The word donnybrook means "an uproarious brawl", and the meaning comes from a fair held in Donnybrook, Ireland (now a Dublin suburb). Finding it hard to imagine how a small provincial fair was violent enough to get a world-wide reputation? This one was!
Since 1204, there was a yearly fair in Donnybrook. People would come and set up tents, and peddle all sort of things, from horse trading, fortune telling, freak shows, the usual stuff. Oh, and drink too. Lots of drink. Basically, people would come along and get very, very pissed and have a big fight. Apparently it got to be quite famous, and people would come from all over the place to get to it - competition over the transport got so intense that there are reports in papers from about 1810 talking about broken heads in fights over just getting to the fair.
Here's a police report on the fair from 1882:
"On the occasion of the fair the customary number of complaints were made for broken heads, black eyes, bloody noses, squeezed hats, singed, cut and torn inexpressibles, jocks and upper benjamins, loodies, frocks, tippets, reels and damaged leghorns, together with sundry assaults, fibbings, cross buttocks, and ground floorings too numerous to mention."
Dear God - loodies and all. Who would have thought?
It really got quite violent though - it wasn't unusual for limbs to be lost. I can't imagine how. Basically, the fighting became the main attraction of the fair. The English couldn't understand it - "The Irishman is the only man in the world that fights for amusement". Ah well. I'm sure it was grand craic at the time.
The bishops, and genteel society in general, were quite scandalized, though, and pressed for a long time for the fair to be abolished - which it eventually was, by official decree in 1867. It still went on for about another forty years until eventually they built tennis courts on the site in 1901. So it moved across the road - and then they build a rugby club on that, so, for lack of a site, it eventually died out around 1910 or so. Apparently my local church was built to atone for the sinfulness of the fair.
Some silly local councillor recently resurrected it as this appallingly awful summer event involving street theatre. Ugghe. It didn't last very long. Moral of the story - in the long run, having your nose broken is more entertaining than street theatre.