Ryan Andrews

First Published October 2021

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN

“The thing about the breaking is, and they [the DS] said that from day-one, you need to be broken. In order for you to build, you need to be broken. Some people might go in – not that recruits did – but some people might go in and say I won’t be broken. You won’t break me. But when you allow yourself to be broken, and I did, I got to the real, real bottom of my soul. Like last week’s episode where I was saying [to myself] that the only way forward now is up. I can only go up from here. So when the hike came, I was like, well, I’ve been to the bottom of my soul, I’ve been to the lowest part of my life, so this is a bonus. That’s where I was at. That’s allowing yourself to be broken, it’s allowing yourself to get vulnerable and open up. And you build back up even quicker.” 


That was actor RYAN ANDREWS talking to us about last week’s epic episode of ULTIMATE HELL WEEK which saw Ryan and his fellow remaining recruits take on the monumental Foreman Aftman challenge, described as Hell Week’s toughest event. If you – like me – followed Ryan’s journey on Dancing With The Stars Ireland in 2020, there’s one thing you’ll already have known about him, and that’s that he commits himself body and soul to everything he takes part in. We saw that week-in and week-out on Dancing With The Stars. Maybe, though, some people might have considered a show like that to be a bit of an easy ride, so not really the best way to judge someone’s levels of resilience or depth of character. Well firstly, those people would have been wrong – soooo wrong – in thinking that way. And even if they did back then, there’s just no way they could think like that now. Because last week on Ultimate Hell Week, the man who showed he could be a king of the dancefloor, proved he could be king of the mountain, too. 


I first met Ryan back during his time on Dancing With The Stars, and lest anyone be in any doubt, a finer gentleman you could not meet. And it was my pleasure to catch up with him again last week. 


After first congratulating him on his achievements so far, and before we got into the trials of Ultimate Hell Week itself, I wanted Ryan to take me right back to the moment when he was first asked to take part. Did he say yes straight away?


“I got an email. And the email said, ‘Hi Ryan, we are Motive Television and we produce the series Hell Week’, and I replied without even reading the rest of the email, 100%, I’d do it. It was meant to go on ages ago, the show kept being put back so many times. It was meant to be last year, then in November, then in January. And I actually tore all my ligaments in my ankle last year when I was going to be doing the show, and I even said yes then! Even with my ligaments torn. Little did I know how bad the show was gonna be! [Laughs]. But yeah, I was 100% doing it straight away. I knew this was something I would never, ever do again in my life. I’d never get the chance to. So it was ‘Yes!’ before I even read the end of the email.” 

What was the reaction of Ryan’s family and of Michaela when he told them he was doing it? 


“Well Michaela doesn’t know anything about the show [at the time], she’s never seen the show, and she kept goin’, ‘Ah, it won’t be that bad, they’re not gonna make ya do that, it’ll be more like ‘I’m A Celebrity’, that’s what she thought it was! My mam and dad, they watch the show like myself, and they went, ‘Oh Jesus, that’s tough!’ Normally what happens is, you do a show and you think it won’t be that bad…and it ends up being bad [tough]. But with this, before I went into it, I was saying this is gonna be horrible. I knew it was gonna be so tough. But even at that, I wasn’t expecting how tough it was actually going to be.” 

Although Jake Carter remarked on one episode that he only had two weeks notice before the show began, generally speaking, it’s not something that you find out about today, and it begins tomorrow. Knowing Ryan to be the kind of guy he is, I knew he wouldn’t have let the time between being asked to take part and when the show got underway pass without doing as much as he could to ready himself for what lay ahead. So physically, how did he go about preparing himself for his time on Hell Week


“Realistically, I had about four or five weeks’ notice. This happens [with me] all the time. Unless I have an actual goal, an end date, I won’t do anything. I can’t focus or put time into something if I don’t know if it’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen. I need a specific date, whether it’s Dancing With The Stars, whether it’s panto…I need an end goal. We got a few emails back and forth and I wasn’t doing anything because they were saying, look, it might happen next year, it might not happen at all. Then I got the final confirmation that the show was happening in four to five weeks time, on whatever date it was. Then, I said ok, I’m 100% all-in. The diet, the training. And the hard thing is, the more you train, the further away you think you are from where you need to be. You try to cram everything into five weeks, but in those five weeks, you’re tired, you’re fatigued, you’re mentally nearly getting weaker. You’re researching the show, and the more you do that, you feel like getting sick! [Laughs]. It was a mad five weeks! But, I learned a lot about myself in that time, and to train specifically for what would be at hand, and I think that’s what I did.” 

In many ways, the physical side of Hell Week is only half the battle. Less than half the battle, even. On a show like this, your mind will be your biggest ally, or maybe your worst enemy. How did Ryan try to prepare for that side of things? 


“The mental side is the most important. The mental side is number-one. If you’re not mentally strong or fit… It’s your mind that tells your body what to do. Your mind, your thoughts, that’s what tells you to get up at 5 o’ clock in the morning to go on the hike. Your body doesn’t tell you that. Your mind is the number one thing, and if that’s right, and in a great place, you can achieve and conquer anything. Sometimes in life, my mind might not be the strongest. And there might be days where I don’t want to do that training session. I don’t want to get up. I don’t think I’m good enough. But those four or five weeks [beforehand], and that week of that course, I felt like my mind was as strong as it has ever been. Even with the hike, it was my mind telling my body to go on. It was my mind saying your rib is broken, but it’s not gonna stop ya. So I went to the sea a lot, and I’d go in in the freezing cold and stay there as long as possible. I’d visualise myself completing the course, visualise myself getting through the course, doing all of that stuff. And I’d meditate a lot, too.” 

Before going any further, I wanted to turn the conversation in the direction of another big reason why Ryan said yes, his chosen charity, the Mater Foundation…


“I’ve said this before about the Mater Foundation, or really any charity, because there were eighteen recruits with eighteen different charities. The work of the Mater Foundation and all the frontline workers – I’m talking about cleaners, caterers, head-doctors, electricians in those hospitals, everyone – they keep all that running for patients throughout the year. And my dad was one of those patients this year. I saw the work that they did. They go through hell every single day. Their daily routines are like a week of ‘Hell Week’ for us, what they have to face, the obstacles they have to overcome. In particular over the last year. They were a lifeline, they were like the DSs to my dad [laughs], they were the ones calling the shots. Hell Week is a show. We’re well-known people going on a reality tv show. But these people [in the Mater Foundation] do it for life. The hike wasn’t life or death. If I wanted to quit, I could have quit and got a lift home. These doctors, these nurses, they can’t. They can’t just quit. If they quit, that affects so many people. So I wanted to show my respect and support for all the people in the Mater by doing this for them.” 

There were two things that I figured had to have been on Ryan’s mind going into Hell Week: his biggest fear, and whatever he promised himself about his time on the show. I asked him if he’d share those thoughts…


“To be perfectly honest, and I said this going into the show when Doctor Jason called the day before – when we were locked in our hotel room and he came in to do a physical examination and a mental examination – and he asked what are your biggest fears. I said I don’t have any. He said, ‘Ah they all say that!’ [Laughs]. But I said no, I didn’t. And I proved that on the show. I wasn’t afraid of water. I wasn’t afraid of heights. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. I wasn’t ‘afraid’ of anything. I was self-conscious, I was uncertain, I was worried. But I was never afraid. I never had a fear. Except, for when the balaclava went over my head. And that was a fear which I did not know I had. So that was a shock, because I was so well prepared mentally, physically. But the emotional side completely took over because that brought back memories of my dad struggling for breath on a ventilator in the ICU. So it’s amazing what this show does. It opens you up, it makes you even more vulnerable. And when you haven’t slept, and you have no food, things just come rushing back in. That was a fear that I definitely faced. And, as you’ll see in next week’s show, I have to face it a whole lot more! And one thing I said to myself was I won’t stop. And in particular, that came back to me on that hike. I said NOTHING will stop me. I said they will have to take that arm-band off my arm. I said I was going to get to a point where they would actually physically have to take that arm-band off me. That was my mentality going in, ya know. If you don’t have that mentality, if you don’t set yourself up like that, if you only go halfway, sure you’ll fall at the first hurdle. So you have to set your goals high to achieve a realistic outcome.” 

Hell Week is somewhat strange in that it can only really be experienced as an individual, and yet, you can only really get through it as part of a group, as a team. How did that team dynamic first begin to form, in Ryan’s opinion? 


“We all had to isolate ourselves in a hotel, so it even started the night before, straight away, it was funny. Obviously there was lockdown, and social-distancing, and we were all tested and isolated. We were like a bubble. The first people I high-fived or shook hands with was Rory O’ Connor, Rory’s Stories. I’m talkin’ about in a year! So when you’re hugging these people before you even start, there’s definitely a bond there, and there was respect before it even started for everyone even saying yes to the show. The more people that dropped out, the tighter the group got. At a lot of points during the show, whether it was a pat on the back or a wink, or Rory – when I broke my rib – he lifted me back onto the boat with Jake, and when my head was down for the first time, he said, ‘Keep your head up, Eighteen, don’t drop it now.’ There’s little moments like that, I wouldn’t have got to this point, without the people around me. It really does mean a lot. You’re only as good as the people around you. You’re only as strong as the people you have surrounding you. I think that’s something I’ve definitely taken from the show, and that I’m going to take forward into my everyday life now.” 

It’s funny that Ryan mentioned Rory there, because in my opinion, the two most completely open and honest people on the show were the two of them. Was there much of a gap between the expectations that Ryan may have had of people from what he knew of them before Hell Week and how he found them during their time together on the show? 


“Probably not with me. I’d be a good judge of character. I knew beforehand that anybody saying yes to this was a certain type of person. They were there to prove something for themselves. They wanted to do something that not many people would say yes to. I respected everyone. I would have gotten to know people better, heard more of their life stories. Do you know what I enjoyed? I enjoyed getting to know how they got to the point where they are today. Take Laura, for example. Most people would have said dancer, blonde, pink, nails, glittery slippers, whatever! But Laura shared stories of her in secondary school getting a flight to England on a Friday evening, rehearsing and training, rehearsing and training all weekend, and flying back to Ireland on Monday. That’s resilience. That’s what builds up their character. Rory talks about having mental breakdowns and going through depression, and fighting that. If you can get through that, you can get through anything. And everyone shared stories like that. And Peter [Stringer], about his training with the Irish team, the legend that he is, that’s what I enjoyed. I loved seeing how people have gotten to where they are, and seeing who they are now because of what they went through in their life.” 

When Ryan was lying in his bunk, in silence – when he actually got a chance to lie in his bunk! – what would go through his mind? DS Ray Goggins, in his remarkable book Ranger 22: Lessons From The Front, shares how he used to use the words of the Madness song, Our House, as a kind of mantra to help him get through some of his toughest moments. Did Ryan have anything like that? 


“No. Nothing [laughs]. One of the Army guys, before we went in, said eat when you can, sleep when you can, and rest when you can. And that really, really stuck in me. He goes, ‘The only three things I want people to do is eat when you can, sleep when you can, and rest when you can.’ That, in some ways, turned me into Robocop! Because when there was food there, all I would do was just eat. When I wasn’t on a task, I would just rest. And when I slept, I would literally go, I don’t know how long I’ve got. So I don’t want to be up thinking, I don’t want to be worrying. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know what’s coming. So there’s no point thinking about that. I just wanted to get as much sleep as I possibly could. I always think of my body as a battery. You want it to be at 100%. But I was running at 60%, maybe 40% going to bed. I was just thinking I want to recharge as quickly as I possibly can to be ready for what’s in store. So it was more like just get to bed as quickly as you possibly can and recover. And then, you think you’ll do that, but they put you on sentry duty where you have to walk around and you don’t sleep. Then you get into bed for fifteen minutes and you’re woken up with a banger and you’re fecked into a feckin’ plunge-pool! [Laughs]. It’s so hard! But that’s what I’d do, I’d just try to rest and recover for what was in store.” 

Ryan mentioned earlier that he found out a lot about himself during the four or five weeks when he was preparing for the show, but did he find out anything about himself during the show that he didn’t know beforehand? 


“That’s a good one. I always thought that I had resilience, courage, that extra something. But, I probably 100% never really believed it. I give 100% into anything I do. Whether it’s making a cup of tea. Whether it’s playing with my nieces or nephew. Whether it’s ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ I always give 100%. But there was always a doubt there, in the back of my mind, am I actually good enough? Can I back-up what I think I can do? And I never thought I really could. I don’t know if I needed something like this show, that I could say, THIS is tough, the toughest thing I’ll ever face, the toughest thing I’ll ever go through. This is something that has a 10% feckin’ pass-rate. So this was a challenge that I needed. So to get to where I have, I’ve proven to myself that I am resilient, I am determined, I am committed to whatever I do. And this show proved all that for me, and that was a massive thing for me, to get rid of that self-doubt in the back of my head.” 

To wrap things up, I wanted to really dig down deep into Ryan’s reservoir of Hell Week knowledge. So, just suppose someone like Grainne Gallanagh – someone we both know – comes to Ryan next year and says, ‘I’m going on Hell Week…what’s the most important thing I need to know or remember aboutwhat’s to come?’… what words of wisdom would he have to share? 


“Run! [Laughs]. Don’t do it! Don’t do it! [Laughs]. No, I would say be open to finding out who you are. Some people don’t really want to know who they actually are inside. But you have to be open to that. Also, it’s going to be the toughest – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually – event you will EVER go through in your whole life. Be prepared for that. It’s that saying that if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail. You have to be very comfortable in yourself to do something like this, whoever you are, because you’re going to find out a lot of things about yourself – good and bad – and you have to be ready to accept that. I think everyone from the show got nothing but positive, nothing but good things [from it]. It’s something that everyone should take forward in life, stepping out of your comfort-zone, finding out a little bit more about who you are, and more about what you are as well.” 


~ The FINAL episode of this season’s ULTIMATE HELL WEEK airs TONIGHT, Wednesday, October 13th, at 9.35pm on RTE 1. To vote for Ryan and support his chosen charity, the MATER FOUNDATION, text RECRUIT18 to 50300.

ENDS

Ray Goggins

First Published October 2021

RANGER 22

Is ULTIMATE HELL WEEK the best show on Irish television right now? The answer to that question isn’t simply a resounding YES, it’s yes by a hell of a way. And one man who plays a major role in making this possible is DS RAY GOGGINS, the Chief Instructor on the hit show. But the Corkman isn’t just a presenter brought in to front the show, far from it. 


With more than a quarter of a century’s service to his credit in the Irish Army, and seventeen of those years spent in the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) as both an operator and leader in a Tier 1 Special Operations Unit, Goggins is the kinda guy that Hollywood’s biggest male stars would fight over to play in the movies. The big difference between them all, of course, is that when RANGER 22 – his number in the ARW – served in war-zones around the world or operated as a bodyguard in Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and Afghanistan, the dangers he faced on an hourly basis – and sometimes minute by minute – were all too real. 


While situations like those leave little room for error or re-takes if the lighting isn’t just right, they’re definitely the kind of experiences that teach you a thing or ten along the way. And, given that the wisdom gleaned from all of those trials and tests can be applied just as much to everyday life, sports, business, and even politics, they also provide a unique insight that’s worth sharing. That being so, Goggins has gathered it all together to tell the story of his life in RANGER 22: LESSONS FROM THE FRONT, published by Gill Books. 


Mark my words, this is a contender for book of the year and will top many’s a Top Ten list come the year’s end. Whatever you do in life, this book will help you to do it better. That’s just a fact. And, it’ll make you laugh along the way too, because that famous Cork sense of humour doesn’t just disappear when you sign-up to serve your country, ya know. If anything, it just dries out a little bit more and attains an even sharper edge at the same time. And lucky for us, because that helps to make books and TV shows all the more entertaining! 


With the nation glued to their TV sets for Ultimate Hell Week every Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of spending some time in conversation with the man leading the DS as they prove to celebrities like Ryan Andrews, Laura Nolan, Peter Stringer, and Rory O’ Connor that hell can, in fact, be a very real, wet, and cold place on Earth. 


Something I picked up on early on in reading Ranger 22 is that there are many attributes a Ranger needs that most people probably wouldn’t think of straight away. Two that really stood out were a sense of calm and a sense of humour. At the end of Ranger 22, Ray lists a few more of the qualities that have become constants in his own life, so I asked him to tell me a little bit about another one of those – of his own choosing – that people might be surprised would be important to being a good Ranger.


“Yeah, look, I guess the calm one is kind of straight-forward, and the humour, they’re huge in anything you do in your life. I suppose…I’m trying to stay away from resilience, integrity, people would associate all those [with being a Ranger]…I suppose empathy is one that people mightn’t realise is a huge part of it. Not even just when you’re training guys, or when you’re training yourself, but on operations and missions you need to have a cognitive empathy as to what’s going on, but for yourself and outside of what you’re doing, so your teammates and even people you’re dealing with, like villagers, or people who are under a lot of pressure and so on. They could be starving, they could be in awful conditions altogether, and you need to be able to understand that. It’s a hard kind of game to play, because you have to be able to know when to step in, and when not. It’s easier with your team guys, to be able to do that, to be able to read them. So if a guy needs a helping hand, you can give it to him. So I think empathy is a big one there.”

Is there ever a fear or a doubt that a quality like empathy might be seen as a weakness, or become a chink in the armour, so to speak? 


“No. Empathy and kindness are incredibly important in special operations. I know for a fact that through the years where I got a helping hand from somebody when I badly needed it, I never judged that as being a weakness. Yeah, I get what you’re saying, some people might misconstrue kindness for weakness, but a switched-on person won’t. They’ll realise that you’re putting your hand out for a reason, and it’s to help them out. It doesn’t have to be a huge input, it could be something very simple. You could just give someone a minute or two of your time. Or, give them the right word, or the right direction, and that means then that they’ll do something better and work harder at it.” 

And might empathy ever be seen as a weakness by anyone outside of the team who you might be dealing with? 


“It depends. Some people, because of their own failings, maybe. But you’ll find that people who won’t give empathy, or don’t use empathy, are usually weak, and not very good at what they do anyway because they can’t relate to other people. I think personally, from my experience of being in special operations for nearly twenty years, you’d see guys being empathic in all kinds of ways, on a daily basis. And it can be just the smallest little thing, like pulling a fellow up off the ground, or giving a fella a kind word, or just stepping into a situation for thirty seconds but that means that situation completely changes. That person that you’re stepping in to help, you’re basically taking the pressure off them for that thirty seconds, and that could mean the difference in them being able to carry on for another twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours, or a week or whatever it is. because you made that small little gesture.”


Back around January 2019, I didn’t listen to my gut-instinct on something, and it ended up costing me, both in a business and a personal sense. While I may have thought that was a disaster for me at the time, where it rates on a scale of actual life-or-death problems is brought into sharp focus by the fact that at that exact same time, Ray was being blown-up in a suicide bomb attack on the compound where he was stationed in Afghanistan. But when it comes to something like gut-instinct, is there any place for that in the Rangers, given that training for the ARW is so intensive, so comprehensive, and almost always on-going? 


“It’s a good question. You have the processes and procedures that are trained into you, so it is second nature, and when you do make that decision to flip the switch you carry out whatever you need to do very quickly. But your gut has a role to play, as in what scenario you carry out or where you go from a situation. Do you defuse it by being less aggressive? Or do you make that call to be completely aggressive and end the situation by violence, or whatever it is you’re doing. Gut has an awful lot to do with it. And experience only can teach you that. It’s all well and good to have these drills and routines that you slot into, but you have to KNOW then what drill to slot into and when to do it. It’s like that knowledge and wisdom piece. Knowledge comes from the book, but wisdom comes from the experience.” 

I mentioned in my last question how Ranger training always seems to be ongoing. And in the book, Ray talks about doing a diver course, followed soon after by a recon course, a perfect example of how Ray and the Rangers constantly challenge and transform themselves. In life away from the AWR, has he found ways to continue to challenge and transform himself, I wondered – his book, Ranger 22, being one, of course – but are there others apart from that? 


“Yeah, so the book and the show are two of those things. I have a training business now as well, that I started this year. I wanted to do something different. I had still been involved in security and bodyguarding to a certain extent up to last year, but I decided to do something new. Well, it’s not new, I’ve been training people all my career, I guess, but I wanted to do it on my own and step out into that world. I always find that if you’re learning something new, or you’re doing something new, it’s always good to challenge yourself. If you’re sitting on your arse scratching it, you’re learning nothing. You always have to test yourself a little bit. And whether that means stepping into a new type of career or just edging towards something a bit different, it’s really important. It just keeps you going, keeps you effective, keeps you happy. And it keeps you alive too. There are three things I try to feed every day of my life. I feed my body by training, [looking after my] health, and so on. I feed my mind by learning new things, new challenges. And the most important, is to feed your soul, doing stuff that really makes you happy on the inside. Sometimes I get to do all three together in one event. Other times I don’t. But I try to focus on those three things every day. Not just once a week or once a month. Every day.” 

You’ll often hear about professional footballers who come to the end of glittering careers but, while still relatively young, end up needing hip or knee replacements because of what they’ve put their bodies through. Ray mentions in his book that he eventually had to have laser surgery on both knees, because they had never been right since back when he went through the ARW selection process. So what kind of shape is his body in now, after so many years of testing it to so many different extremes? 


“It’s actually pretty good, I still train away. I’m fifty now, I turned fifty this year, and I do a couple of 10ks a week. I have my own gym here out the back of the house, that’s where I train. But yeah, there is a lot of punishment on the body, on the knees and back in particular from the lifestyle I’ve chosen. But I’m probably fitter…actually no, I am fitter than most of my peers my age. I have no serious injuries that have incapacited me. I’m probably operating at about 95% of my best, I’d say, at the moment. I’ll take that.” 

Does Ray have any fear that his desire to, or his willingness to train, might wane as the years go by? 


“No. There’s a saying I heard once, about [training] keeping the old man away! And that’s what I’ll be doing! You’re only as young as you feel. And there’s no reason why I can’t be physically fit up until the day I die. There’s no reason why not.” 


Mindset, which is what Ray was talking about there really, is so often mentioned as being vital to everything, both in Ranger 22 and on Ultimate Hell Week. In one promo for the show, Ray is heard declaring to the recruits not long after the course has begun, that the DS will be “in your souls in one hour!” Darran O’ Sullivan, the Kerry All-Ireland winner, said in an interview that it only took them about eight minutes to get into his! However, because of the way that training can break people down but then build them back up again with a greater sense of self – and, a clearer sense of something bigger than just the self, the team in the case of the show – would Ray think that there might be a place for something like this – or even some kind of national service, maybe – in Irish life in general, or in our justice system? 


“So you’re saying some sort of penal, hard-labour thing, or something like that, something along those lines?” 


Not so much in a punishment kind of way…


“More in a building way? And even as a national service for young guys to go in and do eighteen months? Well, again, look…that’s a kind of a grey area. I used to think that it would be a good idea to do that for guys and girls, eighteen to twenty-one, do national service for a year. But you won’t get that special forces training for people who are conscripts or have to do a year, a year and a half in the military. What you’d get is regular army training, which is pretty good, but to be fair, it’s not at the level that special ops is. It would be very hard to manage that, and expect people to go through that type of training in a year and a half. But look, there probably is scope for a version of it maybe, something that could even be done in secondary school, training days, teams. A lot of the facets of it that are very applicable to normal people. There’s a lot of what I do in my corporate work and with teams, where I bring in some of the mindset of teamwork and effectiveness training that I’ve learned, and I can bring that across to people in the private sector. Not like a Hell Week type of event, but some of the mindset of it. But it’s not as effective. If you get someone stripped down to their bare soul, you can put so much more information into them then where it’s better for them to build.” 

In the ARW Ray and his colleagues would spend so much of their lives operating – so living, in other words – at such a high level of intensity. Now, I know from sport or music events that it can take a few hours to come down from the adrenaline of an event or a gig, and yet none of those things would even come close to comparing to the levels of intensity Ray would be used to experiencing. How does he go from being so switched on to being able to switch off in a short time? Is it just a process that he has to go through like the rest of us? 


“It’s one of the side-effects of the training. You have to get yourself in a position where you can go from zero to one-hundred miles an hour instantly. This is why when you sleep on an operation, you sleep with all your kit on. When you get up you’re ready to fight straight away. On the show, the DS staff, we can take it from being super-calm to being super-aggressive within seconds. But that doesn’t mean that we lose control. It’s all controlled aggression. You bring it up to a level where you’re controlling it, it’s not controlling you. And you can bring it back down as quick. It’s quite similar in operations then, you can step up to be in that mindset quite quickly, and you can step down quickly as well. Now, it doesn’t always work, but it will work most of the time.” 


From reading Ranger 22, and other interviews that Ray has done, as well as watching UltimateHell Week and chatting to a good mutual friend of ours, there’s a part of me that sometimes feels a little bit jealous of the adventure, the excitement, and the challenges that Ray has known in his life. Or, perhaps a better way of putting it is that maybe I regret not trying more different things along the way myself. But has Ray ever regretted joining the Army over the years? Is there any other profession that curiosity would draw him in the direction of if he could try it for a day or a week? 


“I think I’d like to have been an ice-cream man or something like that if I hadn’t been in the army [laughs]. No, I’ll tell ya, I never for one second regretted joining the army, even in the really bad days or when things when absolutely pear-shaped, when your body and your brain are sayin’, ‘What are ya doin’ here?!’ I always had the answer for my brain. This is why I’m here, because it was something I always wanted to do. I know I’m doing different stuff now, but that’s still all based on what I learned and what I did as a soldier. It’s all the same. I’m still doing the same thing I was doing thirty years ago really. I’m just doing it in a kind of instruction mode now, and there’s more eyeballs on it compared to what I used to have. No, I have no regrets. I couldn’t even contemplate being in another job, to be honest. I know I have a training company now, and I’m doing this kind of stuff, but I’m still in instructor and army mode when I go and meet people. It’s the same thing.” 

I’m lucky enough to be speaking with both Ultimate Hell Week recruit Number 1 Laura Nolan, and Number 18 Ryan Andrews in the coming weeks as well. Having interviewed them both before, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see how well both have been doing on the show so far. Some recruits on Ultimate HellWeek can probably surprise the DS by eventually revealing a resolve that may not have been apparent straight away. But what I wanted to know was are there any little signs or ‘tells’ that usually let the DS know straight away – or very early on – if someone definitely doesn’t have what it takes? 


“I’ve had this question before, and as long as I’ve been doing this show, and even running the real military courses, yeah, you might get a vision of someone on the first night or first day, good or bad, but bar someone being absolutely completely out of control and flapping so much that they can’t even make a decision…those are obvious signs of someone who probably isn’t going to last too long, unless they learn to control it. But in general, I find that it’s very hard to pick up on anything, unless there’s a blatantly obvious sign with someone in the first twenty-four hours, someone breaking down or not being able to cope immediately, that’s a red-flag. You’ll see those. But other than that, it’s quite difficult. I’ve heard other people talking, saying they can do it, but I’ve never seen anyone who could, realistically. You might have an idea about someone in your head, but that’s the whole beauty of the process. Someone might be completely on their belt-buckle and weak, but then four hours later they’re the best candidate in the group because of a particular thing you’re doing, or they’re just committing to it better, or they’re more suited to it. That’s the beauty of it for me. So to answer your question, it’s hard to pick someone that’s going to finish or not. It’s really hard to do.” 

Again, returning to a recent interview I remember seeing somewhere where Ray spoke about his time in Afghanistan, and in it he talked about learning to switch off his emotions. There’s a moment in Ranger 22 where Ray is talking about the suicide bomber attack that I mentioned earlier. A lady called Shipra had been killed in that attack. But while Ray was coordinating the evacuation of their compound, he and his team not only made sure to take Shipra’s body with them, but Ray writes about, “…gently placing her in the ambulance with as much respect and dignity…” as they could. I found that passage particularly emotional to read, so I can only imagine what it must have been like to live through. But what I wondered was, was his being able to treat Shipra’s body in that manner – in the midst of so much chaos – also down to his Ranger training? Or, was that a moment when the man himself, just Ray Goggins from Cork, happened to shine through? 


“It’s probably a bit of both, to be honest. Again, as I say in the book, I didn’t know that lady at all, she’d only come back the night before, late, and I hadn’t seen her. And when I came in before that at Christmas, she’d already gone home on leave. My point of view is that it’s about everybody else. A lot of those other people had probably known her well, and they probably knew at that stage what was after happening to her, even though we tried to keep it from them as much as possible. Not because we wanted to keep it a secret, but they didn’t need to see that at that particular time because they were going through enough. This was six or seven hours into the event, and they were frazzled at this stage. I just needed to get them out and get them somewhere safe at that stage. And it wasn’t just me. There were two or three other guys with us, so it was all of our decision. The medic had fixed her up and made her more presentable, and we got her into the [body] bag then, and marked that respect for her. I’m not a religious man, but I’m definitely a spiritual kind of person. It’s good to protect people even when they have passed away, but you still have them [with you]. You still need to protect them.” 

Ultimate Hell Week is obviously a very personal and individual journey for everyone who takes part, but is there any one thing that Ray has seen everybody learn about themselves, regardless of how far they make it? 


“Yeah, people understand their reserves of strength. People don’t realise there’s always something left. Even when you think you’re completely spent, you have a reserve if you can just get into it. And that’s of power, of stamina, of anger, whatever it is to keep you going. A lot of people say, ‘I’m at 100%’, but they’re nowhere near it. Most people operate at about 50% in their average day, and they think that’s 100%. But there’s a lot more in our mind and soul to keep us going. It’s rare enough that we get into it. It’s only those extreme events and those extreme cases that get you into it. Then you realise you have that well. And when you know that well is there in your normal day – like for me, for example, having been involved in madness in different parts of the world – I know that well and how to get into it. So I can tap into that on a daily basis for something possibly innocuous. That gives you that amazing ability to be calm and composed when people think it’s chaos. But it’s not really.” 

RANGER 22: LESSONS FROM THE FRONT, by RAY GOGGINS, published by Gill Books, is OUT NOW and available at all good bookstores nationwide. ULTIMATE HELL WEEK airs every Wednesday night at 9.35pm on RTE 1. 

ENDS

The Mark Hayes Project

First Published September 2021

STARS BACK MARK ON CANCER VOYAGE

Some of Irish music’s biggest names have come together to help raise funds for a young father and teacher, MARK HAYES, who is currently in Mexico receiving potentially life-saving cancer treatment. 


Ireland’s king of country Daniel O’ Donnell, country superstar Nathan Carter, the multi-talented Cliona Hagan, Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan, Sawdoctors legend Leo Moran,Offaly’s man for all seasons Simon Casey, songwriter and presenter Marc Roberts, folk star Don Stiffe, and one-third of the famous Three Amigos Jimmy Buckley, have joined songwriting great Johnny Duhan in recording a very special version of Duhan’s classic hit THE VOYAGE in aid of the forty-three year-old Westmeath man who is bravely battling colon cancer. 


THE MARK HAYES PROJECT, as this collective of extraordinary talent is known, will release THE VOYAGE across all digital platforms on Friday, September 24th, with the single available to pre-add/pre-save right now, and also available to request at radio stations nationwide. 

PRE-ADD/PRE-SAVE HERE


In the years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve often told you guys that there’s a certain single or maybe an album by an artist that you’ve “got to” go get and add to your collection. Usually, of course, that’s no more than a recommendation of something that I’ve really enjoyed on a personal level, most often by an artist I usually have a lot of respect and admiration for as well, and I do it because I hope you’ll get to experience that same sense of joy. But ultimately, of course, whatever you decide to do is completely up to you. 


This week, though, and this time, it’s different. Very different.


I’m not simply giving you my opinion on The Voyage by The Mark Hayes Project. I am straight up asking you to BUY this single. And more than simply asking you, I’m going to say please, please, and PLEASE again, because this is important in ways that are almost beyond the scope of any words to put shape on. By doing this, you’ll be helping to give Mark a fighting chance in his ongoing battle against cancer. And let’s face it…there but for the grace of God – or just luck, call it what you want – go any of us. 


So, right now, if you can, please go to the website www.marksfight.ie, and click on the link that will let you pre-add or pre-save the record. And while you’re there – and only if you’re in a position to do so – maybe you could think about making a donation to Mark’s GoFundMe campaign as well. By pre-adding or pre-saving the record, you won’t have to do a thing on the day of its official release on September 24th, it will go straight into your music library. You’ll find that same link in my bio on Instagram (AnthonyOTRT). 

The Voyage is also available to request from radio stations all over Ireland right now too, so please request it everywhere and anywhere you can as well, because that will also help to raise awareness of Mark’s fight. 
Now, on to the man himself. Let’s get to Mark’s story…


Mark Hayes is a father to two young daughters – Emma and Olivia – with his wife Marie. He was a fit, healthy, and active thirty-nine year old who had hardly ever been sick in his life when his world was turned upside-down by his colorectal cancer diagnosis in 2017. At first, the shock of that news was tempered by the assurance that his tumour could be removed, an operation Mark underwent in February 2018.

Sadly, however, that sense of relief was short-lived as tumours were revealed on his liver just a few months later in November, leaving Mark in a fight against stage-4 cancer. Despite the right side of his liver being removed at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, the cancer returned within a few weeks of that operation. At that point, and in those circumstances, Mark and his family were given the devastating news that two years was probably the best outcome they could hope for in terms of his life-expectancy. 


With further surgery on his liver not an option, and with continued chemotherapy the only treatment on offer here in Ireland, Mark and his family began the search for additional treatments that might be possible abroad. With Mark no longer working in his role as a teacher at Merlin College in Galway, a GoFundMe was set up by his family. And with the support that option has generated from people all across the country, Mark has so far been able to avail of several treatments outside of Ireland, and is currently in Mexico. 


However, these trips, and his continuing fortnightly chemotherapy sessions have exhausted a substantial amount of the funds already raised up to now. While the cancer remains confined to Mark’s liver, recent scans have shown that further tumours are also present there. This development means that time – now, more than ever – is of the essence in Mark’s fight. His continued treatment at the Berkeley Institute International Centre in Ensenada, Mexico is what could end up saving Mark’s life.


Thanks to the incredible outpouring of love and support from Mark’s family, friends, and so many generous souls who they don’t even know – and might never even know – the GoFundMe has already raised in excess of €100,000. However, to put this amazing figure in its true context in relation to where Mark currently is in his battle and with his treatment, it is vital to stress that a substantialamount of these funds have already been drawn down and used.


For this reason, because Mark’s fight – in every sense – is still ongoing, we need to continue to fundraise and to highlight his situation. This is where, and why, we really need everyone to help raise awareness of both the single and the GoFundMe, by helping to spread the word about both, and again – if possible – by please supporting both.


Marie, Mark’s wife – who works in the Galway Clinic – explains further why it’s so important that fundraising efforts continue…

“The GoFundMe campaign (aka ‘Mark’s Fight’) was set up in December 2019 to fund supplementary treatment for Mark. The initial target was €100,000. Research was underway for any therapy or treatment that could help him. We decided we would tackle this disease from every angle possible. With Stage 4 cancer, we could not rely solely on standard of care treatment, we simply had to try more. It could be the combination of modalities that make the difference.”

Marie continued, “Thanks to the immense generosity of all who donated to ‘Marks’ Fight’ to date, Mark was able to avail of multiple treatments in Spain and the UK, in conjunction with his fortnightly chemotherapy sessions here. We believe that the two dendritic cell vaccines he received along with several IRE ablations (Nanoknife®) and more recently the use of the “Care Oncology Clinic (COC) protocol”, is the reason that Mark has maintained some disease stability. The cost of these treatments are very high and the funds raised were disappearing quickly.”

In April 2021, reports showed that there was some progression in Mark’s liver tumours, despite being on continuous chemotherapy. The side-effects of the chemo drugs were intensifying and now it appeared that the cancer was beginning to out-smart it. Marie takes up the story again…

“Research led us to a biotech company in the US (Berkeley Institute) who have figured out a way of giving chemotherapy at a higher dose and with less side effects (SEF Chemo) and they have reported many positive outcomes. If there was any chance that this could help Mark in his fight, then we had to try. So, in April 2021 the GoFundMe campaign was re-ignited and the target was increased to €200,000. Over 90% of the initial funds raised had now been used in ongoing treatments for Mark, so we had to start again. The response has been overwhelming and by August 2021, there was sufficient funding to allow Mark to travel to Berkeley Institute’s international centre in Mexico to receive his first treatment of SEF chemo. It is very challenging for Mark to live so far away from his family while receiving this treatment, but throughout the past four years, he has always been determined not to give in to his diagnosis.”

“This is a trial treatment,” Marie stresses, “and several sessions will need to be completed before doctors can tell if Mark will respond well. So we need to be able to keep him there for as long as it takes.”

As for The Voyage itself, well listen, almost everyone in Ireland knows Johnny Duhan’s beautiful song, thanks in the main to Christy Moore. And over the years, it has, of course, been recorded by many more artists. This version, however, must surely rate as one of the most beautiful that there’s ever been. Certainly as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the story behind it on this occasion adds even more emotion and poignancy to every line.

But even if listening to this record from a purely musical point of view, it has to be said that this collection of voices blend together exquisitely. And they’ve all been captured expertly by Tony Maher and Joe Egan. 
As well as the line-up of stellar vocalists involved in this project, the musicians featured are some of the finest in the land. There’s Mairtin O’ Connor on accordion, Ciara O’ Connor on fiddle, Jim Higgins on percussion, Frank Kelly on the gut string guitar, Enda Dempsey on acoustic and electric Guitars and vocal harmonies, James Blennerhasset on upright bass, and Tony Maher himself on piano and synth.


But beyond all the famous-names and star-players involved in this project, the very reason why this recording of The Voyage even exists at all, can be described in one simple word…love. 


Everybody involved in the project, regardless of whether or not they even know Mark personally themselves…they know love. 


They know Mark’s family – his wife Marie and their two young daughters, Emma and Olivia – and his friends, all love him like we all love our own families and our friends. And they know that love can change everything. And in a situation where love was all they could give – in the form of their talent and time – then they were willing to give their all. And they have. And you can hear it – that love – in every line of The Voyage, a version that is as much a prayer as it is a song. 


If you can find the couple of minutes it will take to go and pre-add or pre-save the song today, it will mean the world to a whole lot of people. Not least of all, a young father who – as you read these very lines – is sitting alone today in Mexico dreaming of being back at home in Ireland with his three girls…


THE VOYAGE, by The Mark Hayes Project, will be available on all platforms from FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24th, and is already available to pre-add/pre-save RIGHT NOW by clicking on the link you’ll find at the website, www.marksfight.ie The Voyage is also available to request from radio stations all around the country right now. 

ENDS

Marc Roberts

First Published August 2021

“PEOPLE NEED MUSIC”

Part 2

It’s far from a given that somebody who possesses an extraordinary talent will also possess a personality to match. One gentleman who effortlessly excels in both regards, however, is one of Ireland’s foremost talents when it comes to the gentle entwining of words and music, MARC ROBERTS. 


Truth be told, in fact, if some extraordinary talents were relying only – or even too much – on their personalities, they’d be in big, big trouble. And just to be clear, when I talk about personality in this context, I mean something as simple as someone’s ability or inclination to be friendly, to be respectful of others, to be able to show some sympathy, some empathy, and some compassion as a matter of course, rather than as an exception, or only when they have their ‘show’ face on. There are some in the world of entertainment who consider themselves to be ‘stars’ first, humans second. In their own minds, they walk among us, rather than with us. Not so with Marc. 


The Mayo native, who has made his home in the land of the tribes where he presents The Feel Good Factor on Galway Bay FM, is as down to earth and normal a chap as it could ever be your pleasure to meet. Marc is a genuinely extraordinary artist, as his latest single, CONSIDER IT DONE, proves yet again. And if you haven’t yet heard his previous release, the truly beautiful Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes, let that be exhibit B in this case. 


But as well as being s songwriter of considerable skill and renown himself, Marc was also the man responsible for introducing Daniel O’ Donnell to the craft in a serious way. But how, I wondered, did it all happen? This week, we get Part 2 of our recent chat with Marc underway by the man himself telling us all about it…


“Well Daniel has been a friend of mine forever, for as long as I can remember. And he’s always been a great encourager and a great friend in the business, without a doubt. And we have a similar sense of humour too, to be honest. Then in 2004, I toured Australia with him, as his guest artist. He’s always said he loves my songs, so I used to always send them to him. But then he’d come back and say, ‘It’s a gorgeous song…but it’s just not me.’ And I was like, ‘Well what IS you then?’ [Laughs]. I didn’t get that. You see, with me, cathartically, I have to write. And I love it. I won’t push myself, but when something happens I go there. So it could be rock, pop, rap, classical, anything, I have bits of everything. I just love music, like I love people. That’s just me. And it has to come out some way. So I’d send him all of these, and in hindsight, I could see afterwards why they weren’t suiting him or whatever. So it was Don, my manager [Collins], while we were on tour who said, ‘For God’s sake, I’m sick listening to the two of ye talkin’ about writing. Why don’t ye get together and try writing something?’ The thing with Daniel is that he’s very lyrical in the way he speaks. And he comes out with some very profound statements, and some very positive things. He has his own definite thoughts on things. Almost to a charismatic point where he can comfort people by some of the things he says without even realising how important it was that he said it.”

“So when we came back from Australia”, continued Marc, “I went to his house in Donegal, and we wrote ‘I Will Think Of You.’ And then the following day – I stayed over that night – and the following day we wrote another one. That was two. And he was absolutely thrilled. He just couldn’t believe it. He was ringing two of his friends and goin’, ‘I’ve actually written my first song.’ And he did his work [on the song] the same as I did mine. We trashed out ideas back and forth, just kind of teaching him in a way that there are certain things you can say, but by not saying it. And there are certain words you shouldn’t use that just don’t work in a song, that kind of thing. And it went from there. We had two on that album, ‘Live,Laugh, Love’, then we had three on the next album, including the title-track, ‘Yesterday’s Memories.’ And then the next one was ‘Until The Next Time’, and I wrote two-thirds of that album, pretty much. The first single that came off it was called ‘Crush On You’, which went Top 20 in the UK pop charts.” 

So would Marc say that songwriting is something that can be taught to someone who might have never even attempted it previously? Or would it have to be someone like Daniel who – as Marc had pointed out – is almost lyrical without even knowing it, so maybe just needed to be made aware of how close to being a songwriter he actually was? 


“I’d say it’s a mixture of both, to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. It’s something innate that we [songwriters] have. And there’s a general thought that you don’t question it too much in case it disappears [laughs]. We all do different things in life. I can’t do things that other people can do. I would be, probably, a deep thinker, I would think a lot and would be working things out that way. And I know Daniel would be the same, from the point of view of having definite thoughts and ways of saying things. His fans are just so important to him, no more than my own are to me as well. I mean, they are the reason that we do what we do. We’ve been given an amazing responsibility and opportunity to do what we do for a living, and meet people in the process, and make people happy. It’s just an amazing thing. So, for him, I would have definite ideas and things of what he wanted to say, and he did. All we did was get together and we tried it, and it worked. My manager and I have written a song together, just the one. And again, it was down to something that kept recurring thought-wise, words-wise, idea-wise. We finished it together coming back one night from a gig. So I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. You can show people the idea of what songwriting entails, but I think a lot of the magic is something that you have to be born with. It’s just something that happens. And as I said, you don’t question it too much [laughs].” 

Songwriting is a funny thing on the Irish country scene, in that it can often be ignored. An artist like Derek Ryan, for example, will – quite rightly – be heralded as a figure to admire precisely because he’s such an excellent songwriter. But he’s not the only great songwriter in Irish country music. Yet, so often you’ll see Irish country artists covering American country songs that, of course, first entered the world as…original songs. So why not find great original songs from Irish writers too? As a songwriter, how does Marc see that side of things? 


“The only thing that really bothers me is that there’s an element of karaoke coming into the business that I don’t like. I’ve written with Derek, we’ve written three or four songs together, and we’ve had quite a lot of success with those. And everytime we meet we say we must get together again! I’ve written with Brian Kennedy, I’ve written with Jimmy MacCarthy, there’s quite a lot of people I’ve written with and loved the whole process. Gary Barlow calls it sharing the birth experience! [Laughs]. It’s great to get like-minds in a room and to just work at something, and see it evolve. So that’s the only problem I have with the business. There’s even karaoke tracks being released with vocals on them, and that’s not what the business is about. Derek Ryan and I always say that the amazing thing about writing a song and releasing it is that you KNOW that no-one else is going to have that song as their next single. Whereas if you’re recording covers all the time, there’s always a danger that somebody else is going to have the same song recorded with three-and-a-half-grand spent on it, and so did you! Then it’s a battle for the playlists [laughs]. But you see, for us, for people like yourself and myself that write and are in the business, it’s a total commitment. You’re there for every element of it. And there’s nothing nicer for me than to hear somebody who wrote something perform it. If you ever hear Jimmy MacCarthy perform his own songs, it’s just the most magical thing. And you realise why he used a particular word in a particular place…because it’s him. I did a lot of stuff with Jimmy down through the years and he’s just amazing, the way he thinks and the images he creates. People that do write their own songs, I have so much respect for them because you have bought in totally into the whole business. Everything about who you are and what you do is music. Even when you’re off, you’re writing. You’re thinking about songs. You’re coming up with something. Then you’re seeing if it’s good enough, will people identify with it? It’s a full-package kinda thing, which is what the Americans have done for years. But people have always covered songs, and if it’s a great song, or something that meant a lot to me, I would certainly do it. But I love the original element of things because you’re getting a part of the person really.” 

Of course it isn’t just Daniel from the O’ Donnell household that Marc has co-written with, having collaborated with Majella on When I Found You, a very special song for the couple…


“That was amazing, yeah. And the way we did it. It was Don again, my manager, who came up with the idea. Majella had said to me one time she was down in Galway – her sister lives here – that she wanted something special for the wedding, and she’d love to write a song. She has a great voice, you know. And she just wanted to do something different. So she wanted to write one, but she had no idea if she could. And to be honest, I had no idea whether she could or not either! But Don came up with the suggestion that Majella write Daniel a letter telling him exactly how she felt about him from the minute she met him, and how her life has changed. And God forbid, but if he was to head off to war tomorrow and she was never to see him again…what would she say? What are the things you would say to someone you loved who you might never see again. And you’d only have this one opportunity to do it. We were performing our tribute to the music of John Denver in the National Concert Hall in Dublin at the time, and Majella came to the show with one of her friends. And before the show she handed me a letter, and she said, ‘Do not show this to anybody or I’ll kill ya!’ [Laughs]. I said no problem. So I came back to Galway, and I live beside the beach. So I literally went to the beach with the guitar, opened the letter, and twenty minutes later I had a song called ‘When I Found You.’ And that title was one of her lines. The very first line in the letter was, ‘How can I put into words the way you make me feel’, and that’s the first line of the song. So I literally crafted the song out of what she had given me. ‘You’re everything I’ve lived for/ Somehow it feels so right/ You’re the sunlight in the morning/ You’re the stars above at night/ I want this day to last forever/ I hope it always will/ I thank God above for making dreams come true/ Cos he gave me all I wished when I found you.'”

Marc went on, “While I know Majella, and she’s a dear friend of mine – more so now than at the time, when I would only have known her for about a year and a half, and on occasions where I would have met herself and Daniel at shows or maybe out in Tenerife – but we wouldn’t have been as close as we are now. And you need to be close to someone [to write with them], almost to be able to give out to them, to say, ‘You can’t say that!’ [Laughs]. When you’re writing with somebody you have to be so honest. You need to know you can trust that person, that you can say whatever it is, and sound as stupid as you want. Because then the other person can come back and say, that won’t work…but this will! That kind of trust has to be there. Anyway, when she heard the song, she was just blown away. Because she could hear the various things she’d said, ya know. So on the day of the wedding, after the first dance, I went up on stage with the guitar and Majella came up and sang it. And she made a gorgeous job of it. I’ll tell ya, he was one shocked Daniel! First time I’ve ever seen him speechless [laughs].” 

While every song will, of course, have its own special place in his heart and its own memories attached to it, I wondered which songs in Marc’s own catalogue held a particularly special place in his affections? 


“Probably the one I mentioned before, ‘Four Empty Walls.’ Because every Sunday afternoon, myself and my mum and dad, and my sister, always went to my grandparent’s house for a visit. That was my mum’s mum and dad. It was something we always did, and always loved to do. It was just unquestionable that every Sunday that’s where we were going to be. And some of my other relations would arrive and it was just gorgeous, it really was. Then, over a short period of time, both my grandparents passed away. And it became too difficult for any of us to go back and see the house. But one day, without telling anybody, I hopped in my car and I drove to the house. The wall around the front of the house that was too high when I was a kid, I could step over. At the back of the house there was a tree. And I remember one day, myself and my sister, Marie, we were playing at the tree and we tied a little piece of the tree down to the ground, so it was like in an arch. It was just a small piece of a twig. And all these years later, I came back and that tree had totally grown into that shape. And it really got me. And the house, all that was left of it was four empty walls. I sat in the car, I was quite upset, and I wrote ‘Four Empty Walls’ from beginning to end. Then I put it away because I couldn’t tell anybody that I’d been to the house, because I didn’t want to upset them. As in emotionally. Not that they would have minded me going there. But eventually I did [tell them]. It’s just one of those songs that affect all of us. And then, Shay Healy, God rest his soul, heard me sing it, asked for a copy of it, and sent it to Ralph Murphy, who sadly is no longer with us as well. Ralph was one of the people behind me being one of the six Irish writers who would go to Nashville, because of that song. To this day, everytime I sing it I’m back there. And I see my grandparents, so it’s special. It means a hell of a lot. And I’m so happy to say that it means a lot to a lot of people. Because everybody has that one little house, that one place in their life that they can’t go back to.” 

Because it is such an emotional song, is it also a hard one for Marc to sing? 


“It can be. It’s even harder if my mum and dad are in the audience. So I literally just have to blank them out [laughs]. Because the last thing you’d want to do is to upset your parents, needless to say. But everybody is back in that moment when I sing it…and me too. It’s just one of those things, every little bit of it brings me back…”

One thing we couldn’t pass over before our chat came to an end, was the state that the music and ‘live’ events industries remained in. On the day we spoke, indoor dining had just returned, and yet, for music to return indoors, the road ahead was – and is – still as unclear as it had been six, eight, and more months ago. What did Marc think lies ahead? Or what way back is one he thinks would work? 


“I honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit frightening. We were the first to go, we’ll be the last to come back. And we’re always the first port of call for anybody who needs any celebrations or charity, or whatever. And I have no problem with that. That’s one thing I spent a lot of time doing in lockdown, doing a lot of stuff for charity, which I’m very proud of. We did a concert on Valentine’s night for the National Breast Cancer Research Institute, I put it together and compéred it, and sang on it. We got all our buddies, Daniel, and Nathan, and everybody else to do it. And we raised €69,000, which was amazing. Again, for a very worthy cause, because everybody is affected by something like that. But yeah, I honestly don’t know what the answer to those questions are. What scares me a little bit is that we’re not talked about that much, as an industry. I know for a fact people need music, in every sense. Emotionally, physically, socially, whatever it may be. Everybody needs it, and I think this has highlighted it. On the other hand, this is unprecedented, this has never happened before. So I mean, my heart goes out to the government at the same time, because there’s no blueprint. Everybody’s waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s difficult for everybody. I have no idea how music is going to come back, be it in phases or whatever. But I really do believe that it has to come back. People cannot live without music. We can’t live without performing it, and people can’t live without that social element, and music’s release, and that ability to provoke thought. Everybody needs it. I’d be quietly positive, and I always would be, that we’ll get there.” 

Finally, we finished up with what is possibly my favourite question to ask anybody that I’m lucky enough to have a chat like this with. I asked Marc if he could remember one of the best lessons he’s ever learned, be it about life in general or specifically music related. And also, is there any one piece of advice he’s ever been given – again, about life in its broadest sense or just about music – that has stuck with him and served him well to this very day? 


“Great question. I went to secondary school in Gortnor Abbey in Crossmolina, which was the Jesus and Mary nuns. And they always said one thing: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! And I think that’s the best advice in the world. Listen. Speak your mind, but listen when you’ve spoken, like I said in the song. It’s amazing even at gigs when you meet people, and how people can feel comfortable enough to talk to ya. Ok, it might end up in a song [laughs], but at the same time, I think it’s so important to listen. I really do. To anybody. I find in conversations, if there’s a lot of talk goin’ on, I get quieter [laughs]. I just listen. And that’s not being judgemental, it’s not being anything. I just feel that when the time is right, or if I have something to say, I ‘ll say it. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep quiet. That’s one of the most important things, and I’ve always remembered it…you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! Listen twice as much as you speak. And the other one then, well I remember being asked once by Brenda Balfe on RTE Radio 1, aroundabout the time of Eurovision, my favourite proverb. And it would be, ‘Never leave to do tomorrow what you can do today.’ Because if you do it today and you like it, then you can do it again tomorrow! [Laughs].

CONSIDER IT DONE, the brand new single from MARC ROBERTS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can also tune into Marc’s shows on Galway Bay FM every weekend, The Feel Good Factor (Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and Sunday Night Country.

ENDS

Marc Roberts

First Published August 2021

“BELIEVE THAT IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN”

Part 1

There are certain artists who don’t just fall into the category of ‘gentleman’ in the world of Irish music, but whose very names could well be used to define the term. And singer/songwriter MARC ROBERTS is most definitely one of those artists. Simply put, if you were to name someone with a bad word to say about Marc, I’d name you two liars in return. And you’d be one of them. 


As well as sharing his own considerable talents with us over the years, Marc has also represented Ireland on the international stage, taking the song Mysterious Woman – written by Nathan Carter’s manager (and no slouch himself in the songwriting department), John Farry – to within one place of glory in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. Not just someone who happens to make his living in the music business, Marc also harbours a deep appreciation for those whose musical gifts have graced the world. This sense of gratitude led to him recording the album A Tribute to the Music of John Denver, with a live show performing the hits of the Country Roads legend also giving rise to ‘full-house’ signs going up at venues nationwide. In fact, that show even made it to Denver’s hometown of Colorado. 


It was under Marc’s expert guidance that Daniel O’ Donnell himself first ventured into the realm of songwriting, something we’ll come back to in much more detail during Part 2 of our chat. 


So, with all of the foregoing considered, it seems more than fitting – and especially given the monumental achievement of his fellow county-men in dethroning the Dubs at Croke Park last Saturday! – that we point the OTRT spotlight in the direction of this proud Mayo man this week. 

I had the pleasure of catching up with Marc a week or so ago, with the main reason for our chat being the release of his latest single, CONSIDER IT DONE. I asked Mark if that song was based on anything in particular from his own life, or was it more a case that he came up with the hook or a couple of good lines and just took it from there? 


“It’s kind of a mixture, because the expression, ‘consider it done’, just came to me, and I thought, wow, that’s catchy. But what could it mean, though? Then when I started to think about it, it’s kind of like how your life progresses and the way you should think. The chorus is, “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride/ It’s not how you look, but how you feel inside/ And if you need a helping hand, consider it done.” Don’t ever be afraid to ask for a helping hand. It’s all about the whole idea that life is about choices. I was always torn between the expressions, ‘Everything comes to he who waits’, and then, ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ Because how can they both be right? ‘Consider It Done’ was on my first album, and for me at the time it was my perception of the business. How does it start…God, I’d need the guitar on my knee now to think of the lyrics [laughs]. ‘When you sit and count the stars in the sky/ You want to touch them, but they’re too damn high/ If you want the brightest star, consider it done.’ Everything seems like, oh my God…how is this gonna happen? But if you have a bit of belief and faith in yourself and what you’re doing, and you know it’s right…then karma! It’ll happen! If it’s supposed to happen, it will happen. Consider it done.” 

While I didn’t realise that Consider It Done had also appeared on Marc’s debut album, I did notice that it was also the title of his publishing company. So ‘consider it done’, as a phrase, obviously has a much deeper significance in Marc’s life? 


“Well yeah, that’s it. And that’s the explanation for it. It’s my publishing company, and our record label is C.I.D., which is also ‘consider it done.’ It’s like a positive affirmation. If you want something, consider it done. Believe in it. Believe that it’s going to happen, and have faith. The problem is a lot of us don’t know what it is we want [laughs]. I think everybody is the same, no matter what walk of life you’re in. You want something, whatever it is. But if you believe that it can happen, just believe in it, then consider it done. It will happen.” 

Marc mentioned how he was always torn between the two phrases, “He who hesitates is lost”, and “Everything comes to he who waits.” But of those two, which one did Marc himself tend to veer more towards, I wondered? 


“All my life it’s been a mixture of both, and that’s what always kind of confused me. How can they both be right? Everything comes to he who waits. So, if you sit back and wait for something to happen…allegedly it will happen. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason. People come into your life for a reason. Things happen in your life for a reason. So it would be more that than he who hesitates is lost. That used to always throw a spanner in the works for me. I used to try to figure out, well, if I hesitate too much…time is passing, life goes on, things change, everything changes. Music changes. Thankfully for me, that song still means as much to me as it did when I wrote it. And I see it in so many people, and it’s such a positive affirmation to have. Just consider it done, whatever it is.” 

Was there any particular reason why Marc wanted to bring the song back into the public arena right now?


“Because anytime that I performed it ‘live’, people loved it. And I wanted to bring it to a different audience. I got it remastered and edited for radio, so it sounds very much of what’s happening now in lots of ways. It’s very radio-friendly, and any presenter that’s heard it has loved it. So thankfully, from that point of view, it’s been playlisted everywhere, including RTE, which is great. It’s a very polished production. It was Chris O’ Brien and Graham Murphy that did it, and they’re both Grammy nominees, as you know, for their production. And Billy Farrell, who I write with, and produces quite a lot of my stuff, is also a Grammy nominated producer, he mastered it for me. There’s still a lot of people who hadn’t heard, so to them it’s a brand new song anyway.” 

Consider It Done is the follow up to Marc’s previous single, Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes. What process does Marc go through when he’s considering a new release? 


“Well, to be honest with you, I’d normally be a bit more organised than I am now [laughs], but with the way things are with the pandemic…! ‘Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes’ was a huge radio hit from our point of view, and again, it ticked a lot of boxes for me. It’s a song that I was inspired to write by my niece and nephew when they were kids. And it all came from the way when you’re a kid, and you know when you look up at the sun and you get tears in your eyes? And my wish for them was that the only time they’d have tears in their eyes was when they looked at the sun. So ‘Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes’ was my little way of twisting it around and saying don’t get those tears in your eyes. And again, the song was very much along the lines of something that you could live your life by, at any age. ‘Let tears of joy be the only tears you cry/ May the universe guide you in everything you do/ ‘Cause love will always see you through.’ It goes on, ‘Speak your mind, but listen when you’ve spoken/ Choose your words so no-one feels the pain/ Open your heart, although it may get broken/ Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ Again, it’s saying to live your life in a positive way. Be good to people. You’ll get it back tenfold. Help people whenever you can. And I’ve always lived my life by that. So that song was me telling them what I felt would help them in life.” 

Even just listening to Marc speak about those two songs – Consider It Done and Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes – and hearing him recite some of the lyrics, it really emphasises how philosophical a songwriter he seems to be. I asked Marc if he thought that was a fair observation? 


“Hmmm…I can be. Depending on the type of song. Those two songs, for instance, they almost wrote themselves, both of them. Because they’d be very much an extension of the way I would think. I wouldn’t like to see myself pontificating to people that they should do this, or that. But it’s to remind people that life is always full of choices. There’s lots of things that you can do. If it can be half-full or half-empty, it’s always better to be half-full. It’s that kind of thing. You only have to listen to the younger artists now to realise – and this is in general, in pop music, Ed Sherran, Tom Grennan, any of these guys – the lyrics are so important. I think people don’t realise how important they are. It’s not all about, ‘I love you and you love me.’ That’s been done a million times. You have to find a different way of saying that, but still keeping the sentiment. I think, if you can make people think, you’re halfway there. If it does nothing else but somebody gets something positive out of it… Usually people will just go, ‘Ah it’s a lovely song, I love the melody of it.’ But then all of a sudden they’ll come back and go, ‘Wow, I was listening to the words!’ It proves that the perfect marriage has to be both words and music. Words are so important. Down through the years, a lot of the time, they’ve become lost. And that’s a pity, because they’re very important.” 

Given how hard the last seventeen or so months have been for the music, entertainment, and arts industries, did being a songwriter help Marc to get through it all? Was he able to fill some of that extra time writing, or, like a lot of songwriters, did he actually find it a hard time to write? 


“Good question. I’ve done some writing, but no more than I would have ever done. I’m not very regimented and orderly in that sense. It’s hard to explain. I’ve never done a 9-to-5 writing job. I know that works for Gilbert O’ Sullivan and Chris De Burgh, and people like that, and that’s great. But I don’t know, I kind of consider that too much like work! [Laughs]. I always used to write better when coming home from a gig, it could be three or four o’ clock in the morning and there’s nobody on the road, you have a coffee, and you take your time. Just empty your head of any thoughts, and that’s when I get ideas. My only thing that I was very conscious of from the very beginning of Covid, was that I didn’t want to write anything negative. I didn’t want to write anything that was going to be very much of a pandemic type of song. Because we all just have had enough of it. We just want to get on with life. We want to get back to some semblance of normality. I wrote one with Charlie McGettigan, and in that one we actually went there. It’s one called ‘To Hold You Again.’ We were both kind of thinking God, ya know there’s people that would come to our gigs that we’d give a hug to at the end of it. And we were thinking if only we could get back to that person again, that would be an indication that things were normal! But, we’ll just have to wait. I’ve always done a little bit of writing, the usual scribbling down little bits and singing my heart out into my phone. That’s what I do. I’ve finished a song with Max T. Barnes, that’s going to be a single soon.”

CONSIDER IT DONE, the brand new single from MARC ROBERTS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can also tune into Marc’s shows on Galway Bay FM every weekend, The Feel Good Factor (Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and Sunday Night Country. 

ENDS