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The day a lioness terrorised the city

ANTHONY Neville was just seven when he came face to face with a lioness while out buying milk in north Dublin.

The lioness prowled around Fairview for several hours after escaping from a private circus nearby.

"Not many people can say they were almost eaten by a lion, but I can," Anthony (69) said.

Anthony and another witness, Brian Massey, recalled the 1951 event on yesterday's Liveline, enthralling both the listeners and host Joe Duffy.

The lioness, a three-year-old female called Zalinda, had been under the care of trainer Billy Stephens who was 'wintering' in the area before the circus went on tour again.

Zalinda escaped on the evening of November 11 when Mr Stephens opened her cage to feed her.

She then roamed through Fairview and into Clover Dairy, close to St Joseph's Secondary School, where Anthony was buying milk.

"I was standing in the queue; there was a man in front of me. Then Peggy Macken, the girl working behind the counter, screamed," he said.

"We turned to see a lion in the doorway. No one knew how to react. We were all too scared. I was only a few feet away."

Incredibly, another staff member came out and hit the lioness on the nose to get her away from the shop.

"The lioness was startled and went down towards the garage. We just shut the door of the dairy until the whole thing was over."

At nearby Costello's Garage, the lion came across Andrew Massey (16), who was fixing a puncture. Zalinda attacked Andrew, who managed to survive.

The lioness was finally shot and killed by gardai.

Brian Massey, Andrew's younger brother, recalls hearing the news of the attack. Andrew spent "about six weeks" in hospital, Brian said. "He had plenty of scars. His eye was never right again either."

Trainer Billy Stephens died in January 1953 after a further lion attack.