The Irish in America


Maureen’s Memories: Nono Goes to the Circus

Maureen takes us back to 1930s Milltown, County Kerry, when the circus came to town. She recalls the excitement surrounding the circus, as well as the kindness of her neighbors.

Nono Goes to the Circus

To give you an idea of how small the children were, here is a photo of Maureen's sister Helen (blond, third from left on bottom) and the infants' class in the early 1940s. (You must receive author's written permission to reproduce photo.)

To give you an idea of how small the children were, here is a photo of Maureen’s sister Helen (blond, third from left on bottom) and the infants’ class in the early 1940s. (You must receive author’s written permission to reproduce photo.)

Duffy & Sons Circus was coming to Milltown! I knew I would be going as grandfather (who lived with us) would always take my sisters, Joan and Kitty, and me. We were all very young—toddlers, six and under. This was in the early 1930s. In those days, if you could walk, you were encouraged to attend school.  Any student below first class attended the infant’s room (kindergarten) in our school, Presentation Convent. Our whole class was abuzz. More importantly, the nuns approved. When they asked, “Hands-up, who is going to the circus?” the only child who didn’t raise their hand was little Nora, who was called “ Nono”. Our Sister asked, “Why not?” and she replied childishly, “Me no tickee”. Children’s tickets cost about four old pence. The following day the Doctor’s daughter announced that her mother would buy Nono’s ticket. The Nun gushed to all of us what a great act of Christian charity the Doctor’s wife had performed.

Nono was asked the next day, “Was your mother delighted that you are going to the circus”? She replied in her usual manner, “Me no coatee”. The following day Nono was given a coat from a schoolmate’s mother. She may not have been well spoken, yet she was going to the circus in a nice, new coat.

I’ll always remember that each afternoon before going to the circus my Mammy cooked home fries. She had the knack for making the simplest dishes delicious. After relishing the tasty meal, we were off to see the many exciting acts. Grandfather always dressed in his best blue serge suit. I no longer recalled if the great circus tent was set up in town, or in a field. I do recall the pungent smells, a mix of sawdust and animals, the colorful costumes and the bright fabric of the ring around which we sat, my little sisters and Nono.  My favorite entertainers were the barebacked riders. Out they rode in their shimmering pink outfits, and I decided right then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up! Luckily, I didn’t run away with the circus, and I’m content with the way my life turned out.

I have fond memories of Nora and her baby brother, Patrick Joseph (called “Packy Joe”), always walking hand-in-hand. Not long afterward Nora and Patrick Joseph, along with their entire family, who lived by the river, left County Kerry. The father had a hard time finding work, and was forced to do odd jobs. Their mother took in washing and cared for the ill in their homes. Talk was that they left to find better work in England, and we hoped they did well and could go on to afford to buy Nono and Packy Joe many fine things in life.

About the author…

Maureen, 1953

Maureen, 1953

Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass.  Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.


Did you know that Duffy&Sons Circus is still in operation? Now it is Tom Duffy’s Circus, but it is the same family who put on the circus that came to Milltown. Click here to visit the website and read about the history of the circus.