Business has been better than ever for some in the funfair industry since it reopened as Covid-19 restrictions eased in July, but those operating indoor circuses are still awaiting the opportunity to bounce back.
Trevor Cullen has been flat out since his vintage carousel company in Dún Laoghaire resumed trading early last month.
The retro funfair’s location on the seafront during the recent heatwave was a big help and he had “never seen an appetite like it” for the attractions.
“People are really enjoying it, after all the restrictions they just want to see their kids being spun around and having the craic. Things are good,” he says.
“Everybody is in great humour. The ferris wheel is more popular than it has ever been and spending doesn’t seem to be an object at all. People have been saving a lot in the last year and now they just want to move on and have their lives back.”
During the shutdown, Cullen spent time with his son painting and redecorating, and their efforts have been rewarded with business up some 30 per cent on pre-pandemic times.
“Now that we’re back, it’s as if we were never away. But it is a very insecure situation because there is nothing concrete for us going forward. We could be told the lights are off again in a few months and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.
It's a similar story for John Turbett, whose family runs Turbetts Fun Fair on the Dingle Peninsula in Co Kerry. The funfair reopened on July 1st and next year will be its 60th year of trading.
Things had been “extremely difficult” during the lockdowns, as the funfair industry had been among the first to close and last to open, he says.
It is a family business with Turbett’s wife, sister, brother and sister-in-law all working at the funfair. His earliest memory of working there dates back 50 years, to when he was just eight-years-old.
“It’s all I’ve ever done. It’s not the case you could reinvent yourself and do something else after that long. You eat, breathe and sleep it.”
Now that the funfair has reopened, he says “business is relatively decent”.
“People haven’t been at a funfair for the last two years so all of a sudden we’re a bit of a novelty again,” Turbett said.
However, for some of those involved in operating circuses, the shutdown continues. David Duffy, co-owner of Duffy's circus, which has been closed since March 2020, and his colleagues have spent much of the last 16 months lobbying the Government for support after "initially falling between cracks" and being ineligible for grants due to the touring aspect of the business.
Now, circuses will be eligible to apply for help under the Events Sector Covid Support Scheme. Support will be offered by way of a single once-off payment to the value of 7.5 per cent of the Vat-exclusive turnover of the business, up to a maximum of €50,000.
Duffy says this will be “a help, but the biggest concern is that a once-off payment might have to equate to two years of loss, as there is still no roadmap for us to reopen”.
With a crew of more than 50 people, it would not be possible to reopen under the current limits.
“Technically that’s the full amount we are allowed to have before we even let any members of the public in. It’s very disheartening,” he says.
Duffy’s family has been in the circus business since the 1850s, and up until the Covid-19 pandemic hit there had never been a year without touring.
“We have no idea when we will be able to tour again. It’s very difficult that all of the focus is on hospitality. My business, my heritage and my family legacy is just as important as any individual pub or restaurant,” he says.