Irish travellers still stage brutal bare-knuckle fight between clans.

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John Joe Joyce fights Barney ‘The Gorilla’ McGinley 2008

Patrick ‘Jaws’ Ward

‘Shrek’ Joyce fighting Martin Quinn McDonagh 2008

THOUSANDS of spectators converged in Ireland last summer for of the one most hyped bare-knuckle fights between traveller fighters. Patrick ‘Jaws’ Ward beat Barney McGinley in a brutal fight which left both boxers bloodied and bruised. The tough fight went ahead despite a huge police operation around Athlone, County Westmeath, to prevent spectators from gathering. DVDs of the bruising encounter were selling fast from casual traders around Ireland within hours.

       Unlike traditional contests, held to settle a dispute, the fight between McGinley and Jaws Ward was a purely a prize fight with hundreds of thousands of euro being staked on the result. It has nothing to do with the mythical title ‘King of the Travellers’. But despite an apparent clear-cut victory sources claim that a re-match is being already being demanded. ‘Jaws’ Ward issued his original challenge to McGinley from Castlerea Prison while serving time for possession of a shotgun.

       It came after McGinley defeated a member of the Joyce family and some bragging claims were reported in a newspaper. McGinley retorted that he would break Ward’s jaw when released from prison. Ironically, it emerged that Jaws Ward’s run-in with the law which landed him in jail arose out of the disputed outcome of another bare-knuckle fight.

       Ward, who has been the victim of a shooting in Manchester, was also at Ballymote Cemetery in May 1999, when his uncle ‘Deuce’ Ward was shot dead. That incident is also said to have resulted from feud over a 1986 bare-knuckle fight in London. Ward, a former amateur English international boxer, had Paddy Doherty from Manchester as his ‘fair play’ man to referee the fight. Barney McGinley drafted in Joe 'The Hulk' Joyce to ensure he got ‘fair play’ in the contest.

       With garda checkpoints set up around Westmeath, the fight was hastily re-arranged to take place on a gravel road close to Moate. Doherty told the fighters: “The first one who puts in dirt, you’re beat. May the best man win – lets get it on.”

There are no breaks in bare-knuckle boxing and the fight continues until a boxer is knocked out or gives up. Both men displayed skills learned in official boxing rings and neither were shy about getting stuck in to each other. It was appreciated by the handful of spectators, one shouts: “Good fight. Good f**king fight.”

       The fair play men warned everyone to keep their phones turned off, fearing a leak of the location would spark chaos. After six minutes both men swapped a series of thudding combinations. But Jaws began to look more comfortable, exploiting his greater reach and launching quick counter-punches. After ten minutes McGinley had clearly tired and Ward moved in to try and finish his dogged opponent. McGinley is no slouch but two minutes later as he moves out from a left jab, Ward connects with his right and McGinley hits the ground heavily.

       “Get it on, boys,” one of the fair play men shouted as McGinley, refuses to concede. He gamely tries to take the fight to Ward, but Ward connects with five more punishing right hooks. McGinley is shaken but stayed on his feet until Ward launched another double combination and McGinley hit the ground again. He continued to pummel McGinley who is out on his feet until eventually he signals that he is finished. The pair shook hands as the fair play men have a quick discussion about whether or not it was a fair fight. Jaws Ward’s group then travelled to meet up with a bigger group of friends and supporters. Amid the jubilant scenes, Ward was hugged and kissed. As one fan shouted that he was ‘Number One’, the towering fighter replied: “I’m number one at nothing lads.” But his fair play man Joe ‘The Hulk Joyce wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion on the fight. Joyce, now in his fifties fought against McGinley’s father early last year in a bare-knuckle contest that descended into chaos after Joyce was accused of biting his opponent’s ear.

       “Barney McGinley was claiming he was the best in the world – Number One in the world,” Joyce told the camera. “He put up a good fight with Paddy Ward. Paddy Ward was too strong for him at the end of it and manfully broke up Barney McGinley,” said The Hulk. Jaws Ward then stood in to stop any more comments being made saying: “There’s nothing else to say. There’s no point kicking a man…” The fighter then invited any who wanted to join him for a pint at a pub in Offaly.

       Unfortunately in recent years bare-knuckle fights have usually started more rows than they have finished. The outbreak of feud violence in Mullingar began after a fighter from the Quinn-McDonaghs beat one of the Nevins in July 2007. It spiralled into full-scale riots after taunts were swapped between other members of the clans and resulted in serious physical attacks and assaults. The County Westmeath town also bore the brunt of a feud which erupted between the Nevins and the McGinley clan when a fighter was accused of biting another during a fight. That resulted in a series of paramilitary style gun attacks in which cars were rammed and shot at.

       The popularity of DVDs has also added a commercial element to the bare-knuckle matches with recording being sold by casual traders.

One boxing coach who trains amateur fighters in the official game, fears that a traveller fighter could be killed. “These guys are getting bigger and stronger. They are doing more work in the gym and getting more powerful. They can deliver big punches,” he said. “On top of that there’s no medics on hand and no-one wants to be the one to call a halt to a fight until someone falls down. It’s a matter of time before someone gets killed,” he added.


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