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One evening in or around 1870, a young man named George Lowe decided to do what many young men had done before (and have done since). He ran away to join the circus!
George was a member of a well-known family from Fair Street, Mallow - well respected and industrious. He was, however, at heart a Showman. He and his fiancée eloped and decided to leave Mallow and throw their lot in with this travelling group. Little is known about the particular troupe except that sometime in 1878/80 George and his wife left Ireland to seek their fortune in America.
At the same time a hard-bitten frontiersman called William Cody was considering a change of career. Having fought Indians, mined for gold, driven cattle and chased down bandits and outlaws he changed his name to “Buffalo Bill” Cody and took a spectacular horse show on the road. Young George Lowe from Mallow joined this Wild West Show sometime in 1884/5. By this time he was known as The Amazing Doctor Powell presenting Magic, Juggling and Horse skills. He became a valued member of the troupe and was selected to join Buffalo Bill on his much-heralded first tour of Europe. In 1887 George and the company arrived in London where they went into rehearsal for their opening production to be attended by Queen Victoria as part of her Golden Jubilee. George/Dr. Powell took the opportunity to make a quick visit home to Mallow. He never went back.
In March 1888 The Amazing Doctor Powell set out on a tour of his native Ireland with his own circus. He and his troupe presented the skills, feats, tricks and spectacle that he had learned during his years working with other shows. This show, visiting the traditional fairgreens and marketplaces throughout Ireland during that summer all those years ago, is the origin of Fossett’s - Ireland’s National Circus.
In 1918 an accomplished bareback rider joined the show, which was then touring as Powell and Clarke’s. His name was Edward Fossett. He was the youngest son of Sir Robert Fossett 2nd and circus proprietor Mary Francis, a Wexford woman; both were renowned equestrian riders. In fact in 1890 Robert Fossett was judged best bareback rider in the world. His grandfather, also Robert Fossett, was the founder of the family circus in 1852. Edward upon meeting Mona Powell (daughter of Dr. Powell), who at this time was also a noted equestrienne, fell immediately in love. With their mutual love of horses and circus they were an instant match and were married in 1922. Edward never left Ireland again. They had six children, Robert (known as Bobby), Mary, Edward (known as Teddy), Amy, John (known as Johnny) and Mona. They all followed in the family tradition and became excellent bareback riders and circus performers. Bobby went on to become one of Ireland’s best loved clowns as Bobo. This was in keeping with another tradition; there has been a clown in seven generations of the Fossett family.
Edward and Mona continued to run the circus with Dr. Powell until he retired. By 1927 it was called Edward Fossett and sons. In the 1930’s they toured successfully for a number of years as Heckenberg’s Berlin Tower Circus. By 1940 it was again Edward Fossett and Sons. Mona Fossett Powell died young on the 7th June 1946 aged only 41 and Edward passed away five years later on Sep 7th 1951 aged 53. It made Bobby, Teddy and Johnny the youngest circus proprietors in the world as they took over the running of the show and they were only in their 20’s.
For the 1952 season, the first without their father, the name was changed to Fossett’s Circus. 1952 was also an important year for Teddy as history repeated itself when a young circus artiste came as top of the bill, her name Herta Bhorsky, part of the three Lordini Perch Act. It was love at first sight and they married in 1953. In the following years Bobby married Susie Delaney, Mary married Antonio Garcia, Amy married Louis Garcia, Mona married Michael Gerbola. Johnny was not married when he died unexpectedly in 1989. Of the boys Teddy was the only one to have children, Edward, Robert, Marion, Angela and Mona. Marion continues to tour with the show and is Ireland’s most famous Ringmistress. Anglea is married to Europe’s greatest clown Fumagalli. Mona is married in France to Alain Santus. Their mother, Herta, still tours with the circus and plays an important part in the day-to-day running of the show.
In the 1960’s the show became Fossett Bros Circus which is still the company name to this day. The circus is now known world wide as Fossett’s, Ireland’s National Circus. Johnny, Teddy and Bobby stayed with the show until their deaths, leaving it in the hand of another generation of Fossett Brothers, Edward and Robert, to bring the show into the new century.
Recent years have been significant, not alone in terms of Fossett’s history, but also in terms of the circus landscape in Ireland. In 2003 circus was proclaimed an art form by the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O’ Donoghue. This followed extensive lobbying by the Fossett family that was started by Teddy Fossett in 1973. Viewed by the circus community throughout Europe as a major achievement, it is merely the cornerstone of a plan designed to bring circus in Ireland to a position comparable with that held in the rest of Europe. Just before leaving office in 2007 John O’ Donoghue visited Fossett’s, the first Arts Minister ever to visit an Irish Circus, and thanked them on behalf of the Irish people and acknowledged the family’s enormous contribution to Irish life since they began touring in 1875 remarking that Fossett’s were, and are, theatre of the people.
Fossett’s continue to innovate and expand and in December 2006 held Ireland’s first ever Christmas Circus in the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). This was another signal of the heightened cultural position with which circus and in particular Fossett’s now hold in Irish society. Further to this in July 2007 Fossett’s, as the National Circus, were extended a presidential invite to perform for President Mary McAleese at her annual garden parties.
Today the show is run by Teddy’s two sons, Edward and Robert, who now have families of their own. Edward, married to Therese, has five children namely Sonya, Edward, Sarah, Alana and Owen. Robert has two children, Bobby-Belle and Julia. The children’s mother Gilda Turner, a well-known choreographer, has a teenage daughter Megan who has now also entered the circus business.
As the show heads towards it’s 120th anniversary tour the future of Fossett’s, Ireland’s National Circus, is certainly very bright…