William Mc Laughlin is recognisable as a Middleweight boxer for Dolce&Gabbana Italia Thunder not only for his unorthodox all-action fighting style, but in proudly displaying the Irish flag after every bout he wins.
That’s a sign of a lad who remembers where he comes from, a boy who’s proud of his roots, and why wouldn’t he, he’s from Donegal in Ireland, a part of the world whose natives are famed for their down-to-earth attitudes, openness and more than bit of wild determination.
Donegal is different to the rest of Ireland, it’s the most remote and wild region. The landscape is of a savage beauty that tops anything you would see in Scotland or New Zealand, it’s geographically separated from the rest of the Republic with many calling it the ‘Alaska’ of Ireland. It offers a different pace of life than the rest of the island. McLaughlin recalls how he first started boxing, “Well me and my brother started when I was 9 and he was 10 our dad used to also box we used to walk to the gym which was 5 miles away at the time our mother and father would bring us. Now I'm in a gym in the Illies in the countryside were I am from,” he says. This is indicative of a different way of life, a five-mile (8 km)walk to the gym and back, even today is not considered at all out of the ordinary.
The county has a long and proud history of rebellion and resistance to British rule over the centuries and when in 1921, the Treaty was signed to divide the island of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, although Donegal technically was within the province of Ulster, it was considered too nationalistic to be absorbed into the United Kingdom, it became a refuge for Ulster’s Nationalists and a bastion of Nationalist ideology. It’s something that’s ingrained in the people of Donegal and explains William’s love of the flag.
Donegal is also Ireland’s poorest county, traditionally it was the natural hinterland to the city of Derry, which was absorbed into Northern Ireland, leaving Donegal to fend for itself. However, the knock-on effect of this is that Donegal has, of all the counties of Ireland probably the strongest sense of community. McLaughlin explains, “Well the local gym believe it our not, is my old school it was my also my dads old school. My dad and a few others decided to start a boxing club in it in 1998 so I guess I've been in the gym most of my life now it's a very old building but it has all you need”.
McLaughlin’s boxing story is one of humble beginning starting out on a long road to success that brought him to Milan and Italia Thunder, with silver medals at the National Boxing Championships and the European Championships along the way. While we watch him compete against some of the world’s best in far-flung destinations such as Kazakhstan, it might nearly never have happened as William, like so many of Donegal’s young sporting talent, could have been drawn to the county’s true sporting passion Gaelic Football.
Gaelic Football is an indigenous sport to Ireland, and combines the rules of football with rules similar to rugby, it has much in common with Australian Rules football. As Ireland’s most popular sport, regularly drawing crowds of over 80,000 it is a game that holds special significance for Donegal men. The GAA or Gaelic Athletic Association historically played an important role in the resurgence of Irish nationalism and the formation of the State, it still maintains strong links to nationalism and is deeply embedded in rural communities and their way of life.
“Boxing wouldn't be very big (in Donegal), but quite big with me as everyone in the area and in Donegal knows me from the boxing. So a lot of people get behind me and support me really well and always watch my progress. People play a lot of Gaelic football and soccer in the community,” says William. When asked what he’d be doing if not boxing it’s Gaelic Football that would occupy his time; “I would be playing Gaelic football for my county so I would. I still play a little but not so much since I started WSB, I also play a lot of soccer to a high standard so it would be some other sport for sure.”
Donegal, for such a sparsely populated county, with a population of 160,000, has given Ireland more than it’s fair share of sporting heroes from Packie Bonner and Shay Given who both played in goal for the Republic of Ireland, Celtic legend Patsy Gallacher to the entire current Donegal Gaelic Football Team who are 2012 Senior All Ireland Champions. William is just another in a long line of sporting successes for the county.
When asked about whether he’d encourage his children to take up the boxing gloves McLaughlin inevitably says he’d steer his children towards the more community-based GAA or soccer. “. No ,I wouldn't force my children to box but if they wanted to do it I would let them do it I would want them more to play Gaelic games or soccer. I think in boxing, there is a tendency to neglect the boxer and look after him the way they should. They don’t listen to the boxer regarding weight issues and what he wants, they put themselves first. That's my reason I wouldn't force them to box anyway. It’s good to keep young kids in good shape and to keep them off the streets. I find it also teaches them a lot of manners. I don't know any boxers who'd always be on the street fighting and drinking and stealing and things like that."