Acrobat Tom Duffy recalls swinging into Limerick and meeting his wife

 Tom Duffy of the famous circus first met wife at packed Savoy panto in 1957

Peter Corbett


Peter Corbett

Acrobat Tom Duffy recalls swinging into Limerick and meeting his wife

Tom Duffy of Duffy's Circus speaking to the Leader this week - below Tom and his brother Arthur in 1957

TOM Duffy began performing his hair-raising trapeze routine for his famous family circus in 1937 when he was just 12 years old and as their big top set up in Limerick this week, the 88-year-old recalled the most memorable night he swung into town.

A picture from the Leader’s archives, published recently in our All Our Yesterdays section, sparked the interest of local man Tony McCarthy.

Contacting the Leader he informed us that the picture was of daredevils Thomas and Arthur Duffy from Duffy’s Circus during their performance at the Babes in the Wood pantomime in 1957. 

What made it a night to remember for Tom was laying eyes on the woman who would later become his wife.

The Babes in the Wood pantomime took place at the Savoy Theatre on the corner of Bedford Row and featured leading actor and comedian of the day Jack Cruise.

Cruise’s principal girl and singer went by the name of Beth and on that night in January 1957, thanks in the main to free admission for kids, no fewer than 1,700 crammed in for the show.

Former manager of the theatre, Tom English wryly remarked, “If the fire officer had turned up, we would have been in trouble.”

Tom Duffy takes up the story: “They asked us to come down so we were there at the time she (Beth) was the singer and the principal girl with the Jack Cruise show and the pantomime.

“That was my first time ever talking to her,” said the 88-year-old. But it wasn’t the first time Beth had seen Tom.

“Before we met she came to see me at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. She never missed our trapeze act. It had us performing stunts 40 feet in the air with no net. If anything happened, I’d be dead.”

Wasn’t he ever sacred? “I was never terrified doing the Trapeze, no worries at all.

“We were working at the Theatre Royal in Dublin and were very young when one of the stage wires that were holding us up broke away and the whole lot began to spin around. The boss at the time gave swift orders to stop the show. But I was looking down and shouting “Get on with it”, and we finished the show. No bother at all.”

Duffy’s circus, established in 1775, is one of the world’s longest-running circuses, fascinating audiences for a little over three centuries.

Today traditional performances are mixed with modern stunts such as ‘The Wheel of Death’. On the Duffy’s Circus roster now are Tom’s two grandchildren Jamie, aged 23 and Tom, aged 24.

Following a stint in Germany where they won the prestigious ‘Grand Prix Der Artistan’ gold medal in Hanover, the brothers are back with Duffy’s performing their death defying stunts.

“I used to be able to do somersaults off horses, but they boys can do somersaults on to horses,” said Tom admiringly of his grandchildren.

“There has been agents all across the world trying to get in touch with them. They are known all over the world so they’ll have no problem getting work, as long as they are not pinched from us.”

“I didn’t see much of the show so far but we have a good variety here, I’m very pleased with it. There would be a massive difference between the shows then and nowadays though,” said Mr Tom.

Duffy’s Circus are on the first leg of their national tour at Groody Road until Febuary 26.

Their run includes all the major towns and cities in the country before finishing up in Dublin.

 For bookings and more information see