Paws for Thought – On lion taming for beginners, Irish pioneer of animal rights and preventing cruelty to Meath footballers


A recent column on the death in action of a lion tamer in Dublin in the 1950s brought an interesting story from Dr Maccon JC Macnamara to Corofin, Co Clare.

It comes from the memoir of his father, another physician – indeed, the Corofin Macnamaras must be one of Ireland’s longest physician dynasties, dating back two centuries – and concerns one of the strangest emergencies to which he had to face his time, when visiting a circus: “The day in question […] I was disturbed by a commotion going up in the driveway of the house, and looking down I saw a young man with a mane of blond hair, and his face and head were streaming with blood. He was helped by a few companions and never before or since have I seen a human being in such a level of hysteria. He was screaming and crying and swinging his arms all around him, and told me he had just been maimed by a lion. It shook me, I must say, as such cases must be extremely rare in Ireland. But I took him to the operating room and I washed and bathed his face [revealing] purely superficial wounds, and I knew then that I had nothing to fear. This was not the case however with the poor young boy and it took a long time to see him properly assured that he would live. . . “

When the patient finally calmed down, he explained what had happened. The official lion tamer had fallen ill, so he volunteered to replace him. But the lion, a pro who soon realized he was dealing with an amateur, stood in protest with a paw on the substitute’s forehead. “The damage done was negligible,” the doctor noted, “but the mental trauma was immense.”

There can’t have been many more stressful acting jobs in the 20th century than this one. In a sketch by Monty Python from a similar vintage, Michael Palin’s nervous accountant is dissuaded from an immediate career change to taming the lion in favor of a more gradual approach to increased risk, via banking.

But it turned out that Corofin’s circus liner was made of stronger stuff. The show was to go on and the lions were making headlines. Despite his injuries – which likely helped sell tickets – the apprentice tamer still got into the cage that night. As Dr Macnamara sums it up: “[He] was basically one of the bravest guys I have ever met.


On the other side of the human-animal working relationship, meanwhile, next year will mark the 200th anniversary of a period law on these islands: the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, which paved the way. to all animal rights laws. since.

It was the work of an Irishman, Richard Martin, MP for Galway, so much so that it was called “Martin’s Law”. And if the author of a new biography of the man has a say, the effective date – July 22 – can now be called “Martin’s Day”.

Peter Phillips’ book is titled “Humanity Dick” – the nickname given to Martin by admirers – and captioned “Animal Rights Pioneer and Feared Duellist 1754-1834″.

This is the other reason why the Member of Parliament for Connemara was known: even by the standards of his time, he had a notorious penchant for duels at the slightest provocation, hence his other nickname: “Hair-trigger Dick” . He survived several of these encounters but killed one of his own cousins, to the regret of his life.

He lost his seat in parliament in 1827 after it turned out that all his tenants had voted for him several times, in different disguises.

After that, he ended his life in forced exile, having fled to France to escape debt.

Even so, Phillips claims he is “the greatest Irishman of all time” and that Martin would certainly be a hero to the animals if they knew how far he had gone for them. This even included on occasion calling them as witnesses. Once suing a donkey owner for cruelty, he got the victim to appear in court, a legal first.


In GAA circles, “the animals” is a nickname sometimes applied to Kerry football teams or, more specifically, their supporters, thanks to comments made a few years ago by Páidí Ó Sé. But my mention here yesterday of Pat Spillane and others’ tendency to refer to a certain northern county as “Tie-rone” prompted a related complaint from Meath’s man Damien Maguire.

In this context, Spillane can at least have the excuse that during their years of victory over all Ireland of the 1990s, the Royal County shirts were labeled ‘Kepak’. Regardless, Damien would much prefer the Kerryman to stop calling his team “Meat”.

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