Knife crime is a major concern in mainland Britain. In Northern Ireland, it is relatively low level, but the effects can still be horrific. Here, boxer Caoimhin Hynes talks to PHILIP BRADFIELD about how a knife attack almost claimed his life, and the battle to reclaim his full mental strength.
West Belfast international amateur boxer Caoimhin Hynes has never been stopped in the ring.
But a knife attack in Belfast city centre last year almost ended the 21-year-old’s life and has left him with one simple message for those who carry knives:
“Anyone that carries a knife is a coward - plain and simple.”
The Holy Trinity middleweight won gold at an international tournament in Paris days before the attack in May 2017. Caoimhin has had around 30 international fights for Ireland.
“I have never been knocked out or stopped,” he said.
However, last year it was an attack with a knife that laid him out in a hospital emergency room.
He left a bar in Belfast city centre with his girlfriend, Caoife Moore, and they queued outside a fast food outlet for something to eat.
“Then someone threw something,” said Caoimhin. “It hit the back of me and went all over my girlfriend.
“So I turned around to see who it was - and shouted ‘who threw that?’”
About 30 young males in tracksuits started shouting abuse at the sportsman. An attack ensued and he was hit on the side of the face with a bottle and fell to the ground.
He did not know any of the males, nor was any motive for the attack was given. Others intervened to help him.
Afterwards, his girlfriend told him: “Caoimhin, your face is in a bad way.”
Although he was bleeding badly from a massive slash on his face and neck, Caoimhin did not see or feel a knife at any time.
A person was interviewed by police and a file was sent to the PPS but they said there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Caoimhin’s darkest moment was in hospital after the attack as four doctors were working frantically on him.
“I was looking up at the ceiling and I saw the blood shooting up when they took the dressing off.”
Doctors told his girlfriend - “An inch and a half lower and he would have bled out in 12-13 seconds.”
Caoimhin was back fighting after four months and has since won a competition in Spain. However, he is still recovering mentally.
The support of Caoife has been invaluable, he said.
“I have always been head strong and would deal with things myself but there have been a lot of times that I have broken down and said to my girlfriend that I have needed her to be there for me.
“I have kind of fallen apart and she has been there to help me. I couldn’t thank her enough.”
He added: “I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe I had to go through this to make me realise that if there is anything I want to do in life, give it your all because you never know when it can end. An inch and a half lower and…”
Three of his friends were also victims of knife crime in west Belfast - all of them adults and boxers.
Anthony Upton was stabbed in the arm with a screwdriver, and Paul Hyland jr was stabbed nine times in the back and head.
In May 2015 his friend Eamonn Magee Jr, 22, a professional boxer and son of former WBU welterweight champion Eamonn Magee Sr, died after a frenzied knife attack.
Now, he has some plain advice to anyone carrying knives - or who wants to avoid them.
“Anyone that carries a knife is a coward, plain and simple. If you are thinking about it, don’t do it. It is not worth the hurt you are going to put someone through or the consequences for you if you get caught. You could end someone’s life and go to jail - and mentally hurt someone for the rest of their life.
“For me, I would never have walked away from a fight. I would not shy away, but now going through this experience I would definitely say - ‘walk away’.
“It is not worth it. Even a fight - one punch can kill.”
A lot of fights break out at fast food outlets in the city centre after closing time because people are drunk or on drugs, he says.
“I would say just go straight home and get something to eat at home instead.”
The experience was one fight he did not see coming, but it has motivated him even more to aim high in his career: world champion?
“Definitely!” he laughed.