Circus career full of twists and turns

A self-taught contortionist who pursued his dream of joining the circus is wowing audiences across the country.

Darragh Merritt, 18, from Limerick, says life on the road is everything he hoped for but it was a chance encounter with a Cork mentor that gave him his big break.

When mentor and presenter John Creedon chose the teenager among his final eight contestants for RTE’s All Ireland Talent Show in 2010, everyone thought Darragh was crazy to choose contortion as a career.

“All my family and friends thought it was weird to even consider it, but as they saw that I was learning and that I was really committed, their attitudes changed and they became very supportive,” said the teenager, who turns 19 next week.

Darragh began his practise at age 10 inspired by professional performance artists of the Cirque de Soileil. Though naturally flexible, training was tough and Darragh recalls hours and hours of hard work trying to perfect splits, back bends, and complex contortions.

However, it was his TV performance under mentor Creedon’s guidance that led to his big break.

“Fossett’s spotted me from the show and they liked what I was doing only that I lacked performance skills. They steered me in the right direction.”

After an initial trial phase, Darragh landed a full-time position with the circus in Mar 2011 and has been living the dream ever since. He is perhaps best known for a stunt in which he squeezes his 5ft 10in, 11-stone frame through the frame of a tennis racket.

“It’s amazing — everything I thought it would be. It’s hard work, but very rewarding.”

Due to demand, the circus runs shows in most towns for just two days, meaning life on the road is quite literally non-stop.

While he has little time now to spend with family and friends due to the demands of his career, Darragh has acquired a whole new family on the road.

“The circus is like one big family to me. Everyone shares their stories, they give me advice and feedback on my performances. You couldn’t get this kind of training anywhere.”


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