KNUCKLE, a film by Ian Palmer. Courtesy of Arc Entertainment. All rights reserved.


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Knuckle (2011)

Opened: 12/09/2011 Limited

Cinema Village...12/09/2011 - 12/22/201114 days
Monica 4-Plex12/09/2011 - 12/15/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Facebook

Genre: Biographical Documentary

Rated: R for violent content and language.


Meet James Quinn McDonagh and Paddy "The Lurcher" Joyce. Related by blood and separated by a feud that dates back generations. As the heads of rival families, they train to represent their feuding travelling clans, in their long-standing history of violent bare-knuckle boxing.

Knuckle is a rare chance to step inside one of the world's most vibrant and elusive communities. Travellers are normally silent about certain parts of their lifestyle. Never before has such a portrayal of their fighting traditions been committed to film.

Shot in an observational style, Knuckle presents a hard edged portrait of Traveller male culture and explores the bond of loyalty, the need for revenge and the pressures to fight for the honour of your family name. Prepare to witness the secretive world of travellers and their way of settling scores. No gloves, no padding, just Knuckle.

Director's Statement

I had never planned to make a film about bare-knuckle boxing. I stumbled across this secretive world and was drawn into it.

In 1997 I knew very little about Travellers and I knew nothing about their feuding and tradition of organised fist fighting. I had been introduced to a Traveller family called the McDonaghs who lived in the small town of Navan about twenty miles north of Dublin. As I got to know the McDonaghs I started to research a film about their family history and traditions.

One of their daughters was due to be married and they asked me if I would video the wedding. I filmed it, and gave the bride and groom the footage. The groom was called Michael Quinn McDonagh and I met his older brothers, James and Paddy, at the reception.

A few weeks later I got a call from one of the brothers' I had met at the wedding, Paddy Quinn McDonagh. His brother James had a fight coming up and they invited me to video it. I shot the fight and it was like a door into a hidden world had opened up before me and I stepped through into the world of bare-knuckle fighting. That first fight was an exhilarating experience and I knew immediately that I wanted to learn more about this world of clan feuding. It turned out to be the beginning of a journey that was to last for the next 12 years.

I had no real plan, I started hanging around and getting to know the three Quinn McDonagh brothers, James, Michael, Paddy and their extended family. Occasionally they would call me if a fight was being organised.

I decided that I would try to make a film from within the family, letting their world reveal itself. My approach was simple; use a small camera, get close and spend as much time with them as possible. It was a method called hanging around.

I worked largely alone and perhaps it was because I had no particular plan that I started to video any fight I heard about and rather than analyse the footage, I would put the tapes away. I was hooked on the thrill of the immediate experience of the fights and found it difficult to take a step back from that to concentrate on how to shape it into a film.

I never intended to film for so many years but I would follow one outbreak of the feud to the next. When the feud temporarily calmed down, usually after a fight had taken place, I never felt that I had reached a conclusion. So I would start filming again when the next round of feuding and fights began.

I filmed with the two other Traveller families, the Joyces and the Nevins, who are involved in this feud but my real focus was on James Quinn McDonagh and his younger brother Michael.

For years the tapes lay in a box in my spare bedroom. The Travellers would ask when the film was coming out but I couldn't finish it. It had gone on too long and I had got into the habit of shooting some material and putting the tapes in the box without looking at them. I had no real idea what material I had.

Finally I decided to contact Ollie Huddleston, a film editor whose work I admired and he agreed to work with me. He then introduced me to my eventual producer, Teddy Leifer

A film emerged from the box of tapes. What started out, as a fascination with bare knuckle fighting became a film about the relationship between brothers. It became a film about sibling rivalry and the destruction caused by the Traveller obligation to defend their family name.

It took 14 years to get there.

-- Ian Palmer, Director of KNUCKLE