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Saturday 25 March 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# Tough Times
John Connors defends bare-knuckle boxing, "I wouldn't say no to a fight"
John Connors talks about mental health, bare-knuckle boxing and Love/Hate. / YouTube

“I TRY MY best to advocate mental health for Travellers or anybody, I don’t care who they are, and even I find it hard to talk about mental health and I went through some really tough times, through a depression and then it goes. But I still go through it, I still get it bad. It comes back to me.”

Actor and Traveller John Connors opened up to about his struggle with depression and how, despite being an advocate for mental health, he finds it difficult to reach out.

“I’m trying to advocate for it, and even then I’m still finding it hard to reach out to somebody and talk to somebody about it.

It’s a very Irish thing, but with Travellers it’s even more so because it’s kind of seen as a sign of weakness. The reality is the people around you who love you want you to talk because they don’t want to lose you.

Suicide is over six times higher for Traveller men compared to the general population of Ireland.

Connors has experienced the devastation first hand as he lost his own father to suicide when he was just eight-years-old.

The actor believes the suicide rate among Travellers won’t change anytime soon “because it’s so deep-rooted and they can’t talk about it”.

“If you look at any people across the world who are suffering from racism, especially institutionalised racism, any sort of oppression, there’s a high suicide rate because what happens from that is you internalise the hatred and you become ashamed.

Travellers will tell you they’re proud and they are on the surface but deep down a lot of them are ashamed.

“A stereotype gets created and then they fed into that stereotype and then you become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that’s what adds to the suicide rate.”

‘I wouldn’t say no to a fight’

Connors spoke about how the Traveller culture centers around family but that this is not always understood, with lavish weddings and fights often being the focus for many people on the outside looking in.

He said that while marrying young is a part of the culture, it’s not something he has done, nor did he receive any pressure for not doing so.

“I wouldn’t encourage Travellers to wait longer, I’d encourage them to do whatever they want to do because I did what I wanted to do and nobody tried to stop me.”

I think it’s more about education and sticking through school and doing your Junior and your Leaving and getting through college. Give yourself a better base to work off.

The actor also defended bare-knuckle fighting but stressed that feuding has nothing to do with the Traveller culture.

I fought bare knuckle, if I was asked to fight bare-knuckle again, I would. I wouldn’t say no to a fight.

“I’m not against bare-knuckle fighting, feuding is a different thing and it’s a newer thing that has developed. / YouTube

“In terms of fighting, I think any Traveller out there or Traveller organisations who are saying bare-knuckle fighting is not a part of our culture and are denouncing bare-knuckle fighting, I just think they become Uncle Thomas to be honest with you, because that is a part of our culture.

I love it and I think it’s a great way to settle a fight.

“I think it’s a lot more civilised than if me and a fellow have an argument and he brings me to court for two years and we put on suits and we sue each other to death.

“I think punching each others heads in and going for a pint of Guinness afterwards is a lot more civilised, or maybe it’s not but whatever that is, I’d prefer that.”

Playing a gangster

Connor played pipe bomb maker Patrick Ward in Love/Hate and says he had no problem playing a Traveller who was involved in crime:

Every other person in it were settled people and they were all gangsters and I thought ‘a bit of equality here’ and we’ll get a Traveller gangster in. So that’s how I justified it to myself.

Describing what he liked about the role of his character, Connors said, “I wasn’t interested in playing just another psychopath who could just kill somebody … you see too often in shows, people’s lives are being taken and there’s no struggle with it and I think it’s more compelling and more dramatic to see someone actually struggling with taking a life because it’s a big thing to take a life and to take someone from this earth.

Asked if we can ever expect to see the show back on our screens, Connors laughed while answering, but his answer was definite:

“I’ve been asked that question 50,000 times I’ve answered it 50,000 times and RTÉ answered it … it’s never ever, ever coming back, ever again, and I’m delighted. I would never do it again.

“Never. Finished. It had a good ending and let’s leave it at that.”

Comments on this article have been closed due to the high volume of flagged comments. 

Video by Nicky Ryan

Read: ‘The word knacker makes me feel nervous and ashamed’>

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