Boxing clever: Mayo farm family on ‘Fittest Family’ tactics

It was all about boxing clever for a Mayo farm family when it came to taking part in this year’s ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ series which was filmed over the course of three weeks in August at the new hub at ‘Hell & Back’ in Kilruddery, Co. Wicklow.

Dad Pat McDonagh (52) was joined by sons Matthew and Paraic and daughter Leah in the gruelling competition.

Pat, who is head coach for Geesala boxing club in north Mayo, has trained all of his children in boxing and martial arts. He built a gym in their garage which the whole family use. As well as managing the small family farm which was dairy in the past, he works part-time on building and fitness projects.

Matthew is currently working on a contract in the UK but plans to return home and do the Green Cert as he has a keen interest in farming. He boxes in his spare time.

Paraic is studying computer programming in Sligo IT. He has an All-Ireland boxing title and represented his country at the age of 14. He also plays football.

Leah, who attends school in Rossport, plays football for her local team but boxing is her main sport. She too has an All-Ireland title in boxing. Mam Sheila is in charge of nutrition in the super fit household.

Mental health boost

Pat sees the physical exertion involved in farming as having a benefit on mental health in general.

Farming and fitness go hand in hand. Working outside with animals is very grounding.

Local clubs, including boxing, provide an important outlet, Pat said.

“We are 48 miles from the nearest big town. Because we are so rural, we don’t have a massive choice when it comes to facilities and maybe too much choice is not a good thing. We have the GAA, soccer and boxing and for other things, you have to be willing to travel. We have found a natural migration takes place into the boxing club and it’s good to have the mental challenge of sport.”

Having lived in London and Northampton in the UK, he was always keen to return home and rear his family on the farm which enjoys picture postcard views of Achill Island. “We are lucky to have wide open fields and be beside the sea.”

While rural isolation is a problem for many, Pat said that the spirit of Meitheal has not died in his area. “We have quite a few widows and elderly people and all the local young people help them out with jobs they aren’t able to manage such as saving the hay and turf.

“The last year has been very tough on a lot of people who lost people to the virus but the fact that we are in an isolated area has helped stop the spread of Covid here,” said Pat.

“When it came to entering ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’, we were motivated because it was spring time, we worked hard at keeping fit and the competition gave us a focus for our downtime. We had a very competitive mindset from doing GAA and boxing,” said Pat.


In preparation for their participation, the family set out to pack a punch by watching previous episodes of the show and setting up similar challenges.

We have a friend in Achill who had set up mud runs and we did those as well as some rowing, kayaking and pulling vans and tractors to build ourselves up.

“It has been a fantastic experience. I can’t say enough good things about the production company and RTÉ. It’s such a huge event and yet still very community based. We actually knew another family through someone else. We were really delighted to be accepted and to get the chance to take part.

“It gave us time to spend with our kids and we were all committed to doing the best we possibly could. If we got the opportunity to do something similar again, we would grab it. There’s nothing like challenging yourself.”

‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ airs on RTÉ One on Sundays at 6:30pm. The McDonaghs – one of a number of farm families featured – can be seen on the third episode, Sunday, January 17.