Noble boxing initiative gives kids a fighting chance
The peace process has been packed with episodes highlighting Belfast's evolving relationship with Washington. Next Saturday another chapter will be written in the tale of the cities when young Washingtonian boxers square off against Belfast talent.
If you're just hearing about the first Northern Ireland hosting of the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project (BBBP) at the Europa Hotel, unfortunately, you probably won't be attending. Such is the pugilistic programme's popularity that few tickets remain on sale.
Having been staged in Washington for the last four years, the BBBP has made it onto the radar of many boxing enthusiasts inside the interstate highway 495 'beltway' that encircles the US capital.
The guest of honour last spring was Micky Ward - the Lowell, Massachusetts one-time junior welterweight champion whose story was told in the 2010 Oscar-nominated film The Fighter.
As inspiring as the BBBP may be currently, heartbreak and tragedy gave birth to it.
Several years back, news about the spike in teen suicides in Ardoyne began filtering across to America, where it deeply touched people like Emmanuel Quinn.
Born and reared in Ardoyne, Quinn left for America as a 15-year-old in 1989. Settling first in Massachusetts, he eventually landed in Washington DC, where he now works as bar manager in the city's Bobby Van's steakhouse.
In 2003, as the Ardoyne suicide crisis grew, his father, Charles Quinn, revived Ardoyne's dormant boxing scene by opening the Ardoyne Holy Cross Boxing Club in the basement of Holy Cross church.
Meanwhile, Quinn sat down with a group of friends in Washington to brainstorm ways to help. "When I was growing up in Ardoyne, the things that kept us out of trouble were the boxing gyms and Gaelic football," Emmanuel said.
"[Emmanuel] was telling us what was happening back in Belfast and [expressing] his frustration that there did not seem to be something for these kids to do," said Billy Tranghese, a long-time aide to Congressman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat long involved in Irish affairs.
"And we thought that it would be a great idea to try to help support the boxing club and also figure out a way to get them here to box young kids from similar economic backgrounds in the greater Washington DC area."
Until this week, the BBBP's annual tournaments have only been held in Washington. But, as a result of its fundraisers having scrimped for years to get the DC boxers to Belfast, Tranghese said this week will see kids from Washington "who wouldn't ordinarily have the chance to travel get the chance to go abroad".
During their five-day visit, the Washington boxers will be accompanied by their Belfast counterparts on visits to several venues, including Stormont, Belfast City Hall and the Ardoyne Holy Cross Boxing Club.
Emmanuel Quinn said that, at the end of the day, while staging boxing events is important, the BBBP also has broader goals, such as raising enough money to offer inner-city youths in both cities scholarships to pursue higher education.
If you can't catch the BBBP at the Europa on Saturday, don't worry. The BBBP is already preparing for its next extravaganza at a date to be decided in April or May.
Unfortunately for Belfast fight fans, that next round will be in Washington DC.