John Joseph ‘Rinty’ Monaghan was born on 21 st August 1918 at 23 Lancaster Street in north Belfast. His father was Thomas Monaghan, a sailor, and his mother was Martha Wilson. He was the eldest of 7 children, 3 boys and 4 girls. Rinty attended the Christian Brothers school in nearby Donegall Street but left at age 11 to be a dockside labourer.
Rinty began boxing as a boy in local street fights were the prize was a fish supper. He joined a rundown gym in Hardinge Street and turned professional flyweight boxer at 14. His first professional fight against Boy Ramsay at Belfast’s Chapel Fields ended in a draw. From then on however, he remained undefeated for the next 3 years.
Boxing Career and the War Years
Rinty’s boxing matches at the Kings Hall were extremely popular with Rinty singing ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ after his fights, to the delight of the crowd.
When World War 2 broke out, Rinty enlisted in the Merchant Navy but was shipwrecked in 1941. He then worked as an ambulance driver in Belfast during the Blitz. In 1943 he formed a musical trio called ‘The Three Hillbillies’ and entertained the troops in Western Europe. He toured with other notable acts such as Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and George Formby.
Post WW2 Career
After the War, Rinty resumed his boxing career and was very successful. Following victories over Eddie Doran and Englishman Terry Allen, in October 1947 Rinty defeated the American Dado Marino at Harringay Arena, which earned him an NBA title.
The following year he comprehensively beat his rival, Scotsman Jackie Patterson in Belfast to become the undisputed world flyweight champion. His home town went wild as thousands of his supporters celebrated and victory bonfires were lit in Corporation Street and York Street.
Rinty went on to successfully retain his titles, outpointing Maurice Sandeyron in April 1949 and so adding the European title to his achievements. However, Rinty was suffering from a long-term bronchial chest complaint and was forced to retire, undefeated, from the ring in 1950.
Life in Belfast
In 1938 Rinty married Frances Thompson. The couple lived at Little Corporation Street in Sailortown in the parish of St Josephs. They had one son Sean, and three daughters Martha, Rosetta and Colette. Although Rinty had made some money during his boxing career, he undertook a variety of jobs post-boxing including taxi driving and petrol pump attendant. He also worked as a cabaret singer and supported local charities with his performances.
Rinty continued to be a popular and entertaining figure around Belfast, as much loved for his optimistic and cheerful character as for his boxing prowess. Its said that John Joseph Monaghan got his unusual nickname ‘Rinty’ from his love of dogs. His mother called him Rinty after Rin Tin Tin the famous canine star of film and television, due to his habit of bringing home injured and stray dogs.
Rinty Monaghan died on 3 rd March 1984 from lung cancer. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery. He had remained in his small dockside home until his death, true to his working-class roots. A genuine local hero.
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