The publican pair took to the ring in the Courteney Lodge Hotel as part of a novel effort to raise funds for the ‘Knights of WestFest’ which runs from 12th to 16th September this year and at which the Saw Doctors are the headline act.
As it happened, The Church Street Assassin “was assassinated” in the fight (by his own subsequent admission).
But this pugilistic publican pairing were by no means alone on an action-packed evening witnessed by around 1,000 in the hotel itself and by many more through a satellite link-up beamed to the Cock & Bull in Bondi Beach.
Gearoid dreamed up the funding stunt via Facebook.
“It started out when we just put a bit up on the Facebook page looking for people to give us ideas for fundraisers for WestFest,” he stated, “A young chap from town wrote up ‘Why don’t you get Johnny Fitzgerald and Gearoid Whelan to have a fight?’. It was only for a laugh but the idea kind of took off.”
Gearoid then put up a tough-talking promotional video on YouTube for a bit of craic as ticket sales were proving poor and Johnnie followed this up with one of his own in response. Soon, other ‘fighters’ were doing likewise and the promotional videos for the fight night got over 25,000 hits.
“We got a few more lads involved and it turned into a full-on white-collar boxing night,” recalls Gearoid, “It wasn’t just publicans either – we roped in a few lads from town and from the rugby club. We’d 750 tickets sold – a total sell-out – and could have sold another 500 if we’d had the room.”
On the night itself, the pair were joined by a number of fellow publicans such as Kevin ‘Racenight’ O’Shea of Club Mission nightclub and bar in Church Street and ‘Smokin’ Joe Lee of Lee’s Bar of the Square Newcastle West.
Soon they in turn were joined by Brian ‘Little Bang’ Casey from the Ballintemple Inn, Churchtown, Kevin ‘Blackie’ Daly from The Shamrock Bar in South Quay and from where Seamus ‘Gouger’ Cleary from Cleary’s Bar also jumped into the ring as did Wayne ‘Lights Out’ and Robbie ‘Mad Dog’ Cronin from Dan Cronin’s Bar in the Square.
Prior to the fights, Gavin Healy and Peter William of Rathkeale Boxing Club coached the partaking publicans for four hours a week over six weeks.
The atmosphere was summed up for Closing Time by the event’s MC broadcaster and journalist Seamus Hennessy:
“It was a captivating night, capturing the imagination of townspeople and every member of the community of West Limerick. Over 1,000 people attended the event, even prompting ticket sales on the black market as it was a sell-out gig some three weeks before the actual fights took place.
“Onlookers were totally surprised as they were expecting something totally different. But it was run in an Olympic-style fashion.”
Co-incidentally, as the countdown for the real Olympics got underway in London, this event took place at the same time with members of the Caruth family, no less, present in the Courtenay Lodge Hotel audience.
“The event also fostered a tremendous camaraderie that never existed heretofore among the licensed trade in the West,” claimed Seamus, “If this is an indication of what the West felt on the night, then County Limerick can brace itself for a ‘megafest’ when it comes to the WestFest.
“We never thought that the place was so ready to rumble, but after this event, anything’s possible!”