On the 6thJanuary 2024 a bright light went out in Belfast city, Northern Ireland.

‘A unique, passionate and colourful woman who spread laughter, joy and jumpers everywhere she went.’ read Nora’s death notice.

Nora Greer was instrumental in the establishment of the then called ‘Belfast Community Circus School’ together with her late husband Mike Moloney and their friend Donal McKendry. According to Anne McReynolds – Mike called Nora ‘The Invisible Grand-dame of Circus’.

Describing this journey in her own words, Nora wrote: ‘My husband, Mike Moloney, was one of the founders of the Belfast Community Circus School in 1985. Mike was originally from Toowoomba, Australia and had trained as a drama teacher. He came to Ireland in 1981, and within a couple of years, started doing workshops teaching unicycling, juggling, stilt walking, rola-bola, and acro-balance. Mike met Donal McKendry, who was also a performer, and they began, along with myself, running a regular Saturday workshop in the Ormeau Recreation Centre in 1985. This was the beginning of the Belfast Community Circus School, which went on to grow and grow. They now have a purpose-built school with classes running daily. During the 1980s, the circus was not seen as something you did or learned, but something that you visited and went to watch. There was nowhere in Ireland to train as a circus performer, and it was Mike’s vision that pioneered this and changed people’s perspectives of the circus as a possible career.”

Co-founder of Belfast Community Circus School, Mike Moloney
Co-founder of Belfast Community Circus School, Mike Moloney
‘Circus has always had the power to bring people together; no matter their culture, language or background. The travelling circus brought dazzling performance art to people where they were, uniting rich and poor, old and young, under the canvas of the big top.’ states the Circusful (formerly Belfast Community Circus) website. How true it is.

Unfettered by language or education or social barriers, circus reaches beyond to create a widely inclusive artform for all, where audiences are taken on a journey of skill, daring, romance and courage. These qualities and the shared vision of Nora, Mike and Donal inspired the evolution of social circus, with Belfast becoming lead pioneers for same on a global stage.

Beset by the Troubles throughout the 1980’s and beyond, Belfast felt the impact of violence and war running through into multiple generations extremely: “In the evening young people were out rioting, ripping off lead roofs, throwing petrol bombs,” Donal remembers. Nora, Donal and Mike realised that for these kids, something else was needed that was physical, which provided the kind of adrenaline rush they had become hooked on.

This vision led to Belfast Community Circus becoming leaders in the global development of circus as a tool for social transformation, in particular in areas where conflict abounded. Belfast witnessed children from opposite sides of the divide learning to work together, co-operate, and form close friendships through circus education. Word spread fast and soon social workers and those who worked in the grassroots communities were seeking workshops and engagement as a means to develop co-operation. This led to Belfast leading a project in 1997 in war torn Sarajevo and the term ‘Frontier Circus’ was coined.
After The Rain Group Outside Circusful
After The Rain Group Outside Circusful 27th July 2023 / ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

In 2018 Nora submitted an item for the ‘National Treasures project- A peoples archive of Ireland’. She chose a Bed of Nails ‘Nowhere was it more important to make sure we conveyed the complicated messiness of history than in Belfast. For me, a bed of nails summed up perfectly the exuberance of a city amidst the sharp edge of conflict. To publicise the Community Circus, Mike would lie on his bed of nails to the amusement and bemusement of those who passed by. During the worst years of the Troubles, he brought people together by acting the clown.’

In addition, Nora was instrumental in building a Community Circus in Lisburn where ISACS artist and member Ashton worked closely with her.

“It was my privilege to work with Nora when I took over running Community Circus Lisburn ten years ago. She had been one of the key artists/community leaders who set-up the charity, seeing that the children of Lisburn would benefit enormously from this type of work. She was my guide, my inspiration; helping me negotiate funding, budgets and all the invisible work that is necessary to run a youth circus organisation. Her kindness, combined with absolute determination! was a powerful mix. Nora saw how engaging with the arts could bring untold wonders into the lives of all, but especially children. She was behind the scenes in many arts organisations in Northern Ireland, giving her expertise and time for free. I will remember Nora as full of colour, from her toes to the tips of her hair. We are all so very lucky to have had her in our lives, and the legacy of her work ripples out across not only Northern Ireland, but as the children and adults she helped shape travel, her influence spreads across the world. And what a wonderful influence!”

Nora turned her hand to many things beyond circus, including Fighting Words NI who nominated her for an award as Volunteer of the year, and at the time they wrote: ‘Nora is a beacon of unfailing reliability and source of good humour and has made a particular contribution to our work with children and young people with additional educational needs. According to one of our young writers ‘the best part of the workshop was my mentor (who was brilliant!) and story-telling’. That mentor was unsurprisingly Nora.

To quote from Anne McReynolds beautiful eulogy: “Nora worked for decades in many roles and in many capacities too numerous to list. But I think one common thread throughout, was her enormous commitment to the arts in Northern Ireland and her endless generosity when helping others discover their creative worth so they could fulfil their potential and have loads of fun while doing so. She was particularly dedicated to creating artistic opportunities for children and young people to do amazing things they didn’t know they could do.”

As Jennifer Dempsey, Nora’s dear friend and Belfast Community Circus’/Circusful’s first Artistic Director wrote so beautifully:

If you’re lucky, you meet people who believe in you when you can’t quite believe in yourself. For me, one of those people was Nora.

 

Today’s Director of Circusful Jenna Hall wrote: “Nora was a hugely generous, supportive and kind person. She was formidable in her commitment to ensuring we maintained a sense of fun in our work and the need for the arts to provide space for children and young people’s imaginations to thrive and develop.”

We, the extended membership of the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network, owe Nora and all around her a huge debt of gratitude for instilling a vision of Circus for Change into our communities and the wider island of Ireland. Some people’s life legacy leaves ripples which will affect generations for years to come. Nora and her colleagues in the North of Ireland did exactly that and more.

Thank you Nora