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Ever heard of the Fairvew Lion Escape? The tragic tale of a Dublin lion-tamer

NewsBy Shuki Byrne
Stephens, otherwise known as ‘The Fairview Lion-Tamer’, had dreams of acquiring big cats, joining the circus and travelling the world
Stephens, otherwise known as ‘The Fairview Lion-Tamer’, had dreams of acquiring big cats, joining the circus and travelling the world

A documentary exploring the circumstances surrounding the tragic tale of a lion escape in Dublin is being shown tonight.

Dismissed by many at the time as an urban myth, the events which led to the mauling of a young man in Fairview are quite extraordinary. 

Filmmaker Joe Lee, a resident in north Dublin, has brought the story to life with a full-length feature documentary with interviews from witnesses to the Fairview Lion Escape. 

Bill Stephens, otherwise known as ‘The Fairview Lion-Tamer’, had dreams of acquiring big cats, joining the circus and travelling the world. 

In November of 1951, things took a bad turn after one of his female lions escaped and began roaming around the north Dublin suburb. 

The female lion stuck its head into a shop startling customers before attacking a teenage attendant at a nearby garage. 

Emergency services were subsequently called as the lion moseyed around Fairview in a confused manner. 

When garda marksmen arrived, Stephens pleaded with them not to shoot until he tried to coax the animal back into her cage.

At huge personal risk he nearly succeeded. He managed to corner her in a field where he tried to calm the animal with whom he performed in circuses and variety shows.

The lioness trusted Stephens but, unfortunately, a large number of children in the neighbourhood were noisily clamouring to get a look at the animal. 

They climbed walls and excitedly shouted at the animal who, frightened by the noise, sank her teeth in Bill Stephens' shoulder.

Once she tasted blood, Stephens had to urge the garda marksmen to shoot the animal dead. 

The story made headlines around the world but many disbelieved the unprecedented events. 

The film, which was named as Best Irish Documentary by the jury at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival, is being showed exclusively at the IFI tonight.