When cockfighting was the biggest "sport" in Ireland

UCD professor Paul Rouse told Off The Ball about its history


Roosters prepare to take each other on during a rooster fight as part of the Jonbeel festival near Jagiroad, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) east of Gauhati, India, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Tribal communities like Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi, and Jaintia from nearby hills participate in large numbers in the festival that signifies harmony and brotherhood amongst various tribes and communities. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Nowadays Gaelic Games, soccer and rugby lead the way.

But there used to be a time when cockfighting was the most popular spectator "sport" in Ireland.

Naturally the gruesome nature of the activity means it is illegal today in most parts of the world.

UCD professor Paul Rouse has shared the history of many Irish sports, including Real Tennis, on Off The Ball and this week cockfighting was under the microscope.

"From the Middle Ages onwards, from 1200 to 1300 onwards, there is evidence of cockfighting taking place [in Ireland] and actually not just evidence of it taking place but the simple fact that it was central to Irish life," he said.

Indian Tiwa tribal men check their roosters before a fight at Jonbeel festival, near Gauhati, India, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. Tribal communities like Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi, and Jaintia from nearby hills come down in large numbers to take part in the festival and exchange goods through an established barter system. Community fishing and cockfights are also held between tribal and non-tribal groups during this festival. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)

Indeed it was so central to life that for example, shortly after 1798 in the market of Kildare Town, a cockpit was build to stage fights.  

"And that is a unique thing. We know that there were cockfighting pits all across Ireland," Rouse adds. 

"All across the place you have evidence of cockfighting. And they're only the ones that were dedicated purpose-built cockpits. We know that there was cockfighting in pubs, theatres, on streets, in sheds, in back lanes, out in fields. It was everywhere."

Rouse also explained that cockfighting transcended class and social divisions, also adding that bull-baiting and bear-baiting were also popular in the United Kingdom in previous centuries with only a few detractors.

"If you look at it, there was a travelling circus of bears where they were brought from place to place for baiting, and they were brought to Dublin - not always for good ends - in 1786 on the North Strand in Dublin, a man had his legs torn to pieces by a bear that escaped from a baiting that was taking place in the area," he said.

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