Channel 4’s Gypsy Blood: True Stories, is “a haunting study of masculinity and violence”

by Lynn Connolly

On Thursday night at 10pm, Channel 4 are to air a documentary that has been four years in the making…

Entitled, Gypsy Blood: True Stories, the film focuses primarily on two gypsy families, for whom violence is a matter of everyday normality.

One family, the Doherty’s – who are described as “Irish Traveller royalty” – will be seen talking about how they encourage their young sons to learn to fight at an early age, with one family member, Hughie, saying, “You’re born with it, and you won’t have anyone make a fool out of you, or making you look small ….

“You would rather die, and fight till the bitter end.”

Also appearing on the film are the Butcher family, the head of which is Fred, “a career fighter” who worries how his nine year old son will follow in the footsteps of so many travellers, himself included, to become a fighter…

However, the aforementioned Doherty family seem to have no similar reservations, and the Sun today reports that Hughie is proud of his seven year old son Francie, who loves to impress his dad with his fighting skills.

The paper quotes Hughie as saying, “Francie loves fighting. He’s fighting all day.

“I’ve seen a nine-year-old, really good fighter, hit my little boy. He hit his head on the concrete and got up with a lump on his forehead.

“He kept going and sparred on for 35 minutes. It was the best I’ve ever seen between two children.

“My son conquered it in the end. At the end he said, ‘Daddy, I’ll do whatever it takes to win’.

“You think, ‘Yeah, you’re one of us, you’re going to want to fight’. It’s a disease that’s passed on.”

And when asked about his frequent fighting, Francie said, “I like a fair fight, not a dirty fight. No biting, no pinching like a girl.

“When I’m in a fight I remember it’s not just for me, it’s for my family and my name.

“I want to be a fighter like my daddy. I’m reared up like a fighter.”

As I mentioned earlier, the show’s director, Leo Maguire, spent four years making this film and in that time, he lived with gypsies on their static site, gaining what Channel 4 describe as “unprecedented access to the secretive communities.”

Of his film, and its subject matter, Maguire said, “All gypsy boys are taught to be tough and defend themselves from a young age. It’s in their culture.

“This tradition of breeding tough fighting men stems from them being a marginalised and victimised community. They often have to defend themselves.

“I felt I was there to document what I saw and do it with humility and respect.

“Yes, it’s a story about bare-knuckle fighting gypsies, but I hope it’s deeper than that.

“It’s a study of childhood, being a father, coming of age and the loss of innocence.”

Don’t miss it on Channel 4, Thursday, January 19th at 10pm.


Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.