Ronan Brady: From Connacht winner in 2010 to performing in the world of acrobatics
If Ronan Brady was to sit down and concoct the wildest story possible, he’d do well to eclipse the reality of his own life.
This is a man who, as far as many GAA fans in Ireland would see it, had it made. He was part of Roscommon’s panel that won a Connacht title in 2010, a commitment that was dovetailing nicely with his job as a secondary school engineering teacher in Swinford, County Mayo.
Since then, life has taken a turn for anything but the ordinary. A pelvic issue kept him out for the guts of a year, and an arthritic ankle needed to be strapped up just to play. At the same time, he’d been dabbling in the world of acrobatics. The bug had sunken its teeth into him, and even after making a comeback for his club Elphin, he became the sort of player that annoyed him — the man who was in and out. So finally, he walked away from sport, and the cyr wheel and trapeze became his life.
Coming from a rural part of the country, this was a decision that required bravery. Brady name-checks another former Roscommon star, Neil Collins, as being in a similar boat in terms of committing to an unusual lifestyle.
Brady has been all over the world, from New York to Azerbaijan, and spends as much time employed as unemployed. You go where the work takes you; you learn a new discipline if needs be.
“‘Oh you need somebody to do trapeze? When? In two months’ time?’ “And I was like, ‘I could learn it by then’. You do it because you're just so mad for the employment when you're looking for work.
“The aim is just to try to live my own life,” Brady says. “As a teenager, I was focused on this one thing and I spent all my life focusing on playing football, and my career as a teacher was based around Gaelic football, in that it was going to be handy for playing football.
“When I got the injury, I stepped back and said, ‘Jesus, I've been focusing everything around this every summer, and everything is directed to being as good as you can be as a footballer. In the best-case scenario in Roscommon, you'll get three days in the sunshine during the summer’. It seemed kind of ridiculous to me, in a sense.”
As much as he loved the team environment and the fun inside the dressing-room walls, he wanted to challenge himself without hiding behind excuses. “Sometimes I found myself not openly blaming people, but in your head somebody (on the team) didn't pull their weight or somebody was out last night or something. I was like, “maybe you're full of s*** Ronan”. I was like “maybe try something on your own, you're not as good as you think you are”. When I was playing football I gave it everything, so I didn't leave with any regrets.”
It began by building his own cyr wheel, heading down to the school hall, and slowly learning not to fall over. Brady kept going until finally he made it happen. What he has since embraced is a very different world, one which has helped reshape his views on life. Performance art, to his mind, is a hugely powerful thing that makes you challenge the accepted norms in society.
“Currently I'm sitting in Toronto and we’re doing a show called ‘Riot’, which is part of the Luminato Festival.
“There is an act in it where I've got my cyr wheel and I do a very slow and methodical sequence in the air, and it's to a slowed-down version of ‘d-a-n-c-e’. In the middle of that, Michael Harding reads a piece of text from one of his books.
“He's an Irish author and he tends to write books about growing old, the musings of old age, and how your life changes. So in this piece of text he's talking about masculinity and priesthood.
“I'm up on this hoop and I'm moving very methodically and slowly but I'm dressed in a pink and blue unitard, which is quite effeminate, but then it's this masculine shape moving around. So there's this massive juxtaposition in what you're seeing.
“After the show, more often than not, I have men and women coming up saying it was a stunning and moving piece — especially men. It's just a question of what masculinity is.”
He recalls the Islamic Solidarity Games last year, of being suspended 40 metres in the air above a stadium in Azerbaijan, and moving about on rotating wheels as pyrotechnics went off. “It was bizarre stuff. You do get loads of opportunities but you do look around yourself and say ‘Jesus am I really here’ and ‘is this my job?”
He’s seen some special places on his journey, but bringing his passion home was perhaps the most rewarding of all.
“I made my own show there recently with Aisling Ní Cheallaigh, who I double-trapeze with,” Brady explains. “She is a beautiful aerial artist. We've just done just two performances so far: Draíocht in Dublin, and in Athlone.
“That was about a month back and, as cheesy and as poxy as this sounds, it was really nice to bring a circus show to Athlone, and to have friends and family travel up from Elphin, Roscommon and surrounding areas and to take that to the midlands. We all think of these shows happening in bigger places, and it was it was really nice to bring that to the midlands.
“I did ‘Ireland's Got Talent’ recently; they contacted me to go on the show and I was busy and I wasn't going to do it, but then I thought if an eight-year-old Ronan saw some local Irish fella doing something relatively interesting on the television, maybe I might have made some different decisions when I was younger. Maybe I would have gone to a gymnastics class or some of these other things.”
Brady still savours his big days playing GAA. Without question, the 2010 Connacht final win over Sligo was an amazing feat, but so too were the days when Elphin were pushing for county glory. The sense of being a mini celebrity in your own area, the buzz it gave to the parish, and the optimism being shared with the team.
He won’t be in The Hyde this Sunday when Kevin McStay leads the Rossies out against Galway, but his thoughts on the game show that he has been keeping a close eye on proceedings.
“Everything should point to Galway,” he says. “They have beaten Mayo for the past three years and topped Division 1 impressively. They have consistently good form. Roscommon won Division 2 but the last few results really could have went either way.
“It's so hard to call. I genuinely think Roscommon are going to win, they have so many quality attacking forwards and defenders, and also we have great players on the bench. Cathal Cregg is playing some of the best ball of his life from the bench and I think it's there for Roscommon.
There's more of a spread in Roscommon, whereas Galway have pivotal
players who if we can keep quiet, then Roscommon can win.”