Rumble in the rectory: Irish priest takes to the ring

Rumble in the rectory: Irish priest takes to the ring
Fr Pierre Pepper is carried aloft after defeating Jared Madden during his amateur boxing match in the town of Banagher in County Offaly March 15 , 2015. Fr Pepper has spent the last two months training for an amateur boxing match to raise proceeds for charity.

BANAGHER, Ireland - An Irish Catholic priest gave a whole new meaning to "white collar boxing" at the weekend after taking to the ring to battle a parishioner in a charity fight.

Father Pierre "Jalapeno" Pepper donned the boxing gloves for the first time as part of his parish's fundraising "Saint Patrick's Weekend Punch-Up", ahead of Ireland's national day on Tuesday for its patron saint.

The pugilistic priest, 37, became a national sensation after an online video taunting his opponent went viral, leading to a television appearance.

In the video, Pepper quotes from the Bible and warns parishioner Jared Madden his opponent of his impending doom while five other priests look-on menacingly.

"The Lord says vengeance is mine... say your prayers, because judging time is close at hand," his opponent is told.

Pepper told AFP: "It's taken a life of its own. From kids I visit in school to older people on sick calls, they're all behind it." Hundreds of locals in the small town of Banagher in County Offaly, on the banks of the River Shannon in central Ireland, packed into a marquee at the back of a pub Saturday night to see a number of locals fight - but the clash of priest versus parishioner was the main event for most.

'Say your prayers'

White collar boxing, where men and women from "white collar" professions take part in fights, has become a popular method of fundraising for charities in Ireland in recent years.

The opportunity for Pepper came about after a chance meeting with the organiser in a pub.

"I said fair enough but like many things agreed to in a pub, I didn't know if it was serious," Pepper said.

When asked if he had any boxing experience, he laughed: "Yeah - but not in the ring." The colourful priest, who used to play Gaelic football, trained five times a week in preparation, and last month also took part in another local charity dancing event.

"I was going from dancing to boxing, I didn't know if I was going to hit the girl or dance with the fella I was boxing with," he said, laughing.

While the event was purely to raise money for charity, Pepper said it also gave him an opportunity to meet the local community outside of church.

"When you're not meeting in a church, you get a chance for people to know you and for you to see another side of people," Pepper added.

"The brand that priests have has taken a knock over the last 15 years so it's a good thing to be out among the people in a different setting." Although the judges awarded victory to Pepper after the three two-minute rounds, the parish priest was up to celebrate the 8:00am mass the morning after.

And despite the obvious links, he said God was a neutral during the match.

"That's the problem. God loves everyone the same so he couldn't just be on my side."

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