Ireland owes Tom Duffy of Duffy's Circus "a huge debt of gratitude for the fun, pleasure, excitement and thrills that lit up the lives of so many generations of Irish people," his funeral mass has heard.
His legacy would be proudly carried on by his son, David, and his other family members, the priest said.
Tom Duffy died last week aged 92. He was one of the great figures of Ireland’s circus families.
His funeral took place at St. Ultan's Church, Bohermeen in Co Meath.
Mr Duffy was a man who showed “great kindness and generosity”.
Symbols of Mr Duffy’s life, presented to the altar, include the ringmaster’s jacket, a horse’s ring bridle, and a mirror, “because he loved to admire himself” while dressed up.
Ireland lost its “greatest showman, but as he always said, the show must go on, and the show will go on tomorrow in Naas where they’re currently performing,” the priest said.
Steeped from birth in the tradition of the travelling circus, Tom was born in his mother's caravan in Limavady, Co Derry, in 1929, while the family circus was performing there.
One of seven brothers and one sister, he started performing in the circus ring at the age of five. As he grew, he performed a double trapeze act with his brother, Arthur, and was known as the boy with the iron jaw, as he would hold his brother from a leather strap held between his teeth while suspended upside down from the trapeze 40 feet above the audience.
He was also an expert horse rider and, following the deaths of his parents, he ran the family circus with his six brothers.
In 1979 he decided to put his own show on the road with his wife, Gertie, and their son, David, and on his 50th birthday, Tom Duffy's Circus gave its first performance in Blessington, Co Wicklow.
During the last ten years of his life, he battled ill health, but he was “looked after with love beyond all telling by his family,” his funeral mass heard.
He was a “loving father and grandfather”.
Tom is survived by his son, David, daughter-in-law, Stephanie, grandsons, Tom and Jamie, and his brother, Freddy.