Belfast Telegraph

Barrier-breaking Framptons are a quiet inspiration

By Fionola Meredith

It's ironic that boxing – a sport in which two people fight to knock the living daylights out of each other – has an incredible way of bringing people together here.

It happened first with the united support for Barry McGuigan. "Leave the fighting to McGuigan": that was the old mantra. Now it's happening again with Carl Frampton – McGuigan's protégé, a young man with enormous talent and self-assurance, originally from loyalist Tigers Bay – following his victory over Kiko Martinez, to secure the world IBF super-bantamweight title at the Titanic Quarter on Saturday night.

McGuigan recognises the paradox. "Peace be with you – and you were punching someone in the mouth," he says. "But boxing was an olive branch. Boxing allowed you to do things nobody else could do."

Frampton gets it too: "In boxing we're allowed to come together. Protestants and Catholics, the north and south, everyone. I'm in an Irish vest, even on a mural in Tigers Bay, because boxing brings the communities together."

Just like McGuigan, this healthy disregard for sectarian boundaries is visible in Frampton's private life, too.

While McGuigan, a Catholic, married Sandra, his childhood sweetheart, who just happened to be a Protestant, Frampton has done the same, only in reverse. His wife Christine is from republican Poleglass, which is a very long way – psychologically if not geographically – from the interface at Tigers Bay where her husband grew up.

They don't make a big thing of it. Barry McGuigan says that what's vital is the boxing, not personal stories."This is not something we like to talk about these days," he says. "We want to leave that old rubbish behind."

And neither Carl nor Christine strike you as people who want to pose or posture as symbols of hope and progress for the next generation. I don't imagine they'd relish some hyped-up technicolour image of themselves as a hands-across-the-barricades romance, or a latter-day parable of cross-community harmony.

They're just getting on with their lives, happy and settled in Lisburn, where they're bringing up their little girl Carla, who's the very image of her daddy.

But Carl and Christine Frampton are important, and quietly inspirational, because they're emblematic of the defiantly apolitical side of Northern Ireland, a place where many of us choose to live.

It's a place where the tribal drums, while still audible, don't define who we are, or what we might become.

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