The Champ saluted around the city

They didn’t call Paddy Martin The Champ for nothing.

As far as his five children and 14 grandchildren are concerned, he earned that title over the years — in love, friendship and support.

His sporting pals have a different reason to salute the man who was an accomplished footballer and no mean pugilist.

He once beat Joe Bygraves, the boxing master of the British Empire who, in turn, went 12 rounds with Muhammed Ali. That defeat of Bygraves must have been a sweet victory for a constitutional Irish republican, friend of former taoiseach Jack Lynch and father of Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin.

Paddy was a well-known Irish international amateur boxer. He was a champion with the Glen Boxing Club in Cork and was said to have never been floored in a fight.

He must have been good in the ring because, as his son Micheál recalled, the flying fists never damaged his looks. “It was said that there was a certain contingent of females who would hang around the No 4 bus stop to wait for him to come along.”

Born on the Old Youghal Road on the city’s northside, Paddy worked as a bus driver with CIE — later Bus Éireann — and drove that No 4 route.

Lord Mayor of Cork Terry Shannon remembered him as one of a rare breed. “He was a great republican in the best sense. He loved his country, his language and his sport and he had a great social conscience, being founder member of the National Bus Workers’ Union. He was a close friend of Jack Lynch and very friendly with Christy Ring. As a boxer who fought for Ireland. He brought great acclaim to Cork.”

Though more than five decades separated them in age, Denis McCarthy of Bus Éireann has fond recollections of Paddy as a colleague and friend.

“My early memory of him was of a gentle giant. You would know he had been a boxer by the height and the look of him, not in any aggressive way, though.

“He was a mobile inspector, getting on and off buses to make checks. In fact, he was an inspector for longer than he was a driver. He walked a lot and I can still picture him out walking, cap on his head and his hands behind his back, striding along.”

Denis recalled his colleague’s generosity. “He would get on the No 2 bus and be chatting to the driver at the front but, invariably, there would be a few young guys — ‘hard chaws’ we called them — on board and he would take out a few coins from his pocket and give them a few bob on the way out.”

Tim O’Sullivan, 84, one of two surviving members of the Irish boxing team of the late 1940s and early 50s, remembers his friend as “a gentleman with a big heart”.

Paddy boxed around the same time as Eamonn Andrews and brother Noel. “I was on the Irish boxing team in 1948 and Paddy came on a year later,” says Tim. “We boxed at different weights. He got most of his international honours at light-heavyweight, or cruiser-weight as it used to be known, and later became a heavyweight.”

Together they founded the Cork Ex-Boxers Association, formed to help former boxers who might have fallen on hard times. They also set about bringing back the body of the famous Irish boxer Jack Doyle, the movie star who found fame in Hollywood but died penniless in London in 1989.

“I was the first to get a phone call from London from ex-boxers that Jack Doyle had died,” says Tim. “Paddy and I arranged to bring his body back. It came through Dublin from Holyhead and Peter Barry, the undertaker from Jack’s hometown of Cobh, sent a hearse to Dublin to collect it. We gave him a good sendoff and we are giving Paddy a good sendoff, too.”

Even as a youngster, Paddy was a bit of a daredevil.

When he was 14, he told a little white lie and changed his date of birth to join the Irish army during the emergency, which was when he was introduced to boxing. Although he was a fine footballer, playing with St Nick’s in Blackpool, it was at boxing he truly excelled. He was an Irish international, Munster champion, All Ireland finalist and a regular at the tournaments on a Friday night at Cork City Hall.

As Micheál recalls: “Paddy fought with the Glen Boxing Club. Boxing in the 40s and 50s was a very popular sport and Paddy explained to us that the workers from Fords and Dunlop’s would come up to the environs of City Hall with their sandwiches, into the local hostelries, a few pints and then into City Hall. It would be packed to the brim.”

His father’s victory over Bygraves was akin to Munster beating the All Blacks in 1978. “By popular acclaim, his greatest night in City Hall was his victory over the then British champion Joe Bygraves.

“Bygraves was later described by Ingemar Johansson [1959 heavyweight champion of the world] as the toughest Briton he ever fought. That night clearly stood out in the folk memory of boxing fans in Cork.

“This was brought home to me canvassing for the first time in the mid 80s through Ballyphehane. On a lot of doorsteps I was met with the refrain: ‘Are you the Champ’s son? Was there the night he beat Bygraves’.”

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