Barrett the Tumbler (lived in Ballinrobe)

Photo:A Tumbler from Barnum Circus USA c 1908

A Tumbler from Barnum Circus USA c 1908

Google mages

Photo:A Street Tumbler somewhere n Middle East c 1905

A Street Tumbler somewhere n Middle East c 1905

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Photo:Mr. Ger Delaney at the Family Research Centre

Mr. Ger Delaney at the Family Research Centre

Averil Staunton, 2014

"You are the man who breaks stones on your chest and takes pins and swallows them" said the Justice.

By Ger Delaney

“I’m Barrett the Tumbler, well known all over the country. We never did anything to anyone in our lives” said that famous character to District Justice Coyne at Ballinrobe Court on Tuesday 2 October 1934 when his wife was charged with breaking the Catholic Truth Society collection box in Ballinrobe church.

Breaks Stones on His Chest

“I’m Barrett the Tumbler, and we have never been in court or stood on a green table before. We can get a character from anyone in the court or in the town”. “You are the man who breaks stones on your chest and takes pins and swallows them” said the Justice.

Case Dismissed

“I’m that person surely” said Barrett, beaming all over and almost balancing himself on the chair which was on the table.  In fact some of those present thought he was going to give an exhibition of his famous “tumble”.  Mr. Garvey, solicitor, who was in court at the time, said he knew Barrett and his wife for years.  “They never did any harm to anybody and Barrett is a perfectly harmless man who, in his young days was undoubtedly a perfect specimen of human physique”.  The case was dismissed.

Ballinrobe, Kilmaine, Ballindine

Anywhere a crowd was expected to congregate Thomas “The Tumbler” Barrett was likely to put in an appearance, be it at the Gooseberry Fair in Ballindine with its swinging boats and chair-o-planes each July, the Kilmaine Agricultural Show every September where crowds gathered to see the best of the region’s agricultural produce on exhibition or the Ballinrobe fairs when the town teemed with animals and humans. Barrett made sure he arrived early to these events and claimed a prime location by spreading his canvas mat on the ground.

School’s Folklore Collection

In her essay in the School’s Folklore Collection written on 20 January 1938, Eiblín Ní Dubhtaigh of Derrindaffderg National School, wrote “I saw him first in the town of Ballinrobe.  He had an old canvas bag under his arm and he wore an old pair of trousers and an old pair of tattered boots.

Tumbled Down Shack

When I came to know him better I found out that he lived with his wife and child in a tumbled down shack by the side of the road.  I say him so often that I knew the grey dishevelled hair which made blinds for his eyes and his lurching walk and his red, sun tanned face.  He was always shouting wildly and laughing.  When he shouted he gestured ferociously and when he laughed he bared his teeth and closed his eyes. They called him ‘Barrett the Tumbler’ and you can easily see why.  I never say him but there was a crowd around him and he acted like the cleverest clown that ever was.  Once I would have missed a very big event only that I heard the crowd cheering and I came to the crowd to see what was wrong and there I saw the Tumbler eating pieces of bottles just as easily as you or I would eat a piece of bread. He very seldom disappoints anyone when he comes.”

Outside South Mayo

The Tumbler from time to time ventured outside his south Mayo stomping ground in search of new audiences. Together with his wife and family he spent some of the autumn of 1927 in northwest Mayo.

Saved a man in Bangor Erris

At the end of August, a youth named Page was crossing the channel that ran on the north side of Bangor Erris town when he got stuck in the mud and found himself at the mercy of the incoming tide. The local blacksmith James Reilly tried to pull him out, only to find himself stuck fast in the mud alongside Page.  Luckily for both the Tumbler was performing close by and heard the commotion. He rushed to the scene, promptly lassoed them both with a rope and dragged them to safety.

Knife Accident

One Saturday evening in the following October, at Quay Street in Belmullet, one of the Tumbler’s sons and a group of other children were playing outside Tom Carey’s butcher’s shop. Carey was in the process of cutting a rope he had tying-up a sheep when the Tumbler’s son came in contact with the butcher’s knife and received a dirty gash in the face. The butcher was taken into custody but quickly released and the boy was bandaged up by the local doctor.

Singing in the Rain

On Sunday 8 April 1934 a tremendous downpour interrupted a football match between the Claremorris No. 2 team and Ballinrobe being played in ‘The Saucer’ in Hollymount. During the break in play Barrett entertained the crowd with a few bars of “Singing in the Rain” (which was composed in 1929 by Arthur Freed).  This was quickly followed by a short exhibition of his acrobatic skills.

Tumbled to Heaven perhaps?

Thomas Barrett’s wife was Brigid Walsh, whom he married in Headford on 19 August 1916. She was the daughter of a dealer while the Tumbler’s father, Michael Barrett, was an acrobat and hawker. The Tumbler’s mother was Bridget Moffatt. His parents married in Westport on 6 October 1879.  They had a family of eleven. The Tumbler died from pneumonia on 5 October 1938 in the County Home in Castlebar.  He was 47 years old.

Ger Delaney is the C.E.O of the South Mayo Family Research Centre in Ballinrobe which is a Professional Genealogical Research Service for County Mayo. You can see details on


This page was added by Averil Staunton on 07/01/2018.

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