (chairman); Kevin Keogh (vice-chairman); Sharon Griffin (secretary); John Hickey and Jimmy Walsh (treasurers). Committee - Michael Comerford, Denis Callaghan, Michael Holohan, Clare Grace.
Head coach - Jimmy Walsh; with Michael Comerford, Denis Callaghan and Clare Grace.