The Day the Circus came crashing into Dungannon

May 7th marks the 50th anniversary of the Circus Crash in Irish Street.

Mr Maurice Hughes,who currently lives in Twickenham, regularly receives the Tyrone Times and has written to us with his personal recollection of the Circus Crash.

“The weather was described as ‘inclement’ that May. The Feis Sunday Outdoor events, due to have taken place in the grounds of St Patrick’s Academy on May 9th, 1954, had been cancelled due to the inclemency of the weather.

“In the Moy area orchards had been hit by late frost. The really memorable event of that May was the spectacular crash in Irish Street.

“Kayes Bros, Buff Bills Circus were touring the area with their sensational 1954 programme. There was a new £4,000 tent and the great Turnesco, which came all the way from Barcelona, was the chief attraction.

“Around 3pm on Friday, May 7th, 1954, a large circus lorry, pulling three trailers behind it, was making its way down Irish Street from Market Square. The lorry and the trailers belonged to Kayes Bros Buff Bills Circus. In those days there was two way traffic in Irish Street. The leading trailer contained horses, the second was the pony trailer and there were lions in the third.

“As the convoy turned the corner at the junction of Union Place the driver of the lorry pulled over to avoid a lorry which was outside PJ Quinn’s Chemist shop and then disaster struck.

“The leading trailer toppled over, crashing into Donoghue’s shop front as the lorry careered across the street towards PJ Quinn’s. The trailers stretched right back to Nobles corner. Fortunately no one was injured although apparently there was a pram with a child in it just outside Donoghue’s.

The child was pulled out by Jim Corrigan and John McKenna and taken over to Nellie’s Café for some milk and a lollypop.

I was standing outside Duey Doran’s sweet shop at the time. I had just being inside the shop to buy some sweets or perhaps a toffee apple. The shop has gone now but it was where all the children from Union Place went to when they had some money to spend.

The shop sold chews, sherbet, spangles, fruit gums and sweet cigarettes. Next door was where my aunt, Mrs Dynes and my cousins lived and where my uncle Leo McMenemy had his barbers shop and the distinctive barbers pole outside.

“My grandmother, Mrs S McMenemy, lived further down Irish Street along with my aunt, Mrs Small, her husband Andy and my cousins. I hadn’t yet started school but I can clearly remember the noise ad the distressed roaring of the lions in the third carriage. I even half hoped that one of the lions would escape as I had never seen a real lion. None of the lions did manage to escape and I believe the horses were taken round to Beattie’s field in Union Place.

The driver, Mr Arthur Kaye, the proprietor of the circus, was taken to South Tyrone hospital and was able to leave there a few days later.

“But the most distinct memory I have is of the circus ‘small man’. I remember he had huge hands an it was he who supervised the operations to haul the large trailer up from the shop fronts. Irish Street was completely blocked and very soon it seemed that the whole town had gathered to see what had happened. My mother had rushed up Union Place, to make sure that I was alright.

In the photographs I have of the event I can see a number of people whom I recognise, many of them are now dead such as Sarah Quinn, Leo McMenemy, Marie Dynes, Paddy Loughran, Tom Hughes, Ned Hughes, Jackie Mallon, Paddy Doran and Joe Stewart. There were many others whose names I don’t know.

In the end there was no loss of life and soon all that remained of the crash were the boarded shop windows and scratches on the street walls, but I feel the event has remained in the folk memory of Dungannon,” says Maurice.

Maurice said: “I hope my childhood friends from Union Place especially will enjoy reading this, and, perhaps, it will serve to recall some memories in others of an historic day in Dungannon which is embedded in the lives and memories of all who were there in Irish Street that day.”

The Tyrone Times would like to thank Maurice Hughes for sending in such a clear recollection of what must have been a vivid day for many people.

Courtesy of the Tyrone Times
April 2004.