Bare-knuckle fighters to feature at the Sundance Festival.

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INFAMOUS brawling brothers James and Michael Quinn-McDonagh are destined for the silver screen in a feature length documentary. In January the pair will be unleashed on America as the film is screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah. The bare-knuckle traveller boxers have been at the centre of some of the biggest scraps in the Irish travelling community over the last two decades.

Both men have fought all over Ireland and the UK and while James has called it quits, his younger brother still takes on challengers. Their fighting careers have not been without controversy and disputed results have caused serious feud violence between Irish traveller clans. Film-maker Ian Palmer has spent the last 12 years shadowing the pair to make the film which will be shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival next month.

The movie Knuckle has been has been shortlisted to compete in the World Cinema Documentary Competition which has a total of 12 entries. Director Ian Palmer, who filmed, wrote and narrated the movie, told the Irish Film and Television Network that he was delighted it had been selected for the film festival. “It is fantastic news that 'Knuckle' has been selected for the Sundance Film Festival. It's been a long, long journey making this film, it has been a central part of my life for the last 13 years,” he said.

“It started on a quiet country lane in County Louth in 1997 and now will finally emerge in the Rocky Mountains in Utah in 2011. It seems like a dream and I couldn't think of a better place for the film to be premičred than at Sundance,” he added. The project by Rise Films also got funding from the Irish Film Board and BBC Storyville.

Members of the Quinn-McDonagh clan have been clashing for years with both the Nevin and Joyce families based around the Irish midlands.

All three families boast some impressive bare-knuckle fighters and have sometimes resorted to taunts to provoke fighters to take up the offer of a bout. In one video, made in a bid to cajole James Quinn-McDonagh into action, members of the Joyce clan dropped their trousers and bared their backsides to insult the fighter. Many of the Quinn-McDonagh fights have already been captured on low-quality videos which have been sold at causal markets all over Ireland and the UK.

In one memorable fight James Quinn-McDonagh fought David Nevin for almost three hours in an epic struggle eventually won by McDonagh. It was claimed that €58,000 was staked on that that fight. Others haven’t lasted as long with Quinn-McDonagh knocking down Paddy ‘Lurcher’ Joyce in the space of a few minutes back in 1997. Family members always claimed that James Quinn-McDonagh did not want to fight for money but demanded purses to ensure any contender was serious. In August 2008 violence broke out in Mullingar after Thomas Nevin was beaten by Michael Quinn-McDonagh in a bare–knuckle bout.

Nevin had been knocked out but when he came to, he wanted to continue the fight which McDonagh refused having already claimed his victory.

The row broke out into violence with a riot in a Mullingar housing estate and eventually saw 64 travellers get suspended jail sentences. James Quinn-McDonagh was also the victim of a shooting just months after his win over Lurcher Joyce when a gang of masked men attacked him in a Dundalk pub. The 6’3” 18-stone traveller was held down and shot in the left leg but as he struggled a second shot missed. The boxer broke free from his attackers, despite being injured, and they fled from the scene.

Another Irish film has also been selected for the Sundance Festival, The Guard which stars Brendan Gleeson. Traveller bare—knuckle boxers have featured in the movies before with one memorable character played by Brad Pitt in the gangster movie Snatch. Vinnie Jones played a traveller bare-knuckle boxer, Smasher O’Driscoll, in a Mark Mahon directed movie, Strength and Honour, which also starred Michael Madsen.


Eamon Dillon, Sunday World, 26 September 2020.

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