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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 22 January, 2019

'All I could see was hankies. I was crying, crying, crying. I had to f**k the thing away'

Eamonn Magee admits it is hard to read the story of his life in the double award-winning ‘The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee.’

AS EAMONN MAGEE sat on one of the royal armchairs in the Dun’s Library of the Royal College of Physicians yesterday afternoon, looking out as the world passed by on Kildare Street, he smiled and shared a laugh.

For this was a good news story, the book which chronicles his extraordinary life having just won a second prestigious award in as many weeks, but at the same time, there was an unintended deeper meaning to this setting, and how he sat.

Eamonn Magee Magee pictured in Dublin yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was in that position, in similar isolation, in which it took him three months to get through the manuscript of ‘The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee’, such was the rawness of the stories, and the painful memories they evoked for the Belfast boxer.

Paul D. Gibson’s compelling biography of the former world champion is not an easy read, but a full and unedited account of his chaotic life in Belfast, set against the backdrop of the Troubles, his brushes with the law, drink, drugs, gambling, depression and the murder of his son, Eamonn Jr. 

“It’s hard reading about yourself,” the 47-year-old says. “Most definitely [harder than expected]. I remember looking down…I’ve a two-seater in my small living room and a single chair. I was sitting in the single chair and as I was reading through the book, I looked down at the left-hand side of the chair and all I could see was hankies.

“All I could see was hankies. I was crying, crying, crying, crying. I had to fuck the thing away. It was unbelievable.

“It’s hard reading about yourself. It’s okay if you’re reading about the general public but reading about yourself and you’re getting all those memories. It really stung.” 

The book was yesterday named eir Sport Sports Book of the Year 2018, beating off stiff competition from ‘Tony 10′ by Tony O’Reilly with Declan Lynch and ‘Fighter’ by Andy Lee with Niall Kelly, deputy editor of The42.

It is the second major award the book has won, having been named as joint winner of the prestigious William Hill award in the UK earlier this month — but, incredibly, the manuscript was rejected by 13 different publishers, before Cork publishers Mercier Press finally gambled on it. 

“It was as good as done, they were turning down a full book,” Gibson said. “It’s depressing, to be honest. Depressing more for the state of the publishing industry because no one was saying the book is shit or you’re not a good writer.

“A few said Eamonn was an unsympathetic character so it wouldn’t sell. One said I was too close to the subject and that hurt the writing. You take that on the chin. The rest all said it’s an unbelievable story, it’s very well written. Two or three put in the rejection letter, ‘We’ll see it in the shortlists next year but it’s not for us.’”

Gibson would have eventually published it himself, he says, having spent a year working on the project, and given it to Magee and his family, admitting he had long dismissed the idea about making any money from it. 

Eamonn Magee Former world boxing champion Eamonn Magee. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

For Magee, Belfast native Gibson was the right man to tell his barely believable story, one filled with heartache and laughter, violence and love, unthinkable lows and fleeting, glorious highs.

“It did happen that there were other ghostwriters and they were throwing money at me,” he explained. 

“They weren’t going to write it the way that I wanted to write it. But whenever I had the first conversation with Paul he accepted everything. I really have to take my hat off to Paul for the way he worded it all beautifully. All beautiful. He worded it all correctly without you feeling as bad as you should be.

“You need to be from Belfast to write that sort of story.”

Still, reliving those memories is a painful experience.

“The hardest memories to recall? There’s millions of them,” he added, shortly after the awards lunch in Dublin.

“Which one would you like me to talk about? Guns in my mouth? Guns to my head? Kidnapped or shot in the leg or shot in the chest? Stabbed in the neck? Or coming out for Round 12? You know what I mean? There’s any amounts of it.

“It’s life. And my life had loads of good moments too. that’s the thing with The Troubles – there are millions of really good memories. The bad times weren’t there all the time. My life was a beautiful life. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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Ryan Bailey

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