Ireland’s most infamous bare-knuckle fighter Joe Joyce Jr was convicted last week of murdering John Paul McDonagh following a brutal street fight outside his home in Fermanagh two years ago.
Joyce’s loyal wife has been resolute in support of her husband, collapsing to her knees in Dungannon Crown Court in tears after his conviction.
“My Joe didn’t mean it. It wasn’t meant to happen. God knows that. My children and me, we need him. We need Joe,” she screamed.
However, in February 2016, Joyce got a suspended sentence in Tullamore Circuit Court after he was convicted of hitting his wife Ellen in a Garda station, which was caught on CCTV.
Joyce had been living in Fermanagh when John Paul McDonagh was killed because he faced the suspended prison sentence for assaulting Ellen being activated if he ventured south for more than three weeks of the year.
During the trial for the murder of McDonagh, a sister-in-law of the dead man said in evidence that as she tended to the fatally wounded 18-year-old, she heard Ellen tell her husband “finish him off”.
Her evidence was disputed by Joyce’s barrister.
The judge in Tullamore who had seen the footage from the Garda station of Ellen being hit in February 2016 described it as a savage attack by a thug and a bully.
But she told the court she accepted her husband’s apology, was happy with him and their four children, and said a cut on her head that night was where an injury from a previous fall had reopened.
Another condition of the sentence suspension was that Joe Joyce Jr stay off social media and making call-out videos.
It was ironic then that his murderous clash with John Paul, Gerard and Jimmy McDonagh was partially caught on a video that went viral and was shown to the jury during the seven- week trial.
Joyce is seen keeping a number of men at bay with a long-handled weapon described in one court hearing as “a scythe”.
The blurry clip shows a man in a red t-shirt lunging forward and, as one man appears to collapse to the ground, a voice is heard: “He’s pissing blood!”
John Paul and his older brother Gerard were taken to hospital after the clash but while the older man suffered minor injuries, his younger brother died in hospital. The following day, Joyce handed himself into the police.
Until then Joe Joyce Jr had been best known for his online call-out videos and tough bare-knuckle fights with various opponents.
While living in Fermanagh he won the Ulster amateur heavyweight boxing title and would have been eligible for selection to fight in the Commonwealth Games.
His father, Big Joe Snr, has also been a feature online and made headlines as far back as the 1980s for his bare-knuckle fights.
His brother Davey was also an accomplished boxer, representing Ireland at youth level, before also taking on rivals in bloody bare-knuckle clashes.
But Joe Jr’s reputation had followed him north of the border where he had settled at Coolcullen Meadow in Enniskillen.
He ended up living close to the ‘Shakey’ McDonaghs, who are cousins of Joyce’s bare-knuckle rivals from the O’Donnell clan, according to Sunday World sources.
Their houses backed on to one another and on Saturday, April 11, 2020, words were exchanged between the two.
Joyce later told police ‘Shakey’ McDonaghs had been shouting abuse, insults and threats at him as they spent the afternoon drinking in their garden.
Three of the McDonaghs made their way to Joyce’s house where they confronted each other.
He said they were armed with a 12-inch knife, a spade, a garden hoe and bottle of liquid, which Joyce feared contained acid or ammonia.
In his statement to police Joyce told them: “I was genuinely terrified for my own life and the lives of my wife and children.
“I was being attacked by three men and was acting in self defence.”
The prosecution argued that Joyce had time to back away from the fight and had raised his arms in victory as if to goad the McDonaghs.
The reality is that after years of talking up his fighting reputation there’s no way Joyce could back down from a confrontation at his home — even if he was outnumbered.
“Don’t be hiding or else go and get your nappy changed. You’re not man enough to go out the road,” is a typical comment from one of his call-out videos.
Immediately after the Enniskillen incident dozens of social media messages were posted online to control the story of what had happened.
From the McDonaghs’ side, an 18-year-old ‘child’ was cut down before his life begun by a hardened fighter, and threats were made that Joyce will be ‘cut-up’ in prison and his wife Ellen attacked.
But the Joyces also put their version of events online and claimed it was the McDonaghs who started the confrontation.
Joyce’s brother, Davey, posted a message at the time in which he said: “Joe is my brother and I love him. He did not start the trouble.”
The online battle has continued this week. Jimmy McDonagh posted about how justice had been done and drank a pint in memory of his brother.
Ellen’s withering response was: “I’ll fight till I die till I get my husband out he wasn’t gave a fare trial and the world knows that soo enjoy your pissy pint thats all ye where ever any good for my husband will get out as he’s innocent man and god knows that”.
Dozens of people have posted online messages of support for Joyce and even a petition to the British Houses of Parliament has been set up.
At the end of Monday’s hearing, following the guilty verdict, Mr Justice Rooney told Joyce: “The only sentence that I can give you is life, and so we’ll come back and deal with the tariff at a later time.”
At that hearing he will find out how long he is expected to serve in prison before being eligible for parole.