Irish business profile: Turlough McConnell
“One of the highlights of my career was being at the Guildhall with the Clintons. It was possibly the most exciting public day of my life, because you experienced history in the making. You saw how it happened and how it could continue to happen. And you realized that there are no excuses for not fully engaging with that.”
The Fighting Irish
Turlough was back in town for the launch by Barry McGuigan of the Fighting Irish exhibition at the Ulster American Folk Park. The exhibition originated at the famed Irish Arts Center under the leadership of New York real estate mogul and sports enthusiast Jim Houlihan. Turlough immediately saw the potential of the show and he was very much involved in taking it to Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Museum and then for several months to Boston College. Along the way he thought it would be ideal to take to Ireland. When he met Pat O’Donnell from the Ulster American Folk Park at a symposium last year, a great idea was born.
“The Fighting Irish follows Irish American history through boxing. We’ve seen so many boxing movies but probably not realized the huge Irish input into the sport,” he says. A quick glance through the roster of famous Irish American boxers brings the point home: Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett, and Jim ‘Cinderella Man’ Braddock, to name a few.
Even now, the Irish are making their mark. Maureen ‘Moe’ Shea is known as ‘The Real Million Dollar Baby’. The record-breaking super featherweight trained Hilary Swank and sparred with her for the film. The pair trained together at Gleason’s Gym, New York City’s boxing Mecca.
Turlough is delighted at how popular the exhibition is proving. “There are so many wonderful artifacts in this exhibition, for example Liam Neeson’s boxing gloves. Liam always says that had it not been for the boxing club, he definitely would have taken his energies in a different direction, given the situation in the North when he was growing up.
“This exhibition is bringing in people who are not the usual museum goers. There are trips from gyms, with loads of young people travelling up for the day.