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ISACS Member - Spraoi
ISACS Member - Spraoi St Patrick's Parade 2017 | Photographer Graham Cullen
33 minutes reading time (6641 words)

Women in Circus: 10 Irish Strong Women!

10 Irish strong women in circus

Join Women in Circus International Women’s Day celebrations! 

We have highlighted ten Women in Circus who have helped shape the Irish Circus landscape as we know it today! From Circus 250 ringmistress, Mother of Aerial Circus, academics, or strong figures in the national, local, contemporary or traditional sector, we have picked Irish Strong Women from different parts of the country, for their impact on the development of Irish Circus, strong personalities and involvement with the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network!

Of course, these are only ten profiles among many incredible Strong Women in Ireland and we salute all the Women in Circus in Ireland and beyond! Happy International Women's Day!

#WomeninCircus #Circus250 #IWD2018


On Thursday 08th, March 2018, Circus250 launches Women in Circus, a short film on female circus artistes past and present today and encourage women and men to join the conversation on Women in Circus, with images, anecdotes and stories – Follow the hashtags. The Irish Street Arts Circus and Spectacle Network is also joining the Circus250's International Women's Day campaign by presenting you 'Women in Circus: 10 Irish Strong Women'. Read on to discover our selection!


Women in Circus - A Circus250 documentary

But first, let's start the conversation with Women in Circus, courtesy of Circus250!

A unique soundtrack, rewriting the famous 19th century popular song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, accompanies the film, putting women back in the spotlight on the bar, highwire, aerial hoop, straps, silks, cordelisse

Women in Circus presents an extraordinary cast of historic and contemporary women, from 19th century tightrope walkers to today’s ringmistresses. It features, in live performance, the most daring Yasmine Smart, the most astonishing Nell Gifford, the most talented Rebecca Truman, the most clever Dr. Dea Birkett and the one and only Professor Vanessa Toulmin. We are delighted to say that Irish female Circus artists are well represented with mentions of Fidget Feet, Fossetts' Circus, Tumble Circus, etc.


Women in Circus: 10 Irish Strong Women!

Let us now introduce our Women in Circus strong women selection! We have asked them a few questions for you to discover who they are, their achievements, the challenges they face and their aspirations for Irish Circus!


Dea Birkett - Circus250 RingMistress

Achill Island - Mayo

View Circus 250 ISACS' Profile | www.circus250.org

Dea birkett


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

I ran away to the circus in my early 30s - realising it was my last chance fulfill the childhood dream of running away that I never grew out of.

I bought a second-hand 1970s 11ft Eldiss caravan, hitched it to the back of my tiny car, and drove to Sicily. I started as a general hand in an Italian circus then moved up to elephant girl.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

My time in the circus changed my life.

When the only female older than me on the fing was Julia, the elephant, who was in her 50s, I knew I had to leave. But I never really left. Circus is such a tight community that once you're in it, it never lets you go. So when another chance came to run away to the circus, two decades later, and run Circus250 Ireland - co-ordinating the nationwide celebrations around 250 years of circus this year - I chucked in my other work and signed up for the road. I¹ll spend a good part of this year traveling in my 11foot Eldiss. It's where I'm happiest.


What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

I'm most proud of the partnerships that have formed as a result of Circus250 and the places to which circus is being taken throughout the year. For example, the National Gallery in Dublin has a Circus250 exhibition opening in June, which is wonderful. It really cements circus as a serious art form. And I love the fact that our programme highlights great traditional performances in touring big tops alongside cutting-edge contemporary work such as hip-hop circus.

It's all circus. It's all fabulous.

I also think looking to the past to help us shape our futures - which is what Circus250 gives us the opportunity to do - is particularly important for women circus performers.

There's a long tradition of powerful women in circus of which we should be proud.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

Staying on top of an elephant and not toppling off!


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

In the school holidays, my 16-year-old son works in a circus as ring crew. It's where he's the happiest.­ He loves building things, teamwork, the risk and trust. He recently started a new school. At the end of his first day, I asked him how it went. 'Not great' he said. 'The teacher called me cheeky.' What had caused this? The teacher had asked all the kids what they wanted to be when they left school. Some said doctor, accountant, actor, writer, lawyer, business person, nurse, footballer.

..My son said, 'I want to work in the circus.' The teacher replied, 'Stop being so cheeky.' The teacher thought he was joking.

If a child is never told they're cheeky again for wanting to work in a circus, I count Circus250 a success.

If you would like to meetDea Birketton the road with Circus250 Caravan - an immersive experience, read our previous article: Bring Circus250 to Ireland!

Dea birkett caravan 002


Tara Gerbola - Circus Gerbola

Lucan, Dublin

View Circus Gerbola ISACS' profile | www.circusgerbola.ie

tara gerbola ISACS


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

I was born into it.

From my father's side of the family were Drama and Variety, who later moved in to amusements.

And from my mother's side also Drama and Variety who later moved into Circus, this change occurred with the advent of television.

My love and passion always leaned to the Circus.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I started as a Circus Artiste - primarily aerial work including Aerial rings, Cradle, Rope, Swinging Trapeze, Flying Trapeze, Low wire, Roller skates, Ringmistress.

Then, I met and fell in love with my husband Mikey, also a Circus performer.

We are now parents of three beautiful children and owners and operators of Circus Gerbola for past seventeen years.


What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

Creating a Circus in very difficult times and keeping it running, hiring in non-traditional circus artistes, and striving to continue.



What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

The education of our children in the traditional touring setting of a circus and the logistical challenges in getting them to school



What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

I would like sites provided by the council specifically for circus, and funding and accessibility to all.


Learn more on Circus Gerbola by listening to the Radio Documentary Ireland and the Circus Part 2.



Ulla Hokkanen - Galway Community Circus Director

Galway City

View Galway Community Circus ISACS profile | www.galwaycommunitycircus.com


Ulla Hokkanen ISACS

When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

Summer 1988 - thanks to Sorin Sirkus.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I grew up with youth circus in Finland where my parents were running a youth circus club.

I went on to study sociology and social work and ten years ago found the perfect way to combine these two passions at the Galway Community Circus. Since then I’ve been developing youth and social circus practice in Galway, Ireland and internationally because I believe that circus is just about the best thing there is for children and young people – for all of us actually!

I'm a board member of the International Youth and Social Circus Organisation CARAVAN and work a lot on European level.

Right now I’m busy with a project called Wires Crossed which is a large-scale European tight-wire project for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.

When forced, I perform on very rare and special occasions.



What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

Working with our team to develop Galway Community Circus into a youth circus school with five hundred weekly members and connecting Galway with the international youth and social circus sector. Getting circus arts included in the Creative Ireland’s Creative Youth plan.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

We overcome challenges every day but probably the recession and funding cuts a couple of years ago.


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?


I want circus arts to be supported so that artists can live, teach, train and create in Ireland. I want every child in Ireland to have the possibility to join a circus and every school to include circus in their curriculum.

I want youth circus to develop with quality and sustainability, for Ireland to have professional training for circus teachers and Galway Community Circus to have our forever-home.


Ulla hokkanen at work

Lucy Medlycott - Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network (ISACS) CEO

Wexford City


Lucy medlycott ISACS


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

I first got involved in Street arts in 1991...with the truly inspirational Martin Folan as a mentor, while studying in the Limerick School of Art and Design. We decided that art belonged to the people and that therefore it should be on the street and not indoors and from this concept, we built the Dream Factory.

Strictly speaking, this was not circus....but circus followed out of this.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

A number of us created our own company -  Bui Bolg in 1994 and started building a Youth Ensemble, engaging the young people of Wexford in juggling, stilt-walking, puppetry, fire performance and more.

Andi Goodwin entered the scene shortly after as did Eoin Reynolds (now of the Gandini Jugglers) and between them and many others they inspired many Wexford Youths.


What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

My biggest achievement is establishing and forming the ISACS Network together with Chantal Mc Cormick, Ulla Hokkanen and a host of other committed people (too many to mention).

Watching the ISACS members and the sector as a whole grow, evolve and develop is so deeply encouraging and rewarding and drives me on every day.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

The biggest challenge is the continuous lack of commensurate investment towards the output of these most democratic of art forms. This is something we as a community intend to tackle and address in the interests of a level playing field, for those who make, those who manage and those who learn and take from same.


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

I would like to see a third level course for all future Circus artists to receive high-level skills training here in Ireland. I would like to see these art forms acknowledged and truly, honestly recognised by our State departments and Councils. I would like to see investment into the wider arts and culture scene which can create meaningful employment for all artists to live and work together right here in Ireland.

lucy medlycott


Tina Segner - Tumble Circus


View Tumble Circus ISACS profile | www.tumblecircus.com

tina segner 2


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

I count 1st Sept 1997 as that’s when I started Circomedia, but my friend Lina taught me how to juggle 23 October 1993.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I never thought I’d be a circus performer, but it’s the only job I have ever had so I don’t know anything else (apart from picking strawberries, but I only lasted three days…).

I started doing street shows with juggling, fire and some acro. But due to being very stubborn and hard working and constantly wanting to be better I went to circus school and fell in love with aerial, probably because it was challenging and hard…

Ken Fanning and I started Tumble Circus together, about twenty years ago now.

We do indoor shows, outdoor shows, solo and duo shows as well as shows with more people, funny shows, skilled shows. I realised quite early on that if I wanted to make a career in circus in Ireland I had to be versatile and adaptable…. which lead me to be able to juggle, to ride a six-foot unicycle, to do hula hooping, aerial, handstands, partner acrobatics and also making it exciting and fun for the audiences.



What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

I have been touring nationally and internationally doing shows for the last twenty years.

I feel Tumble Circus as a company produces shows that people remember, it’s not just about the spectacle of doing dangerous and impossible circus tricks, it’s about showing people different ways of life, making people laugh and showing if you work hard and dream you can achieve anything.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

Balancing being Kasper’s mum with being a circus performer and running a company.


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

More training spaces, higher skill levels in all disciplines, more touring shows and venues and festivals booking and promoting circus. Just more of everything circus!!


Read Tumble Circus Member showcase to discover more about Tumble Circus!

tina segner

Chantal Mc Cormick - Fidget Feet Aerial Dance & Irish Aerial Creation Centre Director


View Fidget FeetIrish Aerial Creation Centre ISACS Profile

www.fidgetfeet.com | www.irishaerialcreationcentre.com

 Chantal McCormick ISACS


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

1999 - I learned stilts from a friend and started a club work and an Aerial cocoon club night. I took part in Cornwall festival and then started trapeze in a Circus space. After I started work with Scarebus theatre, my career began.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I trained as dancer and then moved on to circus. I started to mix both and found other artists who were doing the same and we called what we do “aerial dance".

My passion for Circus comes from a young age, since I was fourteen. After fifteen years in the UK training in dance and working for various companies, I wanted to run a dance company and bring everything that I learned back to Ireland. I come from a small town in Donegal and I wanted to meet people like me: Irish grown-up who wanted a career in dance or aerial and make it easier for them to start a career in Aerial than it had been for me.

Since then, I have been working very hard to make this art form accessible in Ireland for everyone.

When I permanently moved home to Ireland in 2009, there were no aerialists in Ireland that I could hire to perform for my new company Fidget Feet, so I started by teaching in Dublin and Galway Community circus. I then set up the annual Irish Aerial Dance Festival. I started to have Irish based aerialists working with me to grow and support aerial arts in Ireland but something was missing: we needed a space!

There were plenty of amazing aerial spaces to train with good floors, height and heat abroad and I knew that the sector needed a space like that, so I opened the Irish Aerial Creation Centre in 2015. 

At first, I only wanted a small little studio in the country for Fidget Feet, but when we got the Guinness award I thought I should share and open it to everyone and now we have a capital project to build the first-ever aerial space from ground-up.

None of this is easy and it is still an uphill struggle and I am overwhelmed and overworked, but the passion and the vision overrides this. As long as there is laughter with my aerial community and audiences still come and see the work, I want to keep going!

What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

Twenty years running First Aerial dance company in Ireland, nine years running an Irish Aerial Dance Festival - one of the biggest European festivals, four years of running the first National aerial dance centre.

What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

Where do I start !!!!! As we grow and getting bigger these change... Right now, the biggest challenge is the Capital Grant project!

What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

A purpose-built aerial dance centre 

Fidget Feet and Irish Aerial Creation Centre (IACC) have obtained a Capital grant and we are working with LCCC who has also match funded the funding, to make this happen by 2020!

Aerial and Circus to be fully funded with residencies and professional development courses.

Fidget Feet to become the first performance lead aerial company to be able to employ full-time performers - like MotionHouse in UK.

Fidget Feet Hang On 2017 Chantal McCormick


Amelie Bal - Realta Productions & Galway Community Circus Head of Education


View Realta ISACS profile | www.realta.ie

View Galway Community Circus ISACS profile | www.galwaycommunitycircus.com

amelie bal

When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

Christmas 2001 when my brother got me a pair of poi for my birthday.

I spent the following year spinning at least 4 hours a day. I was obsessed!


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I started gymnastics at a very young age and had a pretty decent level. I also did a good bit of theatre when I was young. I studied to become a modern languages teacher because I always wanted to travel. I was offered a job as a tutor at the University of Limerick in 2004.

I used to spin poi a lot and a friend invited me to perform (for my first time !) in the High Stool (a really cool pub in Limerick), then I randomly met Aidan Phelan in the streets of Galway. He was already linked to the fire spinning community through Home of Poi and with him I met a lot of the Irish circus community. That's when we started our love story and our work story.

I learned more circus, went to multiple events, juggling conventions and so on, and deepened my knowledge of circus and my love for it. In 2009 when I had my first child I started working under the marvelous mentoring of Ulla Hokkanen with the Galway Community Circus. We started together that year opening classes to younger kids, then to toddlers, to families... She has never ceased to trust me with new challenges!

In conjunction, Aidan and I created Realta, Ireland's leading stilts performance company (at least according to us !!) and it has been such a joy to perform what we wanted and how we wanted in so many venues and countries and companies.

This year, I had my second baby and have a little less time to perform, and also was offered the position of head of education in the Galway Community Circus, I am thrilled by this opportunity and this new challenge. It's all ahead of me!

What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

I feel like as a performer and artistic director of Realta, I really strived to make stilt-walking into a much broader and richer performance, and educating our audiences is a never-ending goal.

As an educator in the Galway community circus, I feel like we are really making a mark in children's art and education in Ireland. We are using circus to promote a really nurturing, creative, challenging art form that genuinely contributes to people's well being, and there is nothing else in the world I would rather do.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

The first show I ever had to direct was an aerial show in a theatre with a hundred and twenty kids under twelve that I had to fit into a one hour show.

I had a really good group of people to help and mentor me (Ulla from GCC and Lee from Fidget feet). I had to figure out how to give everyone a moment to shine, keep everyone safe, what happened backstage had to be directed as much and as well as what happened on stage, everything had to be thought about, even the pipi breaks! I was under so much pressure I was organising kids and stage in my dreams!


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

I would like to see circus taught in schools, and little community circuses popping in lots of cities. I would like to see more circus acts in theatre venues.

You can read more about Amelie on Amelie's Galway2020 profile

Realta Ignite 3


Francesca Castellano - Circus Outside the Box


View Circus Outside the Box ISACS profile | www.circusoutsidethebox.com

Francesca Castellano


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

I was an art student back in 2002 and my part-time job was busking with a drumming band on the streets at night.

There, I first met few fire-spinners, and we started jamming together. Little did I know that one of them was to become my life partner, Cormac. Within a couple of years, I would leave college and ran away with the circus to become a full-time mother and a performer.

I had a bet that I would be stilt-walking before my daughter took her first steps, and I won that bet. I also had a bet that I would unicycle before she could ride a bike, and this one I lost (...the one skill I never mastered!)


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I started working in Cork as costume designer for Cork Circus, making props, floats and costumes for Parades, Street Shows and Walkabouts. My first experiences were connected to youth outreach, and so I learned a basic level of a variety of skills. I enjoyed working with the small community here in Cork and my approach was, from its beginning, directed towards community cabaret, street theatre and youth circus.

In 2008 I formed the Aerial Company Sorcaluba, with Michaela Heyer and Linda Cullen. From the beginning, we started as a self-taught company and, we were training in the Firkin Crane. Sorcaluba was a formative experience for me. Having a company with two other strong creative women and touring Irish Art Festivals with a six-meter free standing truss formed me as a self-reliant artist and my practice became stronger because of it.

The creation of a Circus Training Space was a need and vision that we shared with other Cork-based performers and in 2009 we opened Circus Square, the beginning of what is now Circus Factory (more to come about this!).

From its beginning, having such a community around me and a circus space to train and create, has pushed my artistic practice towards an engaged-responsive process within the community: organizing masterclasses and regular training, directly teaching what is learned in a multi-disciplinary environment, constantly developing new material and performing work in progress as much as finalized work, and, above all, having the right space and people around you to experiment is a true gift for an artist.

From 2014 I developed as a solo performer, supported by the powerful teacher that is Sue Morrison, and started touring internationally with the clown show “Lulu's World “, which was selected from ISACS to be part of the Nest Program. Also through ISACS, I became involved in the development of our sector through advocacy and connections.

Last year I finally went back to college, to finish the Arts Degree interrupted 15 years earlier. It was a fantastic year and a significant shift in my practice towards Performance Art and Activism. The recognition and awards received also allowed me to further pursue this new direction in my work and this year I was awarded a scholarship for the Master in Art and Process which I am currently attending (I write this in college as part of my studio practice!).


What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

The biggest achievement I have is the one that I share with the diverse collective that is Circus Factory. It is the longest commitment of my career so far and it also is an ongoing project that I have always been proud of. The Circus Factory represents for me a significant step towards the development of Circus in Ireland.

It is a physical space that was born out of necessity from circus artists and it became a way of self-organizing resources and strength, to create a collective centre where we could train, create, experiment. Over the years, Circus Factory has become so much more. Through the many re-locations that were forced upon us, the collective has grown to involve many more people, to become a living community of traveling circus nomads, of artists from the four corners of the planet and of local new generations that become alert to a different lifestyle. As a community, we have kept our commitment to the original intent because from its beginning Circus Factory was a training centre created from its members for its members, and so this space has evolved, changed and adapted through the years, but, ultimately, survived whatever happened.

The Circus Factory is not my personal achievement, it is an achievement that I share with the multiplicity of artists that have created with me, that have shared it along the way, and that are still keeping it open today: it is a living project that is made by the bones and creativity of many artists, each one a complete entity working, living and creating within it.

Ireland is a country without a Circus School. It is a nation that has always struggled with the notion of arts as an elitist discipline. It is a country where the self-employed artist is not recognized as an important element within the creation of a cultural identity. The study from the Art Council on the Living and Working Conditions of Artists in 2010 has illustrated a grim picture for all of us, but the study is only proving what we all knew all along...as overqualified and underestimated workforce, we artist need to be creative not only in our artist practice, but as a way to survive to the end of each month! We have to be flexible and self-reliant and, if we want to create better conditions for ourselves, then it is vital to create our own spaces to practice our art, to join resources and share skills, to engage the outside audiences with productions, workshops, events, and, finally, we need to create a network of connections with other artists and other centers so that our collective practice can become our language


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

I have been invited to write here as a woman and a circus artist. The biggest challenge in my career has probably been how to find a balance between the two.

And this is a challenge that I share with women in general, not just with circus artists. This is a patriarchal society that values overachievers more than carers, profit makers more than life givers. And I feel infuriated when all of a sudden we are reminded of our vital role as incubators, the main reason to keep denying our human rights...and yet, the campaign to acknowledge our contributions as carers, life givers, homemakers and to receive a salary for it has been denied for over fifty years.

And so we struggle. We cut our careers between the chores and responsibility of the everyday, we postpone formative experiences to middle-age years when the kids will have left, and our art, our wisdom, our bravery becomes a balancing act between closed doors.

This is a challenge that is never won, finished, achieved. This challenge is embodied in the stubborn reliance of all women. But I would like to clarify, being a feminist does not mean for me to also be a reformist...and I do want to address here a specific gender and also a specific class, even if this last word has been somehow removed from the political discourse for the last few years.

The challenge, as a woman and as an artist has been how to be both. I believe the only solution is creating a multiplicity of responses to this impossible situation: by working collectively and not isolated in a home, by creating art along the creation of families, communities, homes. I believe that when I consider myself a maker of dissident culture I can overcome any challenge, and I can do it because I am not alone and I am not the only one that has nothing to lose.


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

In the near future, I would like to see a resolution to the insurance-mafia situation that has been afflicting our sector discriminately over the last six months. I am aware of how much how the sector has grown in numbers and strength over the last decade and, especially, since the creation of ISACS. But this is an issue that requires a radical change to be fully resolved.

It needs a change at an institutional level to actually recognize our sector as integral part of Contemporary Irish Arts. I would like to witness a future where our art is supported financially and represented culturally in Irish Institutions. I would like to see the creation of National Circus Schools to advance the conceptual as much as practical aspects of the circus arts. And, of course, I would like to see our circus artists, as innovators and as creators, being involved in the development of culture and not just entertainment, to create centers, events and performances that engage with the world and the audience not as consumers, but as participants, collaborators and inspired citizens.

The Last days Francesca Castellano


Aoife Raleigh - Stong Women


View Aoife ISACS profile

Aoife Raleigh

When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

September 2010, not sure exactly....!

 Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

I was twenty-three and working as an engineer in Belfast, I began stilt walking with the Streetwise Samba Band in Belfast and then fell down the rabbit hole of circus skills.

I went to classes at the Belfast Community Circus school and eventually I left Belfast and traveled in Europe, the Middle East and Asia finding circus' everywhere I went. That really opened my eyes to the world of circus out there and gave me the drive to help grow circus in Ireland. I trained acrobatics in Barcelona's Escola Roghellio Rivel for a short while and now I live and work in Dublin.

I have developed my circus practice as a hula hooper, strong woman and acrobat in the Dublin Circus Centre.

The circus community in Dublin have become very close friends and have helped me to grow and develop, there is a wonderfully open attitude to helping each other learn and play there. Galway Community Circus have also assisted greatly in my training as a youth circus tutor sending me off around Europe training as a social circus tutor and offering training opportunities.

Now I work mainly with the Dublin Circus Project. I head the youth programs at Dublin Circus Project teaching 3 days a week. I also perform with a fire troupe Fireflies and perform as Ireland's only strong woman. Recently I was delighted to take my strong lady antics to London to launch Circus 250 in the Natural History Museum. I am working on a few projects including a street show and an ensemble ground-based theatre show and am very excited about what's to come in 2018.

 What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

I am particularly proud of the Dublin youth circus classes that are in their first year, I teach and organise these and the youth camps with the Dublin Circus Project. I believe that youth circus is hugely important to the future of circus, having met artists who went to youth circus classes and seeing their level of skill I know that we need this to up the levels of our homegrown artists.

Children having the opportunity to choose circus also increases awareness of the circus community among their friends and family. I wish I had discovered circus sooner, I love seeing how quickly the kids learn and the brilliantly original ideas they come up with. We have thirty in our youth troupe and growing, I'm excited to see where this will lead circus in Dublin.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

By far the biggest setback I have experienced was the rupture of the ACL in my left knee while I was auditioning for circus school in Barcelona. I got a place in the school but couldn't take it because I was recovering from two surgeries on my knee. I never realised that dream but during my recovery, I started to attend the Gaiety School of acting and I had a chance to investigate the world of theatre which is hugely influential on my work now.


What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

I would, of course, love to see a thriving youth circus in every city, and maybe eventually every town in Ireland.

I hope that we will have more graduates from circus school returning to Ireland to push the skill levels here but I hope that as the number of people in the acro, aerial and circus communities grows that the bond between these groups remains strong as the atmosphere and attitude is fantastically supportive as compared to other art forms of other countries.

We all dream of a purpose-built circus building for training and education of professionals, proper support for the growth and development of this art form and audiences who are hungry for new and exciting circus companies.

I would love to see more circus stage shows, more circus in the Dublin Fringe and in arts festivals around the country that circus will infiltrate theatre and dance and mix with these two. I would also love if ground-based circus would one-day match aerial circus in terms of funding by the Arts Council.

I would love to see more communication and interaction between the traditional families and the new circus companies, there is a lot we can learn from each other and having such a long tradition of circus in Ireland I think that circus families have a very special place in the art form.

Listen to Aoife talking about her strong women act

Aoife Raleigh Circus 250


Dr. Niamh NicGhabhann - Irish World Academy of Music and Dance


Twitter: @Niamh_NicGhabh

Niamh NicGhabhann 17s

Picture by Maurice Gunning


When did you get involved in the World of Circus?

2013 - when the MA Festive Arts programme was launched at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your Circus career...

My background is as an art and architectural historian, and I’ve always been involved in curating and arts management. When I joined the Irish World Academy in 2013 to be course director of the MA Festive Arts programme, I was able to focus more on art in unconventional spaces, moving beyond the museum and the gallery.

I also got to work with Fidget Feet Aerial Dance who were artists-in-residence at the Academy at that time. Festive Arts is all about producing and creating artwork that happens in unconventional ways and in unexpected places, and circus is a really important part of that. Since then, I’ve been developing modules that explore the development and production of work like this, as well as thinking about different ways to explore audience engagement with street art, circus and spectacle art forms.


What is your biggest achievement in developing and advocating the Circus sector?

It has been wonderful to have been part of developing aerial dance as part of the core curriculum for undergraduates and postgraduates at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, UL, facilitated by the wonderful Irish Aerial Creation Centre which is located just beside our campus.

I was also involved in organizing a seminar on Critical Writing for Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle, which brought together a whole range of international speakers and perspectives around creating a critical language that would more fully communicate and articulate street art, circus and spectacle artforms.

We’ve also been able to facilitate some great seminars at the Irish World Academy around Dance and Circus, on Vertical Dance and on Community Circus, and we also were able to be an academic partner on the ERASMUS+ CIRCUS+ project which focused on developing youth and social circus (led by Dr Stephen Cadwell).

We also have our first Ph.D. student at the Academy, Simon Thompson (who may be better know as Clown Noir) working on aspects of mask and clown, and I’m very proud to supervise him. He recently led a very successful seminar on mask and arts pedagogy, reflecting the extent to which circus is growing as part of our overall academic culture at UL.


What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your circus career?

As I work as an academic, rather than as a circus professional, my challenges are probably a bit different to most! I wish that we had more archives and museum collections around the history of circus, as well as more research and more publications that I could draw on within my research.

I think that circus has played a hugely significant role within Irish social and cultural history, and I think that we should pay more attention to what this art form has meant to people in order to more fully understand our shared cultural history.

What would you like to see for the future of Circus in Ireland?

I’d love to see a circus archive being established - even a digital archive - that would bring together collections, objects, oral histories, programmes and stories from audiences and circus performers alike. I’d also really like to see a greater investment in street arts, circus and spectacle as I think that they bring people together in public space in a really powerful way. We need new ways to come together as a society, and street arts, circus and spectacle can make that happen in memorable, extraordinary ways, allowing us to reimagine our shared spaces and to meet each other.

The visit of the ‘Giant Granny’ (Royal DeLuxe) to Limerick city as part of the 2014 National City of Culture is a great example - people remember it as a wonderful weekend during which people flooded the streets and took over the city - in a way, that was as powerful as the performance itself.

seminar irish street arts circus spectacle limerick university

Seminar exploring critical writing for street art, circus and spectacle held at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in collaboration with ISACS.


Interested in getting involved in the sector? Join the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network today!


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Irish Street Arts Circus and Spectacle Network

Irish Theatre Institute, 17 Eustace St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland
00 353 (0)87 0541812 info@isacs.ie
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