Source : Facebook

Investigation: Cruel cockfighting sees an underground resurgence in Ireland

Illegal matches and the breeding of birds solely for the banned bloodsport is happening up and down the country, an investigation by Noteworthy has found.

By Patricia Devlin

WARNING: This article contains graphic images of animal cruelty

Noteworthy logo with two cocks fighting in the background.

A BARBARIC BLOODSPORT outlawed almost 200 years ago has seen an underground resurgence in Ireland, Noteworthy can reveal.

Cruel cockfighting – where roosters are placed in a ring to fight until one is seriously injured or killed – is taking place in secret duels up and down the country, with a significant number of younger men involved in the illegal matches.

Footage obtained by Noteworthy shows some of the brutal battles being held in backyards, as well as purpose built ‘cockpits’ where some birds fight until collapse.

Those involved in the sadistic sport range in ages and backgrounds, and include animal breeders, a member of the Irish Defence Forces and a foreign government official based in Ireland.

The illegal matches have become so competitive that punters – who gamble huge amounts of cash on the brutal bouts – are paying to import more aggressive breeds from as far away as Pakistan.

Chicks and eggs of battle winning birds fetch hundreds of euro on the Irish black market, while stags – male chickens typically under 10 months old – can fetch even more. 

Two video stills with cocks fighting in the left image and two in a different area in the right image, but this time one is lying lifeless. Footage posted on an Irish social media group shows (left) birds fighting in a purpose built cockpit and (right) a lifeless bird in the aftermath of an organised cockfight.
Source: Facebook

Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.

Breeder selling ‘hundreds’ of fighting birds

Noteworthy uncovered large numbers linked to the illegal bloodsport here, first outlawed in Ireland in 1835.

That includes the number of fighting bird breeders, who promote their aggressive stock for sale online.

One Co Cavan based dealer told our undercover reporter that his birds “can be stood over and be accounted for in any battle”.

Another, based in the south-west, claimed a seven month old stag he was selling could win a fight in “one to two minutes”.

We approached the bird breeders after they advertised young birds for sale on a private pro-cockfighting social media group aimed solely at customers in Ireland.

The Cavan breeder, aged in his late 20s, said his six week old Shamo chicks – priced at €120 each – had been bred from his own cockfighting champ imported from Germany.

“U keep these chicks till next summer (there) won’t be (a) bird in the country have (a) look in [sic]”, he wrote in one message.

He also sent our investigative reporter a number of videos of other fighting chicken breeds inside what appeared to be a purpose-built chicken house.

That included Ayam Cemanis, an extremely rare Indonesian gamecock which sports black feathers, beaks and skin, and is renowned for its brutal fighting skills.

He claims to have sold “hundreds” of different specially bred chicks for the cockfighting market.

Neither of the backyard breeders are registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, despite having a legal requirement to do so under strict poultry keeping legislation.

Person holding two cocks near each other and placing them into a fighting area. Two young birds are lifted out of a purpose built ring after being goaded to fight. Image taken from a video posted on an Irish Facebook page with pro-fighting content.
Source: Facebook

Dozens of eggs imported from Pakistan

Another breeder involved in the sale of gamecocks is an individual based south of the country.

He breeds and sells various chickens from his home and has claimed in online videos to have imported the eggs of aggressive birds into Ireland.

The middle-aged man sells and “shows” Shamo and Sindhi aseel birds – cockfighting breeds popular in his home country of Pakistan.

He boasts about his “very rare” birds in a number of social media pages set up to promote his stock.

In one YouTube video, the breeder tells his 1,000 plus subscribers how he packs the eggs into his luggage using chocolate boxes and bubble wrap.

On one occasion, he claims to have successfully transported 50 eggs in the 6,400 km journey.

The eggs were then incubated, and some were successfully hatched, he claimed.

The chicken breeder also talks about importing eggs from his own Irish stock over to Pakistan, where betting on cockfighting is illegal, but the bloodsport itself is not.

There is no evidence that the individual is involved in staging cock-fights. He appears from his Facebook page and videos to be a breeder.

His videos show some of the chicks hatched from those eggs with new owners in the middle-eastern country.

Noteworthy approached the bird breeder about the claims made by him in some of his 180 YouTube videos.

At first, he told our investigative reporter that the eggs were not imported by him, but by an unnamed “friend”.

His partner later got in touch with Noteworthy to say he’d pretended to import the eggs for the purpose of gaining more likes and subscribers to his YouTube channel.

Man with blurred face sitting on a bed beside a large box of eggs. The chicken breeder in Pakistan talking about importing eggs from his home in Ireland in a video shared on YouTube.
Source: YouTube

Images of injured birds shared

The poultry breeder is also the administrator of a private Irish Facebook group, where dozens of disturbing videos and images of brutal bird fights have been uploaded by some of its 2,000 plus members.

In one grim clip, posted by an Irish member, two birds are pitted against each other in a specially designed cockpit where they tear at each other until one collapses.

In another video, two 10 week old chickens are goaded to fight until they are eventually pulled apart by two bystanders.

In a separate clip, a young rooster is filmed carrying out a vicious attack on an older bird in the centre of a spacious garden.

The 37 second mobile phone footage ends when the bird is left lifeless on the grass.

Birds that do win don’t escape suffering horrific injuries in the barbaric battles.

One image of a “champion” cock posted by an individual in Limerick, showed serious wounds to its face and limbs. The picture was posted alongside the words: “Young scarface”.

Noteworthy asked the breeder about the group he runs, and its pro-cockfighting content.

He denied having any involvement in illegal activity and claimed to only keep chickens as pets.

However, he does advertise the sale of a number of birds on both the Facebook group and his own personal profile.

After being contacted by Noteworthy, the breeder posted a message on the social media group requesting that cockfighting videos no longer be shared to the page.

He also confirmed to our investigative reporter that he was administrator of the social media page, and stated that he has “no control” over what images, videos and advertisements are posted there by others.

He denied supporting or condoning cockfighting, and vehemently denied having any links to the cruel practice.

Cock with blurred scars and injuries. One member of the private Facebook group shared an image of an injured fighting bird.
Source: Facebook

Fighting gear and antibiotics advertised

The Ireland-based dealer has previously listed  a number of packets of the poultry drugs for sale on the group.

In a post uploaded on June 3, 2023, he advertised “Tylan antibiotic”, chicken wormer and “coxidious for chicks” available to buy directly from him.

A picture of some of the supplements and medication appears to show that they have been made outside of Ireland.

Under the Veterinary Medicinal Products, Medicated Feed and Fertilisers Regulation Act, it is illegal for a person to have in his possession or to supply a veterinary medicine that is not authorised here.

There are also strict regulations surrounding the use of antibiotics that are authorised, which the Health Products Regulatory Authority says can only be prescribed by veterinary practitioners under “ethical constraints”.

Noteworthy put these regulations to him, but did not immediately receive a response.

His partner later told us he’d sold the antibiotics as he had a “few packets spare”, and hoped they could be used by others in the care of birds.

Another product advertised directly by the bird breeder is chicken muffs – foot protection regularly used on fighting birds during training sessions ahead of gruesome battles.

These can be bought directly from him for €20 a pair.

Asked about this, his partner told Noteworthy on his behalf that the gamecock gear could be used on chicken spurs to prevent injuries to anyone handling the birds.

Other members of the Irish Facebook group have posted ads promoting the sale of disturbing bird fighting gear.

That includes chicken leg weights – round objects placed around the top of bird’s feet to “increase the weight/strength of a chicken punch”.

Rooster “dolls” have also been posted for sale by other members. These are used in the cockfighting world to mimic an opponent to “train” a bird ahead of an upcoming battle.

Foreign sellers have also used the group to post ads promoting black market performance drugs for birds, one of which claims to “increase aggressiveness and speed”  during matches. Another states it improves “resistance to pain and blows”.

Both are being sold for less than €10 a bottle, and promise to increase birds’ performance in “relentless attack” and “stamina during battle”.

Some of the foreign sellers say they can ship their products to Ireland within a week.

Large number of sachets from an image selling medication. Some of the medication, including poultry antibiotics, posted for sale by the Irish chicken breeder on Facebook.
Source: Facebook

Irish defence member and foreign official linked

The group has also been used to organise illegal matches.

Posting a video of one of his birds on 08 March, one Irish group member wrote: “Stag there for a match, get back to me boys there [sic] for sport not for show”.

Another member, whose social media pages identify him as a current member of the Irish Defence Forces, posted images of his birds tethered in what appears to be his back garden.

The man has also asked for advice on building up muscle on his stags’ chests.

Noteworthy approached the Irish Defence Forces about the involvement of the individual in the Facebook group.

A spokesperson confirmed the man is still a serving member of the Defence Forces, but was unable to comment on the issues raised by Noteworthy.

Of the many others who have contributed to the Facebook group, one includes a high-ranking foreign government official based in Ireland.

The man, who has a large social media following, recently posted a video of two young chicks savagely attacking each other.

The Irish breeder, who Noteworthy contacted about the social media group, said that he now intended to close the page following contact with our reporter.

However, at the time of publication, the group was still active and a post added to the group asking that cockfighting videos no longer be shared.

The individual’s partner reiterated that he had no links whatsoever to cockfighting, and that any claims made by in him online were false, and done so for increasing engagement on his channels.

Bottles of performance drugs with the text above: Make birds more aggressive, take a longer breath, resistance to attacks, bird is more powerful, relentless attack, make body temperature stable, increase bird stamina during battle. How to use: Give 1 drop for 3 days before fighting, and give 2 drops 30 minutes before fighting. Some of the illegal performance drugs posted for sale by foreign sellers on the Irish gamecock Facebook group.
Source: Facebook

Calls for investigation and enforcement

Reacting to the Noteworthy revelations, independent TD Paul Murphy called on the State to take enforcement action.

“It is horrendous that cockfighting continues to take place in Ireland and is promoted online by people who make money from this cruel so-called sport,” he said.

“We need action from the state to ensure that the ban on cockfighting is enforced. Facebook needs to act to stop the promotion of this illegal activity on its site.”

The National Animal Rights Association (NARA) said it is “shocked, upset and disturbed” that the bloodsport is still taking place in Ireland.

“Considering it was banned in the 1800s, it’s alarming that these depraved individuals have felt comfortable with organising and engaging in such a warped and viciously cruel activity in such a blatant way,” Laura Broxson told Noteworthy.

“It is animal abuse to the extreme, and we can only hope that all those involved will be swiftly dealt with by the justice system to a degree that no one in Ireland would even contemplate engaging in such an activity again – even if they wanted to.”

The animal rights group also said it was “deeply worried” how the Irish cockfighting network has been able to operate without coming to the attention of authorities or “even to people within their local communities”.

“Something is going very wrong in Ireland regarding basic animal welfare – let alone animal rights,” said Broxson.

The animal rights advocate suggested mandatory animal welfare classes in schools, “a huge increase” in animal welfare inspectors and dedicated Gardai to tackle animal cruelty.

She also said courts needed to impose “appropriate consequences for the immoral, [violent ] thugs that clearly exist here.”

Cock with leg weights and blurred out blood and injuries. An image of an injured bird wearing leg weights posted on the social media group.
Source: Facebook

Cross-border cockfighting network

In 2013, a cross border cockfighting network was exposed by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA).

It followed a two year investigation by the animal charity which uncovered a series of organised bird fights in Co Monaghan and Co Derry.

Footage filmed by USPCA officials in Co Monaghan showed up to 60 people, some of them children, watching a cockfight in a makeshift ring.

USPCA chief executive Nora Smith told Noteworthy that “cruel and hideous” cockfighting rings continue to exist on the island.

“Despite cockfighting being illegal for almost 200 years, it is still a popular sport amongst certain societal groups,” she said.

“Unfortunately, cockfighting rings do exist in Northern Ireland and while they do, they will remain a key area of focus for our charity.”

The animal charity chief described the animal fighting world as “incredibly dangerous”.

“Cockfighting cases can be some of the most difficult to uncover,” she said.
“They are incredibly secretive so catching those involved in the act can be extremely difficult.”

She urged anyone with information to report it to the authorities and animal charities such as the USPCA or the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA).

“We rely on tip-offs from the public to help expose and stop those involved. It’s cruel and hideous,” Smith said.

“The suffering and the stress these animals have to endure is inconceivable”.

Person holding what looks like large claws or talons with metal ends. One member posted an image of spurs in the Irish social media group, used on fighting in the brutal bird battles to increase its chances of winning.
Source: Facebook

Offenders face prison if convicted

Conor Dowling, chief inspector of enforcement with the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), said strict laws are in place in Ireland to deal with bird fighting offenders.

“There can be severe penalties for animal fighting and baiting under modern legislation, with the provision for prison sentences of up to five years if convicted on indictment,” he told Noteworthy.

“If the ISPCA is made aware of evidence of illegal cockfighting, we will endeavour to ensure that those involved face the full rigour of the law so that this barbaric practice can be consigned to the history books where it belongs.”

According to the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, cockfighting has previously been carried out in two forms, “naked heel” and “spur fighting”.

In naked heel fighting, the birds’ natural spurs are sharpened to maximise the injury
they can inflict.

While spur fighting sees three-inch long steel spurs being attached to the sides of their legs.

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports said these are “designed to cause even greater injuries and result in more savage battles” in cock fights which can last up to 25 minutes, or as long as the birds can withstand the injuries.


Noteworthy logo with fighting cock in the background.

By Patricia Devlin of Noteworthy

Noteworthy is the crowdfunded investigative journalism platform from The Journal. This article was funded in its entirety by our investigative fund. We can’t do this work without your support. Please consider contributing here:

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