James has been in training and is a handy if reluctant boxer. It is quickly apparent there is only going to be one winner. Paddy is floored 6 or 7 times in a flurry of heavy hitting emerging with a face the colour and consistency of a squashed tomato. The referee asks
"You had enough Paddy?"
Matches are only stopped when one fighter submits to the other. It is a shame that his boxing skills don't match his bravery as Paddy recieves a gruesome and undignified beatdown until the penny drops and he calls it quits. James collects his winnings from the back of a transit van, £19000 in total, and returns to his clan a triumphant hero, worryingly decribing the fight as
" Ya baldy bollocks"
is one of more amusing bon mots directed towards James and he calls the rest of the Quinn's "murderers". It transpires that in 1992 during a pub brawl in London one of the Quinn-McDonaghs, "Curly Paddy", killed a Joyce and went down for manslaughter. It reignited the decades old feud and gave them all another reason to beat the shit out of each other.
"needed some quick cash"
This time the purse is £60000 and is fought in a farmhouse courtyard. The director is stopped from filiming as one of the judges is out on bail and has to cobble something together from some grainy video nasty footage that another punter has taken. It goes on for a gruesome 2hrs with James emerging bloodied but victorious. Back at the family home the celebration is tempered by the reaction from the wives who are reluctant to be interviewed but confide that the fighting is destructive and
"goes too deep...children growing up in that life"
The women are dead against the fighting but in a male dominated family unit, powerless to prevent it. Conspicously none of the carnage is shielded from the kids who watch all the fights and post match are all outside with their shirts off shadow-boxing, depressing Mini-Mes of their fathers, and so the cycle continues.
For the finale James' brother Michael has a rematch with "Big" Paul Joyce. Nine years before James was a rather out of shape rosy cheekd youngster forced into fighting his cousin with the match ended in an undignified manner with him being disqalified for biting. Now he had transformed himself into a tattooed testosteroned monster with the neck of a rhino and a the temprement of pitbull. For a purse of £120000 he was taking things seriously this time.
I had to laugh when I saw shots of the families counting piles of potentially ill gotten money for an illegal fight surrounded by potraits of the Pope and the Virgin Mary. Catholicism is anything if not enterprising. Despite the build up and the police helicopter hovering overhead the fight is unispiring and ends in a draw with "pride" supposedly intact on both sides.
As much as the travellers bang about upholding their names and their honour, big money can be made on fights and it is undoubtably this that drives the brutality on. Whilst a laudable, interesting and compelling documentary which entertains in typically car crash fashion we don't really get an insight into the lives of the particpants away from the fighting. Perhaps this is genuinely all they do all day but their general place on the margins of society barely commented on. How do travlellers with no fixed income come up with the £60000 they need to bet on their fighters? Sometimes its best not to ask too many questions.
If after watching the documentary you feel compelled to take up bareknuckle boxing at the weekend, perhaps after your trip to Ikea, Big Joe offers up some handy tips.
"Steep your hand in petrol for 20 mins a day...it'll make you hands feel like rocks. When I was fighting I left 'em with a face like a butchers block"
I wonder if I can get the same effect from dipping my hands in balsamic salad dressing. True fighters adapt to their environment. I'm sure Big Joe would approve.
An interesting interview with the director can be found here
For UK residents the whole thing can be watched in iPlayer for the foreseeable future