Monaghan, John Joseph (‘Rinty’) (1918–84), boxer, was born 21 August 1918 at 23 Lancaster St., Belfast, eldest son amongst three sons and four daughters of Thomas Monaghan, sailor, and Martha Monaghan (née Wilson). He was educated locally but left school aged 11 to work as a labourer in the Belfast docks. He began boxing at an early age and had his first professional fight aged just 14 at flyweight, drawing with Boy Ramsay at Belfast's Chapel Fields. He remained at flyweight for the remainder of his long career. Although he was not the most gifted boxer technically, his energetic style (made possible by a punishing training regime and superb natural fitness levels) and excellent footwork meant he remained undefeated in his first three years as a professional. His high-pressure boxing style and charismatic ring persona (he often sang to the crowd after fights, and his nick-name ‘Rinty’ came from the canine film star Rin-Tin-Tin) earned him an enthusiastic following among Belfast fight fans and he became a local hero in the docks area. His first major reverse came in July 1938, when he was knocked out by the emerging Scottish flyweight, Jackie Paterson, a defeat that began a career-long rivalry between the two boxers. Although he returned to winning ways after this defeat, his career was severely curtailed by the advent of the second world war, and he fought only eight times between 1939 and 1945. During the war he enlisted in the merchant navy and, after being shipwrecked in 1941, worked as an ambulance driver in Belfast. In 1943 he formed a musical trio, ‘The Three Hillbillies’, which later toured Normandy entertaining allied troops after D-Day.
His career took off after the war and he put together a string of convincing wins, including victories over Eddie Doran (which earned him the Irish flyweight title) and a first-round knock-out of the highly rated English fighter, Terry Allen. A series of excellent performances in 1946 and 1947, largely in front of an adoring Belfast audience, earned him an NBA title fight against the Hawaiian boxer Dado Marino (October 1947) and, in perhaps his finest fight, he came back from an eleventh-round knock-down to outpoint Marino. He then delighted the large crowd at the Harringay Arena, London, and the huge BBC radio audience by singing his trademark song, ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’. On 23 March 1948 he comprehensively outclassed his old rival Jackie Paterson at the King's Hall, Belfast, to become the undisputed world flyweight champion, the first home-based Irish boxer to hold a world title. The seventh-round knockout also earned him Paterson's British and commonwealth belts. He defended his title on just two occasions, outpointing Maurice Sandeyron in a fine fight in April 1949 (and adding the Frenchman's European title to his list of honours) before facing Terry Allen (30 September 1949). In a poor fight, and obviously affected by the breathing difficulties that would force his retirement, he did just enough to draw with the younger fighter and retain his titles. In March 1950 he retired from the ring as undisputed world, European, commonwealth, and British champion, with a professional record of fifty-one victories (nineteen by knock-out), six draws, and nine defeats from his sixty-six contests. One of Ireland's most successful and popular fighters, in 1969 he became the first boxer to be inducted into the Texaco Hall of Fame.
Although he had earned a considerable amount of money in the ring, his early retirement and cavalier approach to financial management forced him to work in a variety of jobs after the end of his fight career. He worked as a cabaret artist with his own band for several years but, although popular, the band was never successful financially. He later worked as a taxi driver and petrol pump attendant in Belfast and remained a much-loved figure on both sides of the sectarian divide in the city, particularly for his frequent cabaret performances for various charities. He died 3 March 1984 and was buried at the city cemetery, Belfast.
He married (26 December 1938) Frances Thompson; they lived at 34 Little Corporation St., Belfast, and had four children.