Knights in shining armour: Irish full-contact medieval combat team set to showcase skills

Lara Serviolle and Joseph Colfer do battle at the Galway Garden Fest.

Medieval fight club isn’t for the faint of heart but other than a few cuts and bruises, it is safer than other sports and ends with contestants exchanging hugs and smiles, says Caroline Delaney

The first rule of fight club might be not to talk about fight club – but not so when it’s a medieval fight club. Members of the Irish full-contact medieval combat team are proud to showcase their skills to anyone interested in armoured fighters going head to head. The team are hosting an international tournament in October/next week at Claregalway Castle which is open to the public to watch.

Brendan Halpin, 28, captain of the Irish team, describes the sport as a revival of the medieval foot tournament: “Imagine Conor McGregor wearing armour with a sword in hand, you wouldn’t be too far off.”

These tournaments aren’t choreographed or acted though: “A wide range of attacks are allowed by the men and women involved – full-force strikes with weapons, shield punches, kicks, throws and grapples are all within the rules.”

But he explains that the 25kg or so of steel armour each fighter wears protects them from most serious injuries – though it’s still not for the faint-hearted.

So, is this sport for people who weave their own linen and cook over open fires? Not at all, explains Brendan (by mobile phone and email – and the group also have a facebook page, facebook.com/Irishcombat). Brendan himself has a Masters degree in Archaeology and a particular interest in combat archaeology – and he works as a tour guide in a castle when he’s not smiting his enemies.

Iron maidens

While in medieval times women might more typically be cooking or on baby detail, women are now definitely welcome to the sport: “While we like our weapons and armour to be historically accurate, it is also a sport so of course women participate now too. And while men would typically have more upper body strength we all train together – though tournaments are divided along gender lines.”

Lara Serviolle, Sligo
Lara Serviolle, Sligo

Knights in shining armour

Brendan admits that all the gear is “not cheap” and notes that it could cost around €1,500 to get all set up but says that’s comparable to golf and green fees: “For training we use padded equipment and that is provided. And the actual armour is well made and doesn’t break easily.”

A lot of the armour the group uses are based on original equipment and are reconstructed in eastern Europe and are all adjusted to fit the owner – “I have sent casts of my calves for my lower leg armour,” says Brendan. Despite advances in science and technology, many modern-day combatants still prefer steel weapons over things such as titanium.

The actual combat sessions are still fairly dramatic, according to Brendan: “The sight of two armoured fighters going at it can be pretty scary at first but once the match ends and you see the hugs and smiles exchanged by the opponents you’ll realise the camaraderie and respect that is a key feature of our sport.”

Many people might be familiar with vicious fight scenes from TV series such as Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings films. But do modern-day medieval combatants spend their time pointing out the flaws in the fight scenes? “I had to take my professional hat off fairly early on watching these as some of the fighting is nonsense. I absolutely love Game of Thrones but when you see dragons introduced then you’ve left reality behind anyway.”

Many of these on-screen knights and warriors battles typically end in people being beheaded or suffering through-and-through injuries. Is this a possibility?

“We’ve had no major injuries – just a few nasty bruises and cuts. I would say we have a lower injury rate than rugby etc. It’s important to get the armour right in the first place. Sub-par armour wouldn’t help. And we’re not trying to kill each other. There’s no real aggression or violence - just an exhilarating sport.”

The fights are for over-18s participants but there will be training sessions for children at the upcoming tournament. Knight school, if you will.

One thing Brendan is very keen to highlight is there will be no jousting (where two opponents on horseback fight with lances): “We don’t use horses at all in our sport.”

[timgcap=Brendan Halpin, representing Ireland at the IMCF World Championships this year.]BrendaHalpinMedievalCombatFeatureSept2016_large.jpg[timgcap]

The tournament is coming

The Claregalway Castle Shield tournament takes place on October 1 and 2. It will feature fighters from across the world – with some travelling from as far away as the US and Canada to compete.

The fighting will feature both one-on-one duels and team-based group fights. And there will be music, acrobats, entertainers and archery on hand as well. Food will range from standard festival fare to the more medieval appropriate pig-on-a-spit.

One person literally on a quest to get to this tournament is Australian, Tara Foster. The 36-year-old TV producer was inspired by a friend who cycled from Sydney to Melbourne and the Tony Hawks book, Round Ireland with a Fridge.

She started cycling around Ireland in mid September and as part of her #AroundIrelandOnAPushie challenge, with funds raised going to Make A Wish Ireland and she will take part in a challenge at the tournament.

Admission is €10 for adults and €5 for children.


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