Impossible to escape it, Brian Kerr is full of surprises.
He is considered the quintessential Dub, but his roots in Belfast played a big part in his formation.
Many consider him the ultimate soccer man, but boxing has always been at the heart of his athletic affections.
It is because of his father – one of the great Irish boxers, Frankie Kerr.
A special talent
Frankie was a special talent. If things had been different, he could very well have been the first Olympic boxing medalist in Ireland – he was so good.
“He won the trials to go to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, but he was only 16 and the guys in charge here decided he was too young to go,” Kerr said.
“They changed the minimum age to 17 after that for the national championships so I think my Da is still the youngest Irish champion ever.
“He ended up winning six Irish titles – one at flyweight, four at bantamweight and another at featherweight.
“Ireland boycotted the 1936 Olympics, so they missed that one too, but a year later got a bronze medal at the European Championships in Milan.”
Frankie lost to Ulderico Sergo, who won Olympic gold in Berlin in 1936.
But the consensus among those watching was that the Irish should have had the verdict, but Sergo was well connected …
“He was unlucky to run into Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law so it wasn’t going to go well,” Kerr said.
“The organizers actually awarded him a special medal as” Europe’s most scientific boxer “after these championships.
“It took a long time to get back, between taking boats and trains, and he stopped in Paris for another fight.
“I still have a card he sent from there to my mother with the Eiffel Tower. They were getting ready to get married and there was a bit about the wedding preparations. Then downstairs he wrote ‘won easy tonight, see you soon ‘. “
“He never really talked about it”
Frankie was reportedly one of the favorites for the gold medal at the 1940 Olympics – which were called off due to the outbreak of war.
Regardless, he had quit boxing at just 22 a year earlier. Frankie was never one to talk about his accomplishments in the ring or his wanderings as a child.
But there were times when her son had some idea of what he had accomplished and experienced.
“He never really talked about it. I learned a lot about what he had done from reading boxing history,” Kerr said.
“I used to collect stamps and letters and cards came from all over the world for my Da.
“There was one from the prince of Mesopotamia – ‘oh, I was playing with him.’
“There were also trophies, nice trophies. We cleaned them up later. One of them was like Ardagh’s chalice.
“It was a time when nobody went on vacation abroad or anything like that, but he was fighting all over the world.
“Maybe that was one of the reasons he stopped fighting so young. He had a family, was taking up his tailoring trade. It would have been difficult to be this far from home.”
Frankie’s background was colorful. His own father was a British Army officer, a member of the Raj in India.
This is where Frankie donned a pair of gloves for the first time. His first fight took place in Baghdad. His father’s military career took him to Egypt and Mesopotomy as well. This is where Frankie started chatting with the young prince.
The family fell in love with cricket and hockey. When he later moved from Belfast to Dublin, Franke would play hockey for Three Rock Rovers.
Kerr traces the family roots back to his father’s side in Scotland. After leaving India, the family lived in England, moving from the Isle of Wight to Aldershot in Belfast, then Frankie settled in Dublin.
He then co-founded the Drimnagh Boxing Club – which produced Ireland’s first Olympic champion in the ring in Michael Carruth.
“I tried myself for a while – it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t brave enough, I don’t think so, and my dad admitted that I was more suited to football. then to hurling and Gaelic soccer… too.
“My brothers boxed a bit but I think dad thought it was difficult for us because we would always be compared to him.”
Frankie became a trainer after hanging up his gloves and was in charge of boxers at Trinity College for years.
Sometimes his son would follow him to the college gymnasium or to tournaments in different clubs, enjoying the sights and sounds.
“One of the things that stands out is the bandaging of the hands before the fights,” Kerr said.
“There would be no discussion. It would be oddly quiet, almost like a religious ceremony.
“That tension in the air – you could almost touch it. I loved being in the locker room sanctuary when this was happening. You felt you were part of the inner sanctum of something precious.”
In January 1968, Frankie Kerr died of pneumonia. He was only 51, Brian was 14.
Over the years, her son became more and more eager to learn more about Frankie’s career.
“Oddly enough, one of my Saturday morning chores growing up was polishing the lino in the hallway,” he said.
“And I would use one of his international vests to do it. We didn’t know how valuable this stuff was.
“But a few years ago a guy managed to find one in a store in the Naul district of Dublin.
“There was a vest with a little tag on it – ‘Frankie Kerr, Irish Champion’, so it’s great to have that now.”