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The Rock and Roll Troubles Circus

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Life before Harping..... The Birth of Belfast Community Circus............

The last day I saw Mike Maloney, he walked up to me outside circus school

He had a big smile.

He always had a big smile.

Except in circus photos. In circus photos, he would pose his serious circus face.

How did you find us? he said in his strong Aussie accent.

"I don't know"

That was the last time we ever spoke

A few days later

He was gone................


It was true

I can't remember the first time I met Mike and Donal.

With their stylish hats and long leather coats. Iconic leaders of our circus.

Rumour had it, that they came in to do a circus workshop for the kids affected by the troubles

(apparently, that was us)

But all I can remember was life before the circus

and life after.

Life with the circus was colourful and exciting.


We went around Northern Ireland in the 80s doing shows and circus parades.

We started with nothing, in a field, at Ormeau Recreation Centre.

Sewing dried peas into the material to make juggling balls

Making stilts out of bean cans and string

Then we slowly got real equipment and eventually,

I became a stiltwalker.

We got costumes from Primark sales. And Bomb damage sales.

I loved striding around on my gigantic stilts

and tap tap tap tall people, on the top of their heads.

I felt great being tall - I loved it!



We often went to Laverery's after our shows.

And then for a Hawaiian salad bap

from Spuds on the way home.

(A white bap with crap salad and a piece of tinned pineapple)

It was called "The Exotic" (in a Belfast accent)

It was 25p cause there was no meat in it.

Me, Beano and Loopy Linda lived on these.

Beano unicycled everywhere and the woman in the shop knew us.

We were Vegetarian! We were in the Circus.

You should have seen the faces around the family table when I announced I was vegetarian.

Forks hovering mid-air and looks of confusion and horror.

These were the days when the Busy Bee was the supermarket in Andytown.

They didn't have avocados or mangos and this was pre-soya anything.


Everyone else in the circus was a few years older than me.

I felt lucky to be included.

The circus was bohemian. I had found my tribe.

I loved Botanic and the Crescent and the Arts Theatre.

Travelling down there on the Trains.

One of the Train guards wanted to be in a band.

I was in the circus, so he gave me tapes of his homemade recordings.



Mike taught us misfits how to juggle

Skills were earned, through many failures

and a few bruises.....

It was the days before health and safety.

There weren't any knee pads in OUR circus.

(don't think they had been invented)

Sometimes our parades would turn into riots.

Once the army kept us all night on the side of the road

and slit our unicycle tyres.

I asked for a woman soldier when they started searching us

and they kept us there all night. Separated at gunpoint on the side of the road.

That sounds awful now but at the time it was all a massive adventure.

I got home at 6 am and changed into my uniform for school.

Circus brought much colour to the darkness that was Belfast in the 80s.

We knew we were lucky to be in a circus and go to gigs. We laughed a lot.

Meeting Mike Maloney changed my life and the first days of the community circus in Belfast

are etched in a happy place in my mind - forever. It was the rock and roll troubles circus from Belfast.


Photo by incredible artist Helen Sloan of Mike and Gerry Performing the bed of nails 1985

Belfast Community Circus!






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