Saturday 22 October 2016

Film recalls the day an escaped lion brought terror to the streets Dublin

Bill Stephens feeds a lion
Bill Stephens feeds a lion

An amazing true story of how a runaway lion in Dublin made headlines around the world will be screened at the Irish Film Institute for one week from tonight.

Fortune's Wheel tells the remarkable story of Dublin lion tamer Bill Stephens (pictured right) and how his lioness escaped in Fairview to cause terror and pandemonium in 1951.

The lioness attacked apprentice mechanic Andrew Massey (16) on the street and later turned on her owner before detectives shot her dead.

"It baffled me that this story was not more widely known," said Dublin filmmaker Joe Lee.

The feature-length documentary relates how Stephens was killed by another lion in Dublin less than two years later.

Broadcaster Joe Duffy will host a question and answer session after tonight's screening.

The film is also a love story about Bill's teenage marriage to his beautiful partner Mai, from East Wall, and how they dreamed of taking their lion-taming act to America.

Joe Lee (55) said he became fascinated with the story after Bill Whelan told him about it. Mr Whelan and the lion tamer's niece, Lorraine Kennedy, both became producers of the film.

A number of elderly Dubliners recall for the cameras how they witnessed the urban lion hunt as children.

"The incident was a double -edged sword for Bill Stephens as it made him famous. After that, he took more risks with his lions," said the film's director.

Stephens, who used to place his head in the mouth of lions, was just 29 when he was mauled to death by one of the animals.

Tickets are available on the Irish Film Institute website or at the cinema.

DERMOT BOLGER: see page 16

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