Guard of honour by St Francis boxing club at St John's Cathedral Pictures: Dave Gaynor
FORMER WBO world boxing champion Andy Lee has led tributes to Limerick’s ‘Mr Boxing’ Noel Griffin, who was laid to rest this Saturday morning.
Noel Griffin, of Garryowen, peacefully passed away on Wednesday night at Milford Hospice, and was buried at Craughaun Cemetery in Cratloe, after the funeral Mass at St John’s Cathedral.
Noel Griffin was involved Irish boxing for more than 60 years, having served as St Francis boxing club’s honorary president and being inducted into the Irish Amateur Boxing Association’s hall of fame in 2004.
More than 40 members of St Francis boxing club gave the veteran of Irish boxing a guard of honour, as his coffin departed the cathedral.
During his hectic training schedule ahead of his March 18 comeback fight in Madison Square Garden, Lee attended the ceremony, as a close friend and former clubmate of Noel’s.
“He was there from the very start. He was always present there, every evening in the club. He was always jovial and always in good spirits. I never saw him in bad humour once in my life. Any championships, any fights, and whenever I did well and won a medal, I’d come home and he would be there.
“People like him are invaluable to clubs, because they run the whole thing. And if it weren’t for fellas like him, there would be nothing. He was just always in good form, a nice man. I used to visit his house, every now and then in Garryowen. He was a gentleman,” he told the Leader.
The Castleconnell man considered Noel to be part of “the old guard” of the club, alongside late friends Seamus ‘Archie’ Moore and Eamon Ryan.
Three weeks ago, Noel gave his final interview to the Limerick Leader from his hospital bed at Milford Hospice, where he openly discussed his encounter with death, and his long and fulfilling life of family and sport.
His last words in the interview were dedicated to his first and only love, the late Agnes ‘Aggie’ Long, whom he married in 1953.
“We have to go sometime, don’t we? Some die peacefully and some people have it harder, but you know what? I have accepted it. I have made my peace with God, and I have told my other one [Aggie] to get ready to meet me,” he laughed.
And finishing the interview, the Limerick boxing veteran said: “Now it’s time for the next adventure, and hopefully, she will be waiting for me.”
Celebrant Fr Noel Kirwan spoke admirably of Mr Griffin’s “longing to be reunited with his wife Aggie” and his “incredible work ethic”.
“Noel is one of the extraordinary people, because he had given himself up completely for his family and for his community.”
“In reading his interview with the Leader, I came across something so strong. He talked about his going to the club, and Aggie going to her club. Both of them lived their lives to the full, and they were there for each other. That was their secret, and it was such a beautiful expression of a life-long love together.”
And observing the four rows of blue-jerseyed boxers in the cathedral, Fr Kirwan said: “It is so great to see that you are here, all in blue, making a bold statement of his connection with the club. Because Noel saw the young lads and saw their potential, and he always wanted them to reach that potential.”
Noel was born on December 14, 1927, to working class parents Michael and Margaret Griffin, on Lower Glentworth Street, and had four brothers and two sisters. He became an apprentice shoemaker after attending CBS Sexton Street, and moved to London to work. And in the outskirts of the English capital, he met his wife, in 1952.
Together with his late wife Aggie, they raised a happy family of eight children in Garryowen. And in order to provide for his family, Noel had three jobs on-the-go; working as a skilled shoemaker, full-time worker at a block yard, and part-time at Krups. He was eventually appointed as a full-time employee at the old Roxboro factory.