Barney Eastwood obituary: Boxing promoter and savvy businessman

Despite commercial success Eastwood best remembered for link with Barry McGuigan

 Barry McGuigan held aloft by manager Barney Eastwood on his return to Belfast – with wife Sandra and son Blain – after beating Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road, London, to win the WBA world featherweight title in 1985. Photograph: Pacemaker

Barry McGuigan held aloft by manager Barney Eastwood on his return to Belfast – with wife Sandra and son Blain – after beating Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road, London, to win the WBA world featherweight title in 1985. Photograph: Pacemaker

 

Barney Eastwood
Born: March 26th, 1932
Died: March 9th, 2020

Boxing promoter and bookmaker Barney Eastwood has died at the age of 87.

Eastwood, from Holywood, Co Down, died on Monday at the Ulster Hospital on the outskirts of Belfast after a period of illness.

Known to friends and family as BJ, Eastwood made his name in the bookmaking business, building up a large chain of shops across Northern Ireland. In 2008, he sold his 54 shops to Ladbrokes in a deal worth £135 million.

Despite his success in bookmaking, Eastwood was best known for his work as a boxing promoter and manager, particularly his association with former world champion Barry McGuigan.

After years of success together, Eastwood’s relationship with the “Clones Cyclone” ultimately soured, culminating in an acrimonious legal dispute.

A spokesman for the family confirmed Eastwood’s death. “BJ’s passing has brought great sadness to the family as well as the whole community in Holywood where he was a very visible resident for the past 50 years,” he said. “All who knew him will miss his remarkable charm.”

The family has appealed for privacy.

Eastwood was born in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, on March 26th, 1932, to John Charles Eastwood and Mary Gertrude Campbell.

He was educated at St Patrick’s College, Armagh, until the age of 15.

The teenage Eastwood was a talented Gaelic footballer and won an All-Ireland medal at minor level with Tyrone in 1948 – something his family said he considered his most cherished achievement.

He met his wife, Frances, while working at his brother’s shoe shop in Cookstown, where she was employed as a secretary.

They married, aged 19, and moved to Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, where he bought a public house with an inheritance from his late mother.

Although he started out as a publican, and also worked as an undertaker, he soon turned to the bookmaking trade, opening his first betting shop in the 1950s.

In 2008 Barney Eastwood sold his 54 shops to Ladbrokes in a deal worth £135m. Photograph: PA
Barney Eastwood's lucrative deal with Ladbrokes illustrated his sharp business acumen. Photograph: PA

His passion for boxing was ignited after watching organised fights at the US Army Air Force base near Ardboe, Co Tyrone, during the second World War.

He promoted many boxing shows in the 1960s and, after a break from the sport, returned to the ring in the 1980s as McGuigan’s manager.

His association with McGuigan – whose world title success became of symbol of hope through the darkness of the Troubles – helped make Eastwood a household name in the region and beyond.

McGuigan’s most famous victory – over WBA world featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road in London of June 1985 – was watched by a domestic UK TV audience of more than 19 million.

Acrimonious ending

After the highs came the lows and the friendship ended amid a high-profile legal battle following McGuigan’s world title defeat to Steve Cruz in Las Vegas in 1986.

Eastwood finally won a long-running libel action against McGuigan in 1992.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Eastwood’s Gym in Belfast was famous in boxing circles worldwide.

As well as McGuigan, he managed four other world champion boxers – Dave Boy McAuley, Paul Hodkinson, Crisanto Espana and Victor Cordoba.

Eastwood also owned or part-owned many horses and greyhounds throughout his life.

Among some notable successes was winner of the last English Greyhound Derby to be run at the White City, London, in 1980 – Indian Joe.

Eastwood is survived by his wife Frances, sons Brian, Peter, Adrian, Stephen and Fearghal, daughter Fiona, 23 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, and his sister Margaret.

He was predeceased by his son Fintan, his brothers Thomas, Joseph, John and William, and his sisters Gertrude, Johanna and Elizabeth. – PA