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The Duffys & the Challenging World of the Circus in 19th and 20th Century Britain & Ireland

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 28, 2012


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by Richard McMinn

‘A big happy family for one and all’?

"Whoever is foolish enough to attempt to write a history of the circus and of circus families will perish in a madhouse." - John L. Clarke

"Circus history and circus mythology have become very much entwined … The memories, testimonies and handbills which constitute the clues to its history and development frequently demonstrate enough cavalier indulgence of fancy over fact to make an occasional Gradgrind out of the investigator." - Helen Stoddardt

This article examines the world of the circus in Britain & Ireland, and shows that it is hard to find a better example of the historical significance of the family unit (ruling dynasties apart), with all its confusing complexities and at times disagreements, than that provided by the Irish circus industry, except perhaps for that other branch of traditional entertainment, from which the circus in part sprang, the fairground.