Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Travellers documentary is close to the Knuckle

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

The oldest sport in the world, distasteful as it may be
The oldest sport in the world, distasteful as it may be

January. The month of penance and abstinence. Nothing for it but to hunker down and see what's on Netflix. I spent an uncomfortable and compelling 90 minutes on Saturday night watching 'Knuckle', a documentary on the inter-family, bare-knuckle boxing culture between Irish travellers.

The plot was driven by a three-way feud between the Quinn McDonagh's, the Nevins and the Joyces. These men like to 'send' for each other and their battles were filmed for over a decade.

What examples of human behaviour! Joe Joyce was a grandfather who bragged about soaking his hands in petrol for 20 minutes a day for a fortnight before contests in his younger days. Two-thirds through the film we see him boxing another grandfather and we wondered just how futile this machismo is.

Film-maker Ian Palmer was drawn to James Quinn McDonagh, the toughest of all, whose last fight was a two-hour long, blood-soaked epic in a farmyard.

James seemed to make the greatest journey in questioning the culture and by the end, resolves to take up an invitation to attend a wedding in London of one of the Joyces. After all, as he explains, they are cousins after all.

Is this sport? There is a concept in the travelling community of the 'Fair Fight', where up to three referees will separate combatants if they get into a clinch. Biting of any kind leads to disqualification.

It's certainly not the entertainment industry, but it is the oldest sport in the world, distasteful as it may be. If you have the intestinal fortitude, watch it and make up your own mind.