Hengler’s Grand Cirque

October 14th 2014 Hengler's Grand Cirque Programme 1896. Image courtesy of Dublin City Library and Archive

Hengler’s Grand Cirque had a base in Dublin at the Rotunda Gardens, where it performed during the 1880s and 1890s, as well as premises in Glasgow, latterly at Sauchiehall Street. As shown in this 1896 programme from the collections of Dublin City Library and Archive, equestrian acts were a speciality, as was the ‘Water Fete’ entitled the Village Wedding or Tramps Abroad, which was an original idea by Hengler for a water pantomime.

Other seasons brought different acts to Dublin such as George Lockhart’s Trio of Performing Elephants and the Zalva trio:

‘No event was followed with more rapt attention than the appearance of the Zalva Trio of Equilibristes in their extraordinary feats of equipoise on a single wire.’ Evening Herald, 20 April 1897.

Hengler’s Circus is mentioned three times in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The first reference is in episode 4 (Calypso), alluding to a trapeze act. In episode 16 (Eumaeus), the sailor tells the story of Simon Dedalus, the marksman, whom he had seen

‘shoot two eggs off two bottles at fifty yards over his shoulder. […] He toured the wide world with Hengler’s Royal Circus. I seen him do that in Stockholm.’

The third reference is in the following episode, number 17 (Ithaca), where Bloom encounters a clown at a performance at the Rotunda:

‘The irreparability of the past: once at a performance of Albert Hengler’s circus in the Rotunda, Rutland Square, Dublin, an intuitive parti coloured clown in quest of paternity had penetrated from the ring to a place in the auditorium where Bloom, solitary, was seated and had publicly declared to an exhilarated audience that he (Bloom) was his (the clown’s) papa.’

Hengler’s Circus Entertainment also features in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

James Joyce was born in 1882 at 41 Brighton Square in Rathgar. The Joyces moved house frequently and lived at two different addresses near Mountjoy Square, near to the Rotunda Gardens at Rutland Square in north Dublin city centre during the 1890s. Joyce attended nearby Belvedere College on Great Denmark Street from 1893 to 1898.

Find out more about James Joyce’s life and works at the James Joyce Centre  on North Great George’s Street and at Dublin City Public Libraries.


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