Life less or­di­nary for per­form­ing girl Bell

Bray People - - NEWS - MARY FOG­A­RTY

‘FOL­LOW YOUR heart,’ Bell McFad­den’s fa­ther told her, be­fore she left her af­flu­ent home to marry, and join a trav­el­ling troupe of en­ter­tain­ers.

Now al­most 90, Bell has set­tled in Grey­stones and will soon take a seat at her grand­daugh­ter’s cir­cus when it comes to the Beach House.

Bell grew up in Oran­more, Gal­way, and Ge­orge’s fam­ily rented a field be­long­ing to her par­ents.

The fam­ily re­turned year af­ter year to put on va­ri­ety shows, and Ge­orge and Bell fell in love, much to the cha­grin of the young woman’s mother.

She took a chance on love, and chose a life on the road, play­ing her own part in the drama and va­ri­ety shows.

‘ They would be in a town for maybe a few weeks be­fore mov­ing on,’ ex­plained Bell’s grand­daugh­ter Tara Ger­bola, a trapeze artist who runs Cir­cus Ger­bola with her hus­band, Mikey, a clown.

The per­form­ers would do a dif­fer­ent play ev­ery night, they would sing and dance, or even show a short film in the booth that was a mo­bile theatre.

A fam­ily af­fair, Ge­orge’s par­ents and brothers were all part of the cast and they all worked to­gether.

The ad­vent of tele­vi­sion, how­ever, put paid to the ‘Fit-Ups,’ with the nov­elty of the small screen keep­ing the pub­lic in­doors in the evenings. Ge­orge and his brothers went into the fun­fair busi­ness, and Tara’s fa­ther still runs ‘McFad­den Fun­fairs.’

Bell, with her hus­band and their chil­dren moved to Grey­stones when Ge­orge’s health be­gan to fail. He died at the age of 56. Bell, though heartbroken, rose to the chal­lenge of rais­ing her two youngest chil­dren alone.

She worked hard at three jobs. Tara’s fa­ther and an­other child were al­ready old enough to pro­vide for them­selves, and sent home to their mother what­ever lit­tle they could.

‘She is a fas­ci­nat­ing woman, an in­de­scrib­ably pow­er­ful per­son with huge in­ner strength,’ said Tara, whose ad­mi­ra­tion for her grand­mother is pal­pa­ble.

‘She bought that house and sup­ported her chil­dren.’ Bell never mar­ried again. ‘Once around the rose­bush’ was enough for her, hav­ing had been for­tu­nate enough to meet and marry the love of her life.

To­day, she is in won­der­ful health and has a zest for life. She still drives, cuts her grass, and doesn’t need glasses to read the pa­per. She vis­its friends and neigh­bours and stays as ac­tive as pos­si­ble.

When Tara’s mother died 17 years ago, Bell was a tower of strength. ‘I was 19, with two sis­ters aged 9 and 12,’ she ex­plained. ‘She showed us that you have to get on, as she had done with­out a hus­band for so long.’

Bell’s Kindlestown Park home has re­mained un­changed for decades. ‘ There isn’t an orna- ment that has changed,’ said Tara. ‘ Even things I saw there as a kid are still in the same spot when I bring my chil­dren to visit. There is a real sense of nos­tal­gia there.’

Now also bring­ing up her own chil­dren on the road, from Fe­bru­ary to Oc­to­ber ev­ery year at least, the way of life was al­ways in Tara’s blood.

When not trav­el­ling with the fun­fair in her child­hood, Tara would prac­tice on a makeshift trapeze, from the at­tic of their Por­tar­ling­ton house. Her fa­ther later built a rig in the gar­den and she would be out in all weathers prac­tic­ing, run­ning in now and then to get a lit­tle warmth be­fore tear­ing out­side again to the home-made swing.

The Ger­bola’s now have a win­ter house in Na­van, but their real home is on wheels and brings them from town to town.

With a dish­washer, wash­ing ma­chine and other home com­forts, how­ever, Tara knows life as a mother is eas­ier for her these days as it would have been for pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

Though dif­fi­cult at times, and deeply af­fected by ad­verse weather, the life­style is en­chant­ing. ‘I was just on the phone to my hus­band. The sun is shin­ing, the chil­dren are out­side play­ing and they’re hav­ing a ball,’ she said, adding that they are never more than 20 feet away from the kids.

Their youngest, Is­abella, came into in this world on New Year’s Day 2011, in a 4X4 on the side of the mo­tor­way, when a dash from Na­van to Blan­chard­stown was cut short by the baby’s ar­rival.

‘I had no idea it could be that quick,’ said Tara, on Is­abella Alice Mona’s in­sis­tence to be born im­me­di­ately.

She and Mikey had en­joyed a lively din­ner with friends and fam­ily to ring in the New Year, with Tara ig­nor­ing the oc­ca­sional ‘ nig­gly’ pain. Al­ready hav­ing had two chil­dren, Blake (6) and Michael (4), she felt it would be an­other day or so be­fore her daugh­ter would de­cide to make an ap­pear­ance. But ap­pear she did, and is still fight­ing fit af­ter over two months on this earth.

Both par­ents have a hands-on ap­proach to look­ing af­ter their chil­dren on tour. A babysit­ter as well as a tu­tor have a hand in the daily rou­tine, and they go to reg­u­lar school dur­ing the off-sea­son.

Some years ago, Tara and Mikey took a year out to live ‘ nor­mal’ lives. She worked in Tesco and Mikey got a job as a driver.

‘In the first month we knew this wasn’t for us,’ said Tara. ‘ But we felt we had to give it the year to find out for sure.’ The call of the cir­cus was too pow­er­ful, and they went back to the busi­ness they started to­gether in 2001. ‘ There were good things, of course, about the con­ven- tional life­style, but they didn’t out­weigh what we knew was a won­der­ful life.’

Start­ing out, the pair were ad­mit­tedly naïve about the hard­ships they would face in run­ning a busi­ness. The Arts Coun­cil pro­vides some fund­ing, but they must still keep things go­ing.

‘Sink­ing was never an op­tion,’ said Tara. ‘It was swim – and swim fast.’

With a group of 25 other peo­ple on the cir­cuit, in­clud­ing per­form­ers, crew, and ad­min­is­tra­tion staff, there is a sense of ca­ma­raderie in the cir­cus, al­beit with the oc­ca­sional ‘ bad ap­ple.’

As well as col­leagues they are friends, neigh­bours and fam­ily, all of whom shed tears in Oc­to­ber when they have to part ways. ‘ It is a fas­ci­nat­ing life­style,’ said Tara, even though she grew up within it. Oth­ers came to it later and have been just as be­witched by the cir­cus.

The Ring-Mis­tress ‘Dr. Liz,’ is a for­mer astro physi­cist who re­trained with a three year de­gree in cir­cus skills, while an­other per­former came from an in­nercity life in Birm­ing­ham to the big top. Last year they set up and took down the rig at 80 dif­fer­ent sites around Ire­land, each lo­ca­tion with its own set of chal­lenges from nar­row gates to muck, or lack of wa­ter. A huge bill is associated with main­te­nance, wages, diesel and in­surance to name just a few of the costs, but the show al­ways goes on.

That show in­cludes foot jug­gling, con­tor­tion, aerial ac­ro­bat­ics, mu­sic, horses, and more.

Once a year, Bell McFad­den, beloved ma­tri-

Sink­ing was never an op­tion, it was swim – and swim fast.’

arch, is a mem­ber of the au­di­ence, and gets to have a fond glance back at the days when she was the star of the show.

Cir­cus Ger­bola will be at the Beach House in Grey­stones from April 6 to 10. There will also be dates in Ahs­ford, Wick­low, Ark­low, En­nis­cor­thy, New Ross. For full sched­ule in­for­ma­tion go to­

A FAM­ILY AF­FAIR: IN­SET: Tara Ger­bola with her grand­mother, Bell. While, Mikey, a clown, fea­tures in a dramtic open­ing se­quence for Cir­cus Ger­bola.

Mikey and Tara Ger­bola ty­ing the knot ... with a difd­fer­ence!

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