A CORK doctor is leaving his patients in stitches with a special clown act for seriously ill children.
Dr Paul Ryan, who works as a GP in Mayfield, has devoted 15 years to perfecting his clowning antics.
Since the age of 22, he has been attending the equivalent of clown school through various workshops and tutorials.
Everything from his clown shoes to his unicycles have been handpicked from all over the world.
He has also studied numerous books on the subject.
Humble Dr Ryan - known to friends and family as ‘Bally’ - has always remained low key about his work.
Nonetheless, he opened up about his double life to raise awareness of the Cork City Hospitals Childrens’ Club - a charity providing Christmas events and holidays to kids who have suffered illness or trauma.
The Glanmire man has become the organisation’s official clown and will feature in their Christmas event at Fota House this year. “Bally the clown” was born after a chance encounter with CCHCC founder, John Looney. Dr Ryan explained:
“When I met John I had been cycling everywhere,” the volunteer said.
“I didn’t own a car at the time so was always on my bike. I took part in a sponsored cycle-more out of a dare than anything else- and that’s how I fell into the clown thing.”
Dr Ryan recalled how the charity was about to lose its clown double-act as a result of insufficient funding.
“The children’s club used to pay for them but knew that wouldn’t be possible anymore.” Dr Ryan made the brave decision to sign up as an apprentice clown.
“I was basically brought to clown school,” he laughed.
“The clowns at the time were really sound and offered to train me in. I was immediately thrown into the deep end. They took me to childrens’ parties to perform with them and basically did themselves out of a job.”
From that day on the father-of-four was hooked.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to take off the shirt and tie and entertain the kids with a red nose and wig.”
The Mayfield-based GP, who also performs in hospital wards, said his inexperience initially served him well.
“Children don’t really want to see you juggling while riding a unicycle. What they really like is to see you falling off.
"When they’re seeing that you’re the silly one, they’re in control. When I was first tried the unicycle I couldn’t ride it properly.
"Everyone thought it was part of the act but I genuinely couldn’t do it properly.”
He confessed that, in the early days, gigs weren’t always easy.
“One of my early gigs was in a hospital ward with a 14-year-old girl and three-year-old child.
"It was a challenge as normally the tricks are tailored for different ages. That day I crashed and burned. However, I looked at it as character building.
"More often than not it will be a good clown show. It all depends on the crowd but you have to embrace the awkwardness.”
Dr Ryan has been able to apply the clowning skills he has learned to his day job.
“When kids come in and you have to look at their throats it really puts them at ease.”
The performer has four children - Cian, aged 10; Seán, five; Sophia, aged four; and Cathal, aged one.
“They’re currently very proud of the clown thing but in a few years time they’ll probably be cringing.
"My wife Niamh is also very supportive. She must be the most patient woman in the world.”
The family man admits that clowning often cheers him up as much as the children he entertains.
“The day job can be very serious so it’s good to be able to let your hair down and be silly,” he laughed.
“I often perform with fellow CCHCC clown Wally. We’ve performed together so much that we instinctively know what one another is thinking at this stage.”
For details on how to donate the Cork City Hospitals Children Club visit https://www.facebook.com/corkchildrensclub/