Donald McRae In Sunshine & In Shadow – How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles

An Evening with Donald McRae on his recent book “In Sunshine & In Shadow – How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles”

Thursday April 23rd at The Back Page

Get tickets now…


Join us at The Back Page for an in-depth chat with Donald McRae – the legendary sportswriter & two-time William Hill Sports Book of the Year Writer on his recent book “In Sunshine & In Shadow – How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles” (Shortlisted for the 2019 William Hill Sports Book of The Year)

‘One of the most captivating boxing writers on the planet’ – Barry McGuigan

‘[An] outstanding and important book, Don McRae’s powerful storytelling shows the courage of the people of the North’  – Andy Lee
Sports Book of the Year 2019 – Malachy Clerkin (Irish Times)
Multi-award-winning author Donald McRae’s stunning new book is a powerful tale of hope and redemption across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland – thanks to boxing.
At the height of the Troubles, Gerry Storey ran the Holy Family gym from the IRA’s heartland territory of New Lodge in Belfast. Despite coming from a family steeped in the Republican movement, he insisted that it would be open to all. He ensured that his boxers were given a free pass by paramilitary forces on both Republican and Loyalist sides, so they could find a way out of the province’s desperate situation. In the immediate aftermath of the 1981 Hunger Strikes, Storey would also visit the Maze prison twice a week to train the inmates from each community, separately. In itself, this would be a heroic story, but Storey went further than that: he became the trainer for world champion Barry McGuigan and Olympian Hugh Russell, who became one of the most famous photographers to document the Troubles. Even with all his success and the support of both sides, Storey still found himself subjected to three bomb attacks from those who were implacably hostile to any form of reconciliation. He also worked with the Protestant boxer Davy Larmour, who fought two bloody battles in the ring against Russell, his Catholic friend. At the same time, in Derry, the British and European lightweight champion Charlie Nash fought without bitterness after his brother was killed and his father was shot on Bloody Sunday – the most infamous day of the conflict.

Now, Donald McRae reveals the extraordinary tale of those troubled times. After years of research and intimate interviews with the key characters in this story, he shows us how the violent business of boxing became a haven of peace and hope for these remarkable and compassionate men. In Sunshine or in Shadow is an inspirational story of triumph over adversity and celebrates the reconciliation that can take place when two fighters meet each other in the ring, rather than outside it.

Malachy Clerkin – Irish Times Sports Book of the Year Review

“The more you think about the Troubles, the more you dig into what daily life was like in such a broken society for so long, the harder it is to get a picture of how normality could have looked and felt. Life in Belfast and Derry was more than bombs and bullets, of course it was. But the stories of how people got on, how something as ordinary as sport managed to survive it all, have been sparingly told. And almost never this well.

Donald McRae has done a masterful job here. He has taken Gerry Storey, the man behind the Holy Family boxing club in Belfast, and walked through the best and worst of it all with him. He is the hub of the book and around him McRae tells the stories of four other great Ulster boxing figures of the times – Barry McGuigan, Hugh Russell, Davy Larmour and Charlie Nash.

Storey is a miraculous figure, nothing short of it. Holy Family was a place where fighters from both sides of the divide were truly welcome and truly safe, even as the horrors of a dirty, trust-less war were a fact of life beyond the door. His family had deep and real IRA bona fides and yet he was able to rely on the protection of the north’s most dangerous loyalists paramilitaries to bring his boxers anywhere in Belfast without having to look over his shoulder. He survived three attempts on his life all the same – somewhere around level par, considering.

With so much violence and tragedy and workaday double crossing, it would be easy for this sort of book to feel too heavy or too worthy. In McRae’s hands, it never does. The key, as ever, are the characters. McGuigan is his usual compelling self. Nash never quite shakes the death of his brother Willie on Bloody Sunday. Larmour and Russell are nearly worth a book in themselves, rivals in the same weight division from either side of the sectarian divide but brothers too, somehow.

It opens with Bloody Sunday and comes to its crescendo with McGuigan’s night of nights against Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road. McRae doesn’t overplay anything – boxing didn’t solve the Troubles or bring peace to the province or any of that jazz. No, it just got on with getting on, a small snatch of ordinary life that makes for an extraordinary book.”

Donald McCrae Biography

Donald McCrae was born in South Africa, not far from Johannesburg, and his love of writing and sport developed during the surreal days of apartheid. Over the last twenty-odd years he’s written about prostitutes and heart surgeons, criminal lawyers and sporting icons, as well as my family in South Africa. In 2003 The Guardian asked him to write their weekly sports interview.

He is a two-time winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and a three-time Sports Interviewer of the Year. In 2018 and 2019 I was named as the Sports Feature Writer of the Year – meaning that he’s won this award, which is presented by the UK’s Sports Journalists’ Association, on three occasions. Follow him on @donaldgmcrae

Sign up to our mailing list below for news of our upcoming events:

Contact Us Now…

Your Email

Your Message

Menu Menu

Your Email

Your Message