Irish sport loves a bandwagon to jump on and so it's been fascinating to view 'official Ireland's' reaction to Tyson Fury's heavyweight title win last night. We've seen no press releases by Michael Ring. No talk of Late Late Show appearances. None of the 'aren't we great for a small country' platitudes that generally accompany an Irish win in any international sport. Which makes sense. Tyson Fury grew up in the Manchester area, represented Britain as an amateur and lives in Bolton.
There's one problem though: Tyson Fury is also convinced he is Irish.
Can't beat the fighting Irish...big love to @Tyson_Fury tonight! Congrats brother!!!🔥🔥
— Maverick Sabre (@MaverickSabre) November 29, 2015
Fury is, of course, of Traveller stock. His Irish roots are also clear, even if they have proven difficult to legally establish. His father John, apparently, was born in Galway and his mother is from Belfast. Fury once fought out of a gym in Monaghan and represented Ireland twice in boxing, according to the Manchester Evening News, against Poland and the US, but had to stop after disputes over his eligibility. These disputes prevented Fury from fighting for Ireland in the 2008 Olympics.
It wasn't until 2011 that Fury got his paperwork in order and established his Irish credentials, as this odd BBC report (with Fury in an Antrim jersey) teases out:
Fury defeated Martin Rogan in 2012 to win the vacant Irish heavyweight title, and days before he beat Steve Cunningham in New York in 2013, Fury was talking up his Irish credentials to the website Irish Central:
I think I have showed my true colours over the years. I vacated the British and Commonwealth titles, which some people say are more prestigious than the Irish title, but not to me. I vacated those belts for an Irish title shot because it meant more to me.
All my people are from Ireland. I was born in Manchester but I am Irish. I have lived in Ireland, visited all my life and when I fight I represent Ireland. It means a lot to me as does the support I get when I fight in Belfast.
Eamonn Dillon's 2013 book Gypsy Empire says that it took a legal affidavit from Andy Lee's father to prove once and for all that Fury's Irish credentials were legitimate:
Tyson Fury, in turn, had to fight more than one battle eventually to claim the Irish title. The massive Manchester-born fighter first had to convince the Boxing Union of Ireland that he had enough Irish roots to qualify him to fight for the title under an Irish licence. It took an affidavit from his uncle, the father of another top professional fighter from Limerick, Andy Lee, to convince the authorities that his grandmother hailed from Galway.
Gypsy Empire sheds some light on the boxing career of Fury's father, 'Gypsy' John Fury, who was born in Tuam, grew up mostly in Lancashire and had a middling career in the ring. John Fury believed his son's future would be in the boxing ring and named him after Mike Tyson. Dillon also has information on incident that landed John Fury in prison for in 2011: when he gouged out the eye of 'adversary' Oathie Sykes. John Fury was released from prison earlier this year and was in Fury's corner last night.
Now it's possible, and acceptable, that 'official Ireland' finds Fury's views on homosexuals repellent and wants nothing to do with him. But it's notable that outside of Ireland's boxing circles, there has been very little noise about Fury's win. He thanked his Irish fans last night twice after beating Klitschko. This tweet by Padraig MacLochlainn was about all I saw from Ireland's political classes:
Many people have claimed Irishness over the years in the name of sport. Whether Ireland wants him or not, it seems that Tyson Fury is also Ireland's world heavyweight champion.