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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Kellie Harrington: A cleaner at a pyschiatric hospital, an LGBTQ idol, darling of her Irish neighborhood and now the boxing champion

A role model for the inner-city kids, Kellie Anne Harrington is openly lesbian, a part-time cleaner in a psychiatric hospital and someone who loves her job and the jabs.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: August 9, 2021 8:20:24 am
Kellie Anne HarringtonIreland's Kellie Anne Harrington after her bout with Brazil's Beatriz Ferreira in their women's lightweight 60-kg boxing gold medal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Buda Mendes/Pool Photo via AP)

A horse carriage from a neighbour, the bunting from a recent funeral of a loved figure is all over her street, helium balloons from a resident, gifts from the local ‘lollypop lady’, a song recorded by neighbour – the neighbourhood in Dublin’s north inner-city is waiting proudly for the return of the gold-winning Irish boxer Kellie Harrington. When she won the semi-final bout of women’s boxing lightweight event to enter the final, she plunged for the most philosophical line of our times from Lion King: “Like I said, Hakuna Matata, it means no worries.”. A role model for the inner-city kids, Harrington is openly lesbian, a part-time cleaner in a psychiatric hospital and someone who loves her job and the jabs.

It’s a long cry from her teens when she feared she might end up in prison. “That’s (prison) was a great possibility. Thankfully I didn’t. There’s no doubt it was the boxing (that turned my life around. I just needed something and boxing was cheap, cheerful and there’s a boxing club on every second corner in the inner city,” she said in 2019. “I could never have gone to sailing or GAA or horse riding. One, my family wouldn’t have had the money and two, they’re not in the area. “It’s nearly like a tradition in the inner city. Everyone has a family member who’s boxed. For me, that was my option. Growing up, you would always see people walking around with their (kit)bags or out jogging. Ever since then I haven’t looked back.”

Kellie Anne Harrington Ireland’s Kellie Anne Harrington, in red, exchanges punches with Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira during their women’s lightweight 60-kg boxing gold medal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Buda Mendes/Pool Photo via AP)

Boxing gave her gold and also a partner. She met Mandy Loughlin, who doesn’t box anymore but is a coach. “She’s not competitive anymore. But that’s how we ended up meeting. It’s a small world.”

Putting smiles on people gives her the greatest joy. Like her cleaning job at the hospital, which she has held for 10 years. She used to be in the catering department before shifted to cleaning. Some patients saw it as a demotion. “Ah Jesus, Kellie’ and I’ll say, ‘What’s wrong with you? “And she’ll say, ‘I’m so sorry you got demoted’. “I’m on the deck laughing, I’m like, ‘Don’t worry about it, someone has to do it, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it’,” she told reporters in ’18. “It’s a rewarding job for me. The job itself is not so great but it’s the interaction. They’re vulnerable people and I just like being able to go in and put a smile on their face basically.”

The Irish Times has this lovely snippet from a meeting with the parents Yvonne, the mother, and Christy Harrington, the father. Here is the mother about the strange events after her daughter’s win. “Two lads arrived from a newspaper and they wanted to photograph us sprinkling around holy water from Lourdes, ” laughed Christy.” They said no. “Then he wanted Christy to water the plants with it,” said the mother Yvonne. “I think it’s because I say I go out into the garden and pray when Kellie is on – as any mother would. But I’m not hugely religious: if you do a good turn for someone, that’s my belief.”

The father compared the thrill of watching her daughter to the famous bouts of Mohammad Ali and Jo Frazier. “I was confident watching her. You know by Kellie when she is getting into the ring when she is focused, focused. you just know she is going to give everything. It was like when we were kids, you got up to watch Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, except that was our Kellie.”

There is a famous Dublin landmark near home with an Indian connection. The Five Lamps, at the intersection of five streets that includes Harrington’s Portland Row is in honour of a general who served in India. It’s claimed that the lamps symbolise five battles fought by the British in India in the 19th century. The website Dublin Live also posits that it represents the “five lamps lit for luck during the Hindu festival”. Whatever be its origins, it’s about to turn golden in the night to celebrate the best boxer of their neighbourhood and the world.

On the fight day, the neighbourhood congregated in masks in a common area with a big screen hoisted on a pole from a tempo van. Dublin Live covered it live, breathlessly for over an hour. Buntings fluttered above their heads, drinks in their hands, and Irish cheers and screams of ‘C’mon Kellie!’ rung the air. As the seconds ticked towards the end, everyone started to scream her name. And a slight hush fell as they waited for the verdict. Raucous cheers go up as the announcer’s voice went.. ‘in the red..’ and an impromptu dance starts. Tears. Laughter. And all start to run along the rain-soaked street to Harrington’s home. The family emerges dazed, euphoric, emotional — and more screams and tears flow.

Kellie’s mother, clad in a t-shirt with her daughter’s face plastered, is joyously tearful and is hoisted upon the shoulders. On a t-shirt of her grandma, the text runs, “Hakuna Matata!” and she too finds herself on shoulders. Music blares from a speaker and dance breaks out in the street. The mother then waves a homemade banner, “Kelli, Our Golden Girl … The Olympic Champion”. And someone screams, “oh what a day!”

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