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Celebrating 250 years of Circus in Ireland in 2018.

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Last Wednesday 19th April- Circus 250, led by the inimitable Dea Birkett, was launched under the crowded Tumble Circus’ big top on the side of the Atlantic Ocean at South Park – Nimmo’s Pier, Galway city.

Circus 250 in a nutshell


Logo by Circus Champion Peter Blake.

Circus 250 is a celebration of the birth of modern circus in 1768, as created by Sir Philip Astley, in the heart of London. He is credited with discovering that the ideal size for a circus ring is 42 feet in diameter. This enables the rider to make maximum use of the centrifugal force to maintain balance on a horse’s back while riding at speed. From here, the very next place Astley established his Amphitheatre was Ireland, and that is what we are coming together to celebrate - the Grandfather of Circus and the invention of the Circus Ring.



The launch

Over a hundred people from all over the country made the trip to Galway to attend the launch of Circus 250. Tumble Circus’ big top was crowded with the most glamorous circus and arty personalities.

We spotted in attendance personalities such as: John Concannon of Creative Ireland, Gary McMahon of Galway City Council,Secretary of ISACS, Joanne Drumm - National Gallery of IrelandTracy Geraghty – Galway 2020, Marilyn Gaughan – Galway 2020, Tara Gerbola -Circus Gerbola, Niamh Moloughney – Galway Community CircusFergal McGrath – Town Hall Theatre GalwayBryan Donaldson – High Performance RiggingAidan Phelan - Chair of ISACS, Moe Coakley – Secretary of ISACS, Maria & James Moynihan Lee, Fidget Feet Dance crew – Aerialists & ISACS member, Paddy Waters – circus artist ISACS member, Sevesfeathers– circus artist & ISACS member, Ria Murphy - Aerial Cirque & ISACS member, Audrey Oriental Dance - street arts performer & ISACS member and many more!


circus250 Tumble Circus big top

Picture: Tumble Circus Big Top by Charlotte Haffner

Introduction to Circus 250

The Circus 250 celebration is the brainchild of ISACS Member Dea Birkett, who has her base on the very beautiful Achill Island and introduced us all to a little bit about what we can anticipate.

Announced on the night were the Circus Champions for Ireland 2018, who have all leant their voice to Circus 250.


John Mc Colgan – founder of Riverdance

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John does not need to be introduced. He’s a multi-award-winning producer and director whose career began when he was RTÉ Television Head of Entertainment in the mid-seventies. He is also world-famous for playing a key role in the evolution of Riverdance from the original seven-minute dance number to direct the full stage show spectacular.

John has been closely involved with the Abbey Theatre and received many awards during his career, including an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the National University of Ireland, in recognition of his services to the arts and entertainment industry.


John Mc Clogan earliest memory of circus is back in the 1950’s when circus offered an escape from everyday life in Irish little towns bringing a glimpse of multiculturalism and exoticism. John remembers being captivated by this magical world:  

its smell, its vivid glowing colours, its lively bands, its animals and its ladies in sparkling tights..

John also remembers being amazed by the family tradition behind a show and how each member would work together to bring the show to life, taking part in every step, from selling tickets to wowing the crowd. He believes we need to pass on the torch to the next generation of children and grandchildren. John is proud to support Circus Culture in its traditional and modern style and wants to see more youth circus projects like Galway Community Circus flourishing all over the country.

Little John Nee – Actor


Little John is a writer, storyteller, musician, performer. He has developed and refined a unique style of musical storytelling with physical theatre, working in collaboration with many musicians. He travelled all over the world (Spain, France and USA to name a few) and the length and breadth of Ireland to write shows, perform and take part in artist residencies (with Barrabas Theatre Co. Earagail Arts Festival, Axis Ballymun, Donegal County Council, Galway Art Festival and Leitrim County Council, Galway City, An Grianan Theatre Letterkenny).


He was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in Washington DC.


John reckons circus has influenced his artistic work in theatre, cabaret shows and street performance.

Gabriel Byrne – Actor

gabriel byrneGabriel James Byrne is an Irish actor, film director, film producer, writer, cultural ambassador and audiobook narrator. His acting career began in the Focus Theatre before he joined London's Royal Court Theatre in 1979. He has now appeared in over 60 feature films and has worked with some of cinema's leading directors, including the Coen Brothers, Wim Wenders, Costa Gavras, Jim Jarmusch, Ken Loach, John Boorman, David Cronenberg and Bryan Singer.

He was nominated for awards such as Best Actor from The Tony Awards, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the Emmy Awards, and won Outer Critics Circle Best Actor, Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Drama Series.


"My first encounter with live performance was a visit to the circus in Dublin.
Full of colour and laughter and drama.
I've never forgotten the thrill and magic of that first experience. To this day I've retained a child's love of circus."— Gabriel Byrne

Camille O’Sullivan – Singer

camilleosullicansIrish-French Camille O'Sullivan is a self-taught award winning singer, storyteller and actress, born in London and raised in Cork. Prior to taking a circuitous route to becoming a performer, she was an award-winning architect and painter. She studied Fine Art Painting for a year and then went to UCD and graduated as an Architect, winning the prestigious Architectural Association of Ireland Award in 2000. She lectured in University and exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy as a painter.Camille O'Sullivan now enjoys a formidable international reputation for her unique dramatic interpretations of the narrative songs of Nick Cave, Brel, Waits, Bowie, Radiohead and Arcade Fire. She tours the world singing and performing in theatres, films and TV.

Her awards include: Herald Angel (Performance) at Edinburgh International Festival 2012, Woman of the Year (Music) at Irish Tatler (2011), Best Spiegeltent Show at Dublin Fringe 2008 /2010, Spirit of the Fringe at Edinburgh Fringe, Best Music at Brighton Festival Awards, Best Performer at Brighton Festival Awards, Best Music Artist at Melbourne Green Room Theatre Awards, and Olivier Award (as cast member) at La Clique Best entertainment

Camille’s singing takes the audience into a magical world inspired by the circus, cabarets and carnivals.

Camille Souter – Artist

CamilleSouterCamille Souter is an award-winning artist based in Achill Island. She was born in England, in 1929, raised in Ireland and studied nursing in London before taking up painting while on a trip to Italy during her recovery from an illness in the mid-1950s. Returning to Ireland in 1956, Souter began her career as an artist in earnest. Her work is characterised by both an interest in ordinary, unexceptional things and a tendency to paint in series recurring themes like flying, medical memories, the Gulf War, meat and the circus. 



Camille Souter won the Landscape Award at the Oireachtas Exhibition, the Gainey Award, the Prix de Ville de Monaco and first prize at the Claremorris Exhibition. The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin held a major retrospective of her work in 1980 and she has also exhibited with major Irish group shows such as the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, the RHA Annual, Independent Artists and the Oireachtas Exhibition.

Circus has inspired her famous Circus series.



Panti Bliss - performer

Panti Bliss 1Rory O'Neill, also known by his stage name as Panti Bliss is a drag queen and gay rights activist from Ballinrobe, County Mayo. She began performing while an art student in the late 80’s before moving to Tokyo and becoming a fixture on the Tokyo club scene. Returning to Dublin she ran some of Dublin’s seminal club nights, hosted the legendary Alternative Miss Ireland for 18 years, and toured all over the world.


Panti has written and performed critically acclaimed, hit and sold out theatre shows at the Abbey Theatre, Galway Arts Festival, Edinburgh Festival.


Circus as an art form has evolved hugely over the years, moving from horse based equestrian shows initially, through the Victorian era and into the 21st century with a wide range of styles, techniques and reasons to get involved and be part of the circus. 


Circus 250 will be a nationwide celebration which every community everywhere is invited to participate. It will involve programmes with the National Gallery of Ireland, with Festivals, with Art Centres, libraries, schools and much more... If you have an idea for a Circus 250 event, the door is wide open to all to make it happen, so as Dea urged us all ‘Dare to Dream’.

The performances

At this star-studded launch party we were treated to performances from:

Actor Little John Nee

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Picture: Patrick Feige Photography

Little John Nee performed an original song from one of Ireland’s most famous singing clowns Johnny Patterson. 


Classical Circus artist Suzy Steele of Circus Gerbola

Suzy Steele Circus Gerbla Circus250

Picture: Patrick Feige Photography

Circus Gerbola's Ethos is to provide excellent traditional circus entertainment with a theatrical and contemporary twist. They have developed a traditional family show with real audience intimacy. They tour across Ireland to reach smaller rural communities where larger circuses are unable to go, increasing and broadening access for all communities to live performance.

View Circus Gerbola ISACS profile 

Contemporary Circus artist Tina Machina of Tumble Circus

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Picture: Patrick Feige Photography

Tina Segner is an acrobat and circus artist specialised in aerial and doubles trapeze. She founded Tumble Circus with Ken Fanning in 2006 after working together since 2000. They met in Dublin in 1995 after Tina had hitch-hiked from Sweden to Dublin. She was taking a year out of university to see the world and got involved in a street theatre company. It was then that she was first introduced to circus. She never went back to study astronomy and ran away with the circus. Tina was immediately hooked, and her passion for physical skills was to take her to Circomedia in Bristol. Since then she has performed nationally and internationally from fields in Sligo to deserts in Australia.


Circus 250 Galway from Kevin Toolis on Vimeo.

Tumble Circus is a modern circus company, based in Belfast providing a unique experience of innovative and contemporary Irish circus, specialising in high-skill circus – theatre – comedy (indoors and outdoors) and film. At the core of Tumble Circus is a dedication to training, learning and constantly pushing the boundaries of their own work. It is their desire and life’s work to create new and exciting circus that entertains, amazes and is accessible to all. Irish contemporary circus at its finest – funny, flexible and refreshingly honest.
They have won international awards for their work and have toured throughout Ireland, UK, Europe, Canada and Australia. Winner with “This is what we do for a living” at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Nominated for Best Circus Show with “This is what we do for a living” at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Perth Fringe World.

The duo has always dreamed of having a big top and here they were celebrating the launch of Circus 250 in style!

View Tumble Circus ISACS profile 

Circus Artist of the future Elegant Ellie of Galway Community Circus.


Ellie Circus250 Galway Community Circus

Picture: Kevin Toolis

Ellie Concannon is 12 years of age and has been a member of Galway Community Circus for 4 years along with her two sisters. She's in Galway Community Circus Tweenies and Youth Aerial classes and she's a seasoned performer with a dozen circus shows under her belt.


Circus 250 Galway Girl on a Rope from Kevin Toolis on Vimeo.


Galway Community Circus is a charitable organisation built on fun, innovation and a commitment to inspiring and empowering people through circus arts. Galway Community Circus offers a comprehensive range of regular training and specialised workshops. Galway Community Circus children, young people and adults outreach programmes use circus arts as an educational tool for personal, social and community development.
Alongside with bringing the joy of circus arts to the community, Galway Community Circus aims to pin Irish Circus on the world map, create a centre of excellence for youth and social circus education in Ireland and guarantee circus access for all. Galway Community Circus is currently involved in Galway2020 Wires Crossed – a Balancing Act for Europe.

View Galway Community Circus ISACS profile 

The personality involved

Huge thanks are extended to everyone who came together to make this happen in the way that only circus can….to the hosts Ulla Hokkanen of Galway Community Circus, host Ken Fanning of Tumble Circus and tech engineer Corentin, to the speakers Mr John Mc Colgan and Mr James Harrold (Galway City Council Arts Officer), to the artists who performed as above, to the caterers Michelle and Heidi at the Kitchen Café and to Yvonne Sullivan McCormack on Candy floss, to photographers and videographers Charlotte Haffner of ISACS, Dave Gannon, Kevin Toolis and Patrick Feige, to ISACS Board members for all their support Aidan Phelan and Moe Coakley and last but not least a huge massive congrats to Dea Birkett for pulling it off! Legend!!!


Dea Birkett Charlotte Haffner Lucy Medlycott ISACS Circus250

 Picture: Charlotte Haffner (ISACS), Dea Birkett (Circus250), Lucy Medlycott (ISACS) by Kevin Toolis



See you in 2018!

We, at ISACS are so proud to have been able to support Dea and the launch of Circus 250 with such glam, glitz, sparkle and excitement as we saw last Wednesday. Diversity, community, family, versatility, risk, excitement – the future of Circus. Dare to Dream! Looking forward to 2018 already!!

The exciting Circus 250 full programme of nationwide events will be announced this autumn so keep an eye on Circus 250 and ISACS websites, Twitters & Facebooks pages!

Lucy Medlycott & Charlotte Haffner

Watch the event live streaming

Event gallery


Irish Street Arts Circus and Spectacle Network

Irish Theatre Institute, 17 Eustace St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland
00 353 (0)87 0541812