In the insult videos that get sent back and forth between the rival families, there appear to be a lot of family members who don’t even fight hurling insults and getting caught up in the emotion and sometimes carried away with alcohol.
A lot of it is back-seat drivers, as I would call them. That’s exactly what it is. A lot of those guys are back-seat drivers who never have fought in their lives going out and putting their guys up front and talking through a lot of drink, or through their backsides, should I say. If you look at the tapes that are even going around today, from the early ‘90s right up to last week, 90% of the time it will be guys who’ve never fought and never will fight. It’s very easy for those guys to say that because they don’t have to do the 12-14 weeks training, get up and leave the wife and kids, they don’t have to lose earnings from all this training (right, James training his younger brother Michael). It’s very sad.

Have you ever told these talkative guys that they shouldn’t be stoking the fire?
Yes. I’ve often spoken to them. But, you know, a lot of those tapes are made when there’s alcohol consumed. When drink is in, things come out. 

Travellers aren’t known for opening up to outsiders, so why did you allow Ian access into your lives?
As Ian probably explained to you, he came to my brother Michael’s wedding in ’97 and it just took off from there. Knuckle took on a life of its own. We invited Ian to tape a fight because our usual video guy was unavailable at the time. We invited Ian and he got hooked himself, and in turn he started coming to the fights and videotaping them for us and giving us tapes.

The families, we don’t usually open up to anybody, especially in the settled community, country people [non-Travellers]. We opened up to him and the more we opened up to him the more he came towards us and the more we came towards him and we started to build kind of a friendship, as in not just him being there hired to video the fights. It was more of a friendship thing and he started putting things together. Six, seven years down the line, he said, “You know what, James, there’s potential here for a very good documentary. What do you think of it?” I said yes. I said, “Personally I don’t give a hoot,” and he started speaking to the Nevins and Joyces and it went on from there. He put it together, did some good editing and some good [narration] and it worked for him. 


My last fight was against my first opponent’s son. I was 10 years older than him. I had to take that challenge to give the family respect.... The fight with the son lasted for two hours, 47 minutes.


What was your toughest fight?
That’s a good question. I fought Nevins and Joyces and in both families there are tough guys, but thank God I was just that little bit extra above them—not saying that I’m any good, not saying that I’m bad or I’m good. There was tough guys there. I fought a guy called Ditsy Nevin. It was my first fight. He was supposedly King of the Nevins. He lost in three minutes. I went on and fought his cousin and it lasted 47 minutes; I wasn’t ready in my training at the time. I found my second wind and I continued to fight and it lasted 47 minutes. That was good. And I had fights that lasted 7 minutes, 14 minutes, 22 minutes, and my last fight was against my first opponent’s son. I was 10 years older than the son; the son was about 27 at the time, I was 37. I had to take that challenge to give the family respect because I fought his dad when his dad was a few years older than me, and that [final] fight lasted for two hours, 47 minutes. So that would probably be my toughest, physically and mentally.

After that fight, was there ever any urge on your part to fight again? Were people trying to drag you back into it?
If I was to listen to and pay heed to everybody who wanted to fight me, I would fight 365 days a year. That’s actually honest. I decided I’d stop taking challenges right after that for the simple reason being I was getting too old. Also guys were getting bigger and stronger because of whatever they were using, maybe substances. They were training more, training a lot harder, and as they were coming up, I was starting to go downhill. I decided to get off when I was winning without losing to those guys and walk away from it and try to educate the younger lads that if they want to do it, do it in the ring, do it professionally. 

I’m in the process of setting up a sanctioned body of bare-knuckle boxing to get those guys off the street and into well-organized venues where we can monitor the situation with medical teams and put some rules on the bare-knuckle boxing game. It’s very advanced. I’d love to say more at the moment but I can’t because I’m waiting for contracts to come my way to sign. It is in a very advanced stage, where there’s a commission in mind that’s ready to sanction it, plus we have a major competition organized, and that will give the Irish Travellers something to do and something to look forward to, not just be involved in the feuds but be involved in it professionally under professional supervision with professional medical teams in the venue at all times. Also if they want to do it professionally there will be good prize money. 

Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)

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