The Celt who packs a belt

Tue, Apr 6, 2010, 01:00

He’s got fiery red hair and freckles, and terrifies his opponents by shouting as Gaeilge, but behind the scary image of Sheamus aka The Celtic Warrior is a soft-spoken Dubliner who grew up in Cabra and developed a real passion for wrestling, writes RÓISÍN INGLE

‘A CHARA, Sheamus is ainm dom.” The introduction is delivered loudly into a microphone in a thick Dublin accent. It’s not the fighting parlance you expect from a six-foot-six, 20-stone wrestler following in the spectacular, if not entirely noble, tradition of Hulk Hogan and the other gentlemen of world wrestling. But then Sheamus aka The Celtic Warrior is not your average musclebound showman.

Sheamus, a wrestling character in a world which peddles “real-life superheroes”, defies all stereotypes. A fluent Irish speaker from Cabra, he throws in the cúpla focal by way of intimidating opponents. His hair is big and red, he even has a sprinkling of freckles while his skin is Guaranteed Irish milk bottle white, which makes him stand out against the acres of bronzed skin on show at his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) events. His image is a cross between Fionn mac Cumhaill and Groundskeeper Willy from The Simpsons. And because of (despite?) all this he is a rapidly rising WWE star.

After watching a few of his fights on YouTube, especially the one where he lays into the poor timekeeper and commentator for no apparent reason, I am a bit apprehensive about our scheduled phone interview from the States.

Sheamus sounds tired, which is not surprising. The wrestling carnival is always on the go – the US, Australia and, soon, Europe again including two nights in Ireland. But Sheamus doesn’t sound at all scary, which is a bit disappointing, frankly.

“I’m either doing a show, or in the gym, or studying WWE videos or eating, I have to eat a lot,” he explains in a polite voice. “Around seven meals a day. You wear a lot of spandex in this game and you really do not want any overhang.”

He is based in Florida with the rest of the wrestlers. “When I am there I wander around wearing a hoodie and factor 100, I don’t go any colour except red in the sun,” he says.

The wrestler is cagey about his age (“old enough”) and his real name (“don’t really want it mentioned”) although his Wikipedia entry says, sorry Sheamus, that his name is Stephen Farrelly and he is 32.

His first home was in North Great George’s Street in the heart of Dublin and he sang in the Palestrina Choir. As a teenager in Cabra he was a huge fan of WWF (World Wrestling Federation) as it was known before the World Wildlife Fund got the hump and sued them to protect their name.

“I remember when I saw my first wrestling show in the Point as it was then, I didn’t sleep for three days afterwards,” he says. He bonded with his granny Annie Farrelly over wrestling. “It was the only thing we watched on the telly together, she was usually into stuff like Murder, She Wroteand I wasn’t,” he says.

Most people with a dream to be the next Hulk Hogan grow out of it eventually. “People sniggered at the idea but I just kept after it,” he says. Sheamus was still chasing his dream after getting a diploma in marketing from the National College of Ireland. He has worked as an IT technician and used to look after Bono when he worked in Lillie’s Bordello as a bodyguard. Six years ago he started training in Jerry Sharpe’s legendary Monster Factory school of wrestling in New Jersey, sustaining a neck injury in one of his first fights. He spent the next few years with Irish Whip Wrestling, then made his mark on the British wrestling circuit before honing his “Sheamus” persona and getting snapped up by the WWE.

Having attended Irish language schools and developed a love of Irish mythology, Sheamus was never going to go down the Paddywhackery route with his character. “You know the way it is, sometimes Americans think of us as their backward little cousin,” he says. “It’s the whole shamrock, potatoes, famine, leprechaun thing, all that drunken paddies rubbish.”

He wanted to bring something positive to the ring, a persona that challenged the prevailing view of the Oirish. He looked to the mythology he loved as a child and came up with Sheamus O’Shaunessy, now shortened to Sheamus. The character is supposed to embody a “hybrid of warrior strength and a strong ethical centre”.

“The Celts were harder than anyone else, tougher and rugged, we battered everybody,” he explains.

The WWE phenomenon is massive business, taking in almost $500 million (€368m) in revenue last year with pay-per-view television events in 26 countries. It’s dangerous despite the tightly scripted mix of wrestling, theatre and acting. “You can’t think about what is going to happen, it is risky but it’s kind of like if you are afraid of heights then don’t look down. That’s why we say ‘don’t try this at home’ – we are highly trained entertainers who spend countless hours in the schools honing our skills,” he says.

While the fighters do get hurt, it’s widely accepted that it contains faked ferocity and the outcomes are often predetermined. There is also a darker side to this world, with rumours of steroid abuse and the tragedy three years ago of former WWE star Chris Benoit who killed his wife and son before taking his own life.

But Sheamus chats about how WWE is “family entertainment, a way for people to let off steam. There is no blood any more like there was in the old days and it’s all PG. Kids love it and their parents love it . . . it’s such an adrenaline rush and I am so proud to be part of it.”

A big part of being a WWE wrestler is having a mantra. Sheamus has his own words of wisdom: “I have always been. I will always be. Come with me.”

“It’s kind of the Celtic vibe,” he says. “I am saying I will never change, I will always be the same, follow me, this is what I stand for.” It sounds a lot more convincing when he is in spandex pants and beating 40 shades of green out of an opponent. Honest.

Know your Sheamus

HEIGHT6ft 6in WEIGHT20 stone

BIRTH5000 BC. Allegedly.

SIGNATURE MOVESThe Irish Curse: A low blow perfected by the Dubliner. See also: The Celtic Cross or Crucifix Powerbomb, where his opponent is carried over his head with his arms in the shape of a cross before being slammed down on the canvas.

TITLE BELTSTwo-Time Irish Whip Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, WWE Championship holder, beating WWE legend John Cena

MOVIES The Escapist, Three Crosses

BEST INSULT HURLED AT SHEAMUS“The most token-looking Irishman I have ever seen in my life” (by wrestler Fit Linlay’s sidekick Little Bastard).

SYMBOLHis own design of pendant called the Crossos, a hybrid of a Celtic cross and war sword

MANTRA“I’ve Always Been, I’ll Always Be, COME WITH ME!!!” or “I’m bringing ginger back!”

The Smackdown RAW WWE events take place in the O2 arena in Dublin on April 9 and 10. Sheamus features in RAW on the Saturday April 10