Our Irish Magic Heritage

Inside Magic Image of James Joyce MagicianWe are almost never asked about our proud Irish heritage; likely because people avoid making eye contact with us after shows and some have gone to the extreme of faking (we think) illness to quickly depart the performing area as soon as we complete our standard 80 minutes.

Yet, despite never being asked, we thought it appropriate to share our story with our kind reader(s) of Inside Magic.

We descend from a long line of magicians who willingly fabricate their lineage – each adding to stories of greatness as the generations rolled through the years and across the Atlantic.

Our great, great, great step-mother, Maeve Hardy was the assistant to Ireland’s third or fourth greatest street magician for the time, Buster Seamus who performed under the stage name, Busted Seams.

At the time, there were very few streets in Ireland for a performer to utilize so Buster would waddle (he was very heavy, hence the stage name) up and down dirt roads looking for intersections and audiences.  He was delighted to find Dublin after several years of wandering and that was where he met the matriarch of our proud family.

They shared a love for entertaining, drinking, fine art and horse racing.  It was natural that they would develop an act that included none of those loves.  Buster performed the standard street magic fare: Cups and Balls, the Chop Cup, Multiplying Balls, Cups from Nowhere, Balls from Nowhere and, their finale, Hippity Hop Rabbits.

This was a different time.  Magicians could not buy tricks in magic stores because they did not exist and the Internet was apparently unavailable in Dublin.  Consequently, Maeve and Buster made their own props and are credited with innovations still used today.  For instance, their Cups and Balls were made from allegedly gold chalices they “found” whilst performing at a local church.  The balls were hand knitted by Maeve from wool taken from their pet sheep, Woolina.  Buster’s wand was a long wooden dowel “snapped from the face of a lying, Italian, wooden boy who wouldn’t keep his yap shut during our act,” wrote Maeve.

But it was their Hippity Hop Rabbits that set them apart from the rest of the magicians working at the time.  They used real rabbits, sedated with “a wee bit of ale” and “affixed” to small placards.  The trick delighted or horrified audiences depending upon the crowd’s willingness to “go along with the gag” and the potency of the pre-show ale administered to the bunnies.

On a fateful day just outside of Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, Maeve and Buster performed for a “taciturn, dour man with glasses and a nasty breath.”  That man was James Joyce.  The great author watched their show throughout the day and noticed how the routine did not change regardless of the audience or their reaction.  He wanted to help the couple and offered to write bits for them for a “kind word as a reference for future writing jobs.”

Maeve and Buster understood this to mean he would work for free and took him up on the offer.

It was Mr. Joyce who first suggested they ditch the real rabbits and use “painted images of the vermin on placards” and to shorten the trick to a few minutes.  The suggestion was genius and gave the act a new sense of purpose and entertainment value.  It also provided some respite from the angry complaints they would occasionally receive from “do-gooders” who would “spit hateful and nasty things at them for the sake of the bunnies.”

Some of the crowds wanted the couple to free Woolina as well, but for reasons never really discussed in our family, Buster was adamant that “the beautiful creature would remain always close.”

Mr. Joyce wrote several jokes for the couple as well.  His work was acerbic, more biting.

“Is that your head or is ye neck blowing bubbles?”

“This trick is foreign, I got it from a broad.”

“Want to know how to keep a Dubliner in suspense? I’ll tell ye on the morrow.”

Mr. Joyce wanted to learn magic and join the act.  He did a mean series of card manipulations with beautiful split fans, back and front palming, diminishing cards and color changes.  All were impressed with his skill but Buster and Maeve dropped him from the troupe.  Yes, they hated sharing their meager proceeds with a third person but they also objected to his constant, stream-of-consciousness narration during the tricks.

“Just shut up and do the tricks,” Buster yelled at the bespectacled author as he performed in front of a fairly large crowd.

“That’s what she said!” replied Mr. Joyce.

The crowd roared with derisive laughter and commented that Mr. Joyce had “burned Buster but good.”

Buster was humiliated. Mr. Joyce was elated.  He felt the adrenaline rush that comes with succeeding in front of an audience.  He then used his new catch line “Aye, that’s what she said!” incessantly.  Audiences never tired of it.  Buster and Maeve, on the other hand, grew impatient and resentful.  They hated being the foil.

They agreed to go their separate ways on this very day, St. Patrick’s Day, so many years ago.  Mr. Joyce went on to write novels and occasionally performed his manipulation act as an interlude during his public readings of his stories.  Audiences seemed to enjoy his “incessant jabbering” as he worked the card miracles.

Mr. Joyce never fully left magic and was credited for the invention of several items still used today such as: Torn and Restored Newspaper, Glorpy (or “Hyrum the Hilarious Hank”), Sucker Sliding Die Box, the Whoopie Cushion and, of course Hippity Hop Rabbits.

Maeve and Buster were married but a few years before he passed away due to a gas explosion – an internal one.  He was a very heavy man who ate poorly and experimented with fire-eating.

Maeve migrated to the US where she married a young performer who would later become the scion of our magic family, Thomas “Big Tom” Hardy.

And so on this special day for Irish and those who want to be Irish, we remember our proud history.