Falls, Brawls and Town Halls: The History of Professional Wrestling in Northern Ireland

   In the past few years I have been enjoying learning about the vibrant wrestling scenes around the world. A new book: Falls, Brawls and Town Halls: The History of Professional Wrestling in Northern Ireland by Nick Campbell, is a welcome primer to the exciting history of wrestling from the Emerald Isle. 

Author Campbell traces the rich history of the area and complements his extensive research with reflections from many of the stars that appeared on the busy circuit. The title is apt and at over 400 pages it's packed with a ton of  info & stories covering 1932-2002. 

The early history of wrestling in Northern Ireland is a familiar tale. A similar path was carved out here in Toronto. Wrestling is added to Boxing cards (here they called it mit-mat) as the pro game evolves and gains popularity ,and eventually wrestling gains it own foothold. As it was here, an inner circle develops and many of the early names carry it forward through the decades. 

As expected, the U.K scene significantly impacts the development as the initial promoters try to gain popularity (here it was Toots Mondt and the U.S. influence) and they will soon forge a unique identity.

Dave Mack, Darkie Arnott, and the Finlay's (Dave Sr, Dave Jr, Fit) are recurring names throughout the story, which is augmented by informative and entertaining input from many wrestlers from the history. This element is very well utilized and carries the story forward with a lot of detail. 

In addition to the Irish, U.K., and European stars that populate the many halls in Northern Ireland, the early scene is rife with Canadians. 'Tiger' Tommy Nelson (Hell-Cat over there) was Toronto based but born in Gleneavy Northern Ireland. He had gone to the U.K. in 1936 and by 1938 had travelled back to his homeland. Nelson, later a long time associate of Frank Tunney, would enshrine himself in the area's history when he fought for the Light-Heavyweight championship of Europe. A triumphant homecoming for Nelson, who returned here to work alongside Tunney into the 1960s. 

Nelson of course had initially gone overseas alongside Bill Potts (Whipper Watson), Ken Tiger Tasker, and Al Krusher Korman. They had been wrestling on the amateur style cards at the old British Consols Stadium in Toronto (Greenwood Park now) with the initial trip set up by Harry Joyce, a British ex-pat who lived in Canada and was soon to promote in Belfast. Young Bill Potts, now rechristened as Whipper, also made it in to Northern Ireland to face a Masked Marvel. Whipper failed to un-mask his opponent but made up for it back here collecting a bag of masks in Toronto (including a Masked Marvel and his Masked Manager).

It was also interesting reading about the Irish Whipper Watson, a deaf wrestler who was a staple of the action in the 1950s. We had a pretty good deaf wrestler here, one Silent Brian MacNee. Bob Gregory also makes it in to the story with his wife Valerie Brooke, the Princess Baba. They show up in 1937 and with the publicity at the time (wrestler & royalty) they pull 6,000 fans in to see what the hoopla is all  about. Gregory & Brooke would have an eventful trip here a year later with mostly the same result. 

In addition to the rich written history, Campbell has populated the book with an abundance of great photos, posters, and ads, many from personal collections. At the close of the story there are updates on many of the names, as well as some recent photos. The book really takes the story full circle and while it winds down somewhat similar to Toronto (WWF machine etc.), the scene will soon revitalize and continues to the present day. 

Another great independently published book, we highly recommend Falls, Brawls and Town Halls: The History of Professional Wrestling in Northern Ireland. 👍👍

-AC


From the Amazon Book page
Extensively researched, the history of professional wrestling in Northern Ireland is detailed for the first time and with exclusive interviews from over 25 pro wrestling personalities including Darkie Arnott (the “Irish-Italian” shipyard worker whose first match was in 1950), Eddie Hamill (who as “The Amazing Kung Fu” thrilled on ITV’s World of Sport), Dave Finlay Senior (an inspirational pro wrestling promoter and amateur wrestling advocate) and Fit Finlay (one of Europe’s greatest ever grapplers and a world-renowned Superstar) plus many more. Year by year from it’s deceptive beginnings, through World War II, through the Troubles and into the new millennium, this is the story of the men and women who as wrestlers, referees and MCs entertained – not only in Ireland but around the world – for decades, from hundreds in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to thousands in a field in Fermanagh to millions watching on television - - - - - Features over 100 pictures.

Purchase at Amazon.ca and Worldwide
Nick is on Twitter at @TheWrestlingIRE
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For more on Tommy Nelson see Tiger Tommy Nelson
For more on Gregory & the Princess see Bob Gregory and The Princess come to Toronto 1938

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