Written by Olivia Patt
07 Sunday 07th August 2011

Twelve years is pretty epic. When you started this, did you have any idea that it would turn into that lengthy a project?

Ian: No. When I first met the boys I wasn’t making a film about bare knuckle boxing. I was just doing a favour to a family actually. A girl was getting married, a cousin of James’, and I was invited to the wedding. She was 17 and she was marrying her cousin Michael who was 18, James’ brother. I got a phonecall a few weeks later from James’ older brother, Paddy, saying James was training for a fight – I didn’t know what the fight was, I didn’t know if it was a professional fight, an amateur fight, I didn’t really know anything about bare knuckle boxing at that time to be honest with you. After going along I was really hooked and wanted to make a film. I had no plans to make a film for twelve years. I wanted to go on a journey with James’ family, and the other families, for a period of time to let it unfold in front of me and in front of the camera and to learn in that way. Such a long time passed partly because I was on my own, I couldn’t get a commission to make a film over a number of years from anyone. I had no money, I had no deadline, because I had no deadline I could keep going. That’s the key reason it went on for so long!

Ian, you mention in the documentary that as a non-traveller you are “always an outsider”. By the end of the filming, did you feel a part of the community? How did the relationship develop?

I: We did strike up a friendship, and I think that was key to me being welcomed by a community which is very often quite closed to people with cameras or who they think are journalists. It was bit by bit. People got to know me, saw what I was about, that I wasn’t trying to exploit them, that I wanted to understand people. They got to know me, I got to know them and things went step by step from there. Trust evolved.

James: I trusted Ian from the very beginning. As he was filming me more, we started becoming friends. It was about five or six years into our friendship that he was thinking about this documentary. Any time a fight would come he would say “Ring me, let me know what’s going on”, so we’d invite him down and he’d get it all on tape. Then it came to the last fight with my brother Michael, and that would have been the end of it. It had to stop somewhere. Start at Michael’s wedding, finish at Michael’s last fight. We opened the doors to Ian at a very early stage, he was well accepted by us. Not just us, the Joyces trusted him, the Nevins trusted him. He’s just that type of guy that you can trust. If he says something, he’ll do it. I was one of the first travellers to see the finished product, and I’m very happy. Nothing needed to be changed. He just told the truth, from both sides.

Do you feel it is an accurate portrayal of the traveller community?

J: I feel its an accurate portrayal of a feud within the travelling community, within three families. Other people, such as some of the Joyces, and some of the Quinns McDonaghs and the Nevins won’t be happy with some of the footage, but the truth needs to be told. It’s not one-sided. There’s nothing in it that shouldn’t be in it. It needs to be told, and it was told very well. I think in general a lot of travellers who are involved in it will be happy enough to watch it, and people will come away with a different opinion of travellers.

I: Once I realised there was this complex thing going on, I wanted to make a film which was about three families. Not just about one point of view from one family. That’s what I set out to do, to have a film told from the inside of this world, from their perspectives, different perspectives, giving different opinions to show a complex world. Not just about fighting of course, the film is really about the families and how they live, how they go about their lives, kids, women, men. It’s the male traveller world the fighting side of it, but the film is about more than just the fighting.

Ian, you say in the film that you want to stop documenting the fights because you find yourself “getting a thrill from it”. Are the fair fights just about honour, or is there an element of bloodlust to it?

I: You know, when I started on this I knew nothing about this world. I didn’t know much about travellers, but I certainly knew nothing about bare knuckle boxing. I learned fairly quickly after his first fight, and subsequent to that, these fights are about family relationships and standing up for your family name. It’s about honour. It can be about two individual guys who don’t like each other and they’re having an argument, but it’s always about particular families fighting. They’re not going to challenge someone at the other end of the country who isn’t related to their family, that’s not how it works. It’s principally about family honour, standing up for your family and being part of families who are in a feud. It’s not really bloodlust at all. Obviously with young men, fights will happen in whatever community, but fair fights happen because there’s feuds going on. It’s organised, the families get referees, it’s set up and controlled. It happens because this is one of the ways travellers sort out their feuding.

J: It does boil down to family name. Each family would like to have one above the other. It started a chain reaction of a love – hate relationship between the Joyces and the Nevins, and the Quinns where each family would put up their main boxer and I was kind of shoved into this, I was kind of – not forced into it, but talked into it, you know, convinced to do it. In the later fights I saw it changing. It was going from generation down to generation, and I realised then that it was leading nowhere. I’ve got two sons and I don’t want them to do it, I don’t want them to go on the road risking their lives because of a name. I saw it wasn’t going right, so that’s when I said enough is enough. I love my family name and so does everyone else, but it’s time to stop and walk away from it. 

Knuckle is currently on release in selected cinemas. For more information on the film and where it is showing, visit the website here.

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