Eamon Carr is a member of Horslips. A journalist and art historian, he has been cultural commentator and reporter on news and sport for Independent Newspapers for over two decades.
“Then the angel speaking with me returned and woke me like one who awakens someone who is asleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”
It was on the sixth night that I began speaking to my skin. I was unwell. “A massive immune system overload,” they said.
The medical team worked to find the “trigger” for my calamity. Pre-vaccine, I was first tested for Covid-19. When that proved clear, they went retro. One by one, day after day, Aids, HIV, smallpox, various cancers, disorders and other mysterious medieval-style malignancies were scratched from the list.
For fear this condition might be infectious, I’d been isolated in a high pressure room with a small glass window on a door to an ante-chamber in which, before approaching me, staff togged out in regalia last seen on scientists attempting to clean up Chernobyl. A photographer arrived to take shots for the medical record books. “No identifying features,” he promised.
On a daily basis, the menu featured painkiller jabs, antihistamine shots, anti-coagulants, intravenous antibiotic drips, heart- monitoring, oxygen, soothing ointments, more besides… including, of course, jelly and ice- cream.
By the sixth night, my condition had worsened. Peak inflammation. With my skin on fire, nerve-endings throbbing, limbs swollen and the pain in my joints bordering on excruciating, I began to babble in self-pity. I knew this was serious. Chronic. In solitary, I began soul searching. Taking stock. We all have to go sometime, I reasoned. That’s when I gave a shout out to my skin.
The largest organ in the human body, the skin protects and communicates information about conditions on the outside. It deserves respect.
By now my addled brain perceived the terrazzo floor of the bathroom as a kaleidoscopic panorama of visionary art. In a moment of lucidity, while contemplating a swirling image that I convinced myself was The Flight into Egypt, I realised this was familiar territory. In the 1970s I’d been a touring rock’n’roll musician. I’d been here before. Kind of. I’d heard the chimes at midnight, partied with Philip, Lemmy and Shane. Hugged it out with Iggy and Ozzy. Now, on this faux marble floor I was experiencing an epiphany. And an apology was called for. To my skin. I’d let it down.
As I inspected my flayed and tortured frame, a new set of visions rose up in the mirror. World champion Wayne McCullough, his face unrecognisable and he slipping in and out of consciousness after the Jose Luis Bueno fight in Dublin. The sight of Barry McGuigan, being taken away in an ambulance, battered, bruised, demoralised and dehydrated under the Nevada sun, pleading in a slurred whisper with a priest, “Don’t let me go to sleep. I don’t want to be like Young Ali.” Jamie Conlan, like he’d stepped out of a car crash, slumped on a seat in the National Stadium after soaking up a beating from Junior Granados that put him down twice before he fought back and won. Now, in my solitude and anguish, I belonged among the broken.
Those cameos had a weird effect. These were people I knew personally who’d survived extreme setbacks. They had stood before the open door of a furnace and came away unsinged. I knew then that I too could survive.
I was to endure many more days and nights of disquiet and doubt but I had stories I was anxious to tell. For almost three decades, Irish boxing enjoyed what many deemed a Golden Age. As fate would have it, as a journalist, I found myself at the heart of the machine, mixing with the fighters, coaches and promoters, assaying levels of ambition and commitment, gauging skill and will and sharing in triumph and failure. The boxers’ trials, accomplishments, heartbreak and glory, all of which I’d been granted the privilege of witnessing, required sharing with a wider world.
As I began to regain my strength, I resolved to tell of the stellar qualities that have made Irish boxing such a glorious and inspirational spectacle.
I threw everything in, reams of taped interviews and sheafs of mind-numbing statistics. Too much information. I found the editing process brutal. But, under the guidance of ever-patient editors Seán Farrell and Djinn von Noorden, I relished it. Seeing a proper book take shape was the reward.
Curiously, I didn’t realise I was writing a memoir. I’d taken my inspiration from Giorgio Vasari who, in 1550, had written in the Preface to his Lives of the Artists, “The reason for my doing so has been the hope that I would say something useful and helpful to our own artists… I hope that this work of mine, such as it is… at least may inspire some of the more able among us to give them every possible encouragement.”
It was a crew of Lilliput Press talent, including Antony Farrell, that gently coaxed me to reveal more of my own life and feelings. Believing the real story was the harsh and often unforgiving world of the boxers, I was reporting. “No identifying features.”
Or so I thought. Gradually, however, I came to understand that I needed to be present in some way, either as compass or counterpoint.
The period of isolation had forced a deep-dive into a world of associations where memories, recent and distant, played out on the same screen. Through adversity, I had plenty of raw material. When encouraged, I used it sparingly.
In the late 1960s, I had set up Tara Telephone, a poetry collective, with Peter Fallon. One of the many poets we worked with was Seamus Heaney. At a party decades later, Seamus enquired kindly if I was still writing. I blurted out that I had a book of haibun and haiku, The Origami Crow, published by Sarah Lundberg. I prattled on that I’d given up writing the book for a few years when I realised that I’d have to confront some painful personal detail.
Seamus laughed consolingly and, shaking his head, declared, “Eamon, you must know the truth will never let you down.” I continue to treasure his crucial injunction and warm emotional embrace. Nonetheless, writing a memoir is not for wimps.
(c) Eamon Carr
Author photograph (c) Dave Clifford
About Showbusiness with Blood:
In Showbusiness with Blood, Eamon Carr beguiles the reader with an insightful account of the world’s greatest boxers, from Steve Collins to Mike Tyson to Tyson Fury and Katie Taylor.
Boxing, Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, became turbo-charged in the mid-90s. A golden age followed as Irish boxers excelled in the harsh, violent and sometimes tragic business that is professional boxing. Having become enamoured of the sport during a period of serious illness as a child, Eamon Carr was on hand to witness the victories and disasters.
The core principle of prize-fighting – striking and defence – demands enormous courage each time the boxer steps forward. Surrounded by enthusiastic fans, the ring can yet be the loneliest place in the world. Ireland embodies this tradition with renewed focus over the past three decades in a golden age of boxing.
Showbusiness with Blood takes the reader on an intimate journey through Irish boxing’s years of triumph and desolation. Carr’s enthusiasm for the sport illuminates the dark corners of the fight game with stories from gruelling training camps, noisy press conferences, behind-the-scenes hustling and the savage brutality of championship fights.
These are stories of aspiration and devastation. Yet amid the chaos and destruction of the boxing ring are inspirational tales of courage, resilience and personal redemption: boxing’s enduring saving grace
Featured boxers include: Steve Collins, Wayne McCullough, Bernard Dunne, Darren Sutherland, Tyson Fury, Jamie Conlan, Andy Lee, John Joe Nevin, Katie Taylor, Willie Casey, Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan, Mike Tyson, Seamus McDonagh, Conor McGregor, Martin Rogan, Michael Carruth, Francis Barrett, Matthew Macklin and Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan.
Order your copy online here.