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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
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New documentary tells the forgotten tale of tragic boxing champion Benny Lynch

The son of Irish immigrants, the Glaswegian was world champion at 22 and dead at 33.

Image: Popperfoto

FOR A BRIEF time, Benny Lynch had it all. And it was so inexplicable.

He had come from nothing in the harsh, unforgiving environment of Glasgow’s tenements in The Gorbals. Yet, the child of Irish immigrants, defied his background and became champion of the world.

In a city so used to division, it was Benny that united it.

At the age of 22, he was the best flyweight in the world and retained the belt twice more in 1937 and 1938.

But, struggling with his own demons, he couldn’t handle his own success and succumbed to a long, exhausting battle with alcoholism when he was just 33.

A documentary exploring Lynch’s life, Benny, screens on TG4 on Saturday night. For producer Shane Tobin, the story lent itself perfectly to further investigation.

“He seemed to capture the public’s imagination and was a people’s champion in the 1930s which was a bleak economic period for Scotland,” Tobin says.

unnamed-2 Source: General Photographic Agency

“Despite Benny’s fame and heroic status, he was plagued by demons and his descent into alcoholism played out in public as he missed weight for his biggest fights, eventually giving up the title he worked so hard to win on the scales.”

Benny had its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival in February and is an Irish/Scottish co-production.

Tobin is keen to stress the connections between Lynch and his ancestral home, a place that the fighter looked to specifically when seeking solace and a way back from the edge.

“The story is fascinating and whilst Benny was Scottish his Irish ancestry and the unique ties between Ireland and Scotland made it a perfect fit for Irish television and Scottish television, which so rarely come around as a filmmaker,” he says.

Source: British Pathé/YouTube

“In the mid-1930s he made a trip to a monastery in Waterford to dry out and fight his demons but it was just temporary relief. Wherever he went, however great his victories, Benny Lynch was always drawn back to the Gorbals, to the bars and the slums of his roots and his connection to the city he loved.”

Tobin, who says he’s drawn to tales that are ‘stranger than fiction’, feels Benny is just that.

“It is a story that has everything – an immigrant fighting his way out of grinding poverty in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, becoming champion of the world, dazzling the world with his skills and then losing the title in dubious circumstances.

Boxing is a sport that the Irish dominated for decades around the turn of the twentieth century. With little professional boxing at home, the ‘Fighting Irish’ made their fortunes overseas, particularly in America. Yet one of the greatest Irish fighters of them all is largely forgotten in the land of his forefathers.”

Benny, directed by Andrew Gallimore, screens this Saturday on TG4 at 7.15pm. 

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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