Liam O’ Connor

First Published November 2021

THE ENTERTAINER

I can still remember the very first time I actually saw LIAM O’ CONNOR perform ‘live.’ It’s going back a few years now, but truth be told, it might as well be just yesterday in so many ways. If I take a deep breath and close my eyes, I can still picture the scene and remember the feeling. The venue was the wonderful Tuar Ard theatre in Moate, and Liam was a guest artist on a show being run by a good friend of mine, the very talented singer/songwriter Stephen Rosney, also of the Back Axles fame. 


“Wait until you see Liam play”, Stephen assured me with all the confidence of a man who knew exactly what was to come, “the audience are gonna go madfor him! They always do.” I knew Liam by reputation, of course, and I’d probably seen him on television a few times as well. But look, when it comes to an artist of his ability, then you’ve never truly seen them play until you’ve actually SEEN them play, right in front of your own eyes. Backstage, when we met before the show began, Liam could have been anyone. And what I mean by that is you’d scarcely have known he was even there, that’s how quiet he was. No airs, no graces, no anything except a little polite and softly-spoken chat with everyone.


But then…BUT THEN…when it was his turn to take to the stage, everything changed, in an instant. Stephen was right, the audience went mad for Liam as he channelled a musical energy that seemed to be a lifeforce all of its own. Trying to find one word to describe it is a tough task simply because there’s no-one who can do what Liam does, in the way he does it. But there was definitely a touch of Elvis about it all, that’s for sure. I remember catching Stephen’s eye side-stage, and the look on his face was saying, “See, didn’t I tell ya!” And he did, he sure did! 
So when the chance came along for me to have a catch-up with Liam last weekend, I didn’t need to be asked twice. 


There’s a thousand things you could talk about with someone who has done as much in his career as Liam has. But, the Corkman whose home has been Killarney for many years now, has a very special event coming up next month, so that’s where we started. On December 8th, Liam will be joined by Moya Brennan, the Saint Brendan’s College Music Group and Soloists, and guest-speaker Joe Canning for what will be a night to remember at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney…


“Yeah, well this is my ninth year in Saint Brigid’s College where I do these concerts. I go and teach the kids for so many weeks, and then we do a college concert together and we bring a special guest, both a singer and a speaker. Our last speaker was Joe Schmidt, we’ve had the President of UCC Michael Murphy, we had Mick Galway, we had Kieran Donaghy, Tony Buckley the Munster man. We’ve had Christy Dignam, Brain Kennedy, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, so the names are good, you know. There’ll be some students there, of course, but this event is open to the public to come along as well, that’s why we sell-out every year. We had Danny O’ Reilly as well one year. I’m a part of Music Generation as well, but I started this, I suppose, nine years ago in Saint Brendan’s College because I had two sons going there myself. Saint Brendan’s College in Killarney is also known as ‘the Sem.’ It was a seminary before, you see. It’s a famous college, a lot of famous footballers went there, but I got the music going there as well. There’s some great music teachers there now. Mish O’ Donoghue is a music teacher, and Niamh O’ Connell is also a top of the range music teacher. So I brought in this idea of bringing in professionals [musicians] and getting the students on stage, and helping to give the students confidence for being on stage.” 

Moya Brennan will join Liam on the 8th of next month. How far back do the pair go? 


“We go back a good bit. Our first connection was through Maureen O’ Hara, actually. I used to do a good bit with Maureen O’ Hara. Moya was to perform in a concert for Maureen and I was doing it as well. But Moya couldn’t do it on that particular occasion but I did. But anyhow, we connected, and I just followed it up then.” 

I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear Maureen O’ Hara’s name pop up in our conversation, so just to be sure, I had to confirm with Liam that he was, in fact, talking about THE Maureen O’ Hara???


“Yes. Yes, yes. I did a lot of work with Maureen. You’ll see some of that footage that I have in my show when you get a chance to come and see it sometime. Her last recording was actually with my daughter, Saoirse. She was the last person to record Maureen’s full interview about her life before she left Ireland and died. We have some brilliant photos on that as well. Saoirse now is twenty-one, she was only eleven that time. There’s a good story there as well.” 

There certainly is! And it’s one we’ll be returning to in 2022. 


On December 20th, Liam was due to bring his ‘Liam O’ Connor Show’ to Liskennett in Limerick for a night in support of the Liskennett Equine Therapy Centre, an occasion on which he was going to be joined by Brian Kennedy. That show, however, for reasons so obvious we don’t even need to mention them, has now been postponed until February 20th of next year…


“Yeah, that’ll be at 3pm on a Sunday now. We have a great connection with the Equine Therapy Centre. This will be our second year doing that concert. David Doyle is the man that drives all that, and he’s a fantastic man, we’re very good friends with David. We came up with a concept that we should do something to lift the spirits and that’s where the idea of the concert there came from a few years ago. It’s for both the parents and the kids to enjoy. But with the situation we’re all in at the moment, we just moved it to February. We’ll have Brian with us then, of course, and we go way back with Brian. He’s been in ‘the Sem’ as well. I recorded a song with Brian last year, around Christmas, ‘I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me’, it was recorded once by the Dubliners too. I’ve recorded a couple of songs with Brian. I recorded ‘Message In A Box’, and ‘You Raise Me Up.'” 

Before Liam’s December 8th concert and his return to the Equine Therapy Centre in Liskennett in February, he was due to have another big night out close to the end of this month. Now, you may have picked up on the use of the words “he was due to” in that last sentence. And the reason – naturally – is that this event is another to have fallen to the times we’re in. However, when you’re a Cork man receiving a Pride Of Cork Award, having to wait a little while longer for it to happen only keeps the smile on your face a little bit longer too…


“Yeah, that’s gone now as well, to the 11th of March. Do you see the way things are moving? It’s a nice honour to get any award, but this is a Pride Of Cork Award so it’s lovely for me. I’m from Newmarket in Cork, living in Killarney now. It’s nice to be acknowledged and it’s always nice to get any award. They just emailed me [to let me know], and asked would I accept it, and of course I said I would. It’s a nice honour, it was a surprise. Any award is a surprise!”


June of this year marked twenty-five years since Lord Of The Dance first lit up the venue that used to be known and loved as The Point. In a post on his personal Facebook page to mark the occasion, Michael Flately named and thanked some of the people who were pivotal to the show’s outstanding success. One of them was Liam. I asked Liam for his memories of that time, and of course, of Michael himself…


“Brilliant. All brilliant. Michael is a master. Was AND IS a master. It was a great honour to work for him. And it was a great honour to be on the original team. I recorded all the ‘Lord Of The Dance’ accordion pieces on the original album. That’s something that I’ll always be very proud to have been involved with. And a big thank-you to Michael Flately for that. He really is the master of performance. That first night in the Point, it was the Point Depot at the time, that really stands out for me because my dad was there. He’s not around anymore now. My mom died when I was quite young, so my dad was there on that night. That’s why that one, the first night, stands out so much.” 

Even though Liam himself is also – as he described Michael – “a master of performance”, I wondered if, on nights like that, he ever gets nervous before a show? 


“You’ll always have a few nerves. That’s part of it being one of the biggest shows in the world. You’re working with some of the best in the world there. When you’re playing your own shows, and doing your own stuff, or doing anything with anybody, there’s always a few nerves. If there isn’t, there’s something wrong! That’s what makes it [performing] that bit of a thrill.” 

Liam, it’s more than fair to say, doesn’t just play the accordion. He has developed a style of performance that makes it simply impossible for people to take their eyes off him. In fact, he’s often been referred to as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion, and no wonder! But how did this on-stage flair develop over the years? 


“I suppose it was a feeling inside. But getting on stage with Michael Flatley, all of those things are building confidence. You can’t be afraid. Do it the way you want to do it, that’s it. But I didn’t set out to do that. It’s a feeling. I created my own show then because you should try to be what you want to be. Don’t ever be afraid. I’ve done ‘The Late Late Show’ now with all three presenters; Gay Byrne, Pat Kenny, and Ryan Tubridy. I also did ‘This Is Your Life’ for Eddie Jordan, with Michael Aspell. That’s some stuff that people mightn’t know. But all those things are stepping stones along the way for buildingyour confidence. But really, it’s just a feeling. Some people like it. Some people love it. Some people hate it! But that’s fine, you know.” 

A lot of performers talk about how they’re almost a different person when they walk on-stage. Liam always comes across as a very quiet, shy, almost reserved person off-stage, in complete contrast to the man he becomes on-stage. Does he feel like he has a different persona for when he performs? 


“Off-stage, I’m just me. And on-stage as well. But when I’m on-stage, I’m passionate. You have to use the stage when you’re up there. I’m a performer at the end of the day. I’m up there on-stage playing music. It’s all about the music, yes, but it’s also about the performance. You’re entertaining people as well. You have to give everything up there.” 

After American actor, singer/songwriter, and comedian Charles Esten (most consecutive weeks to release an original digital single by a music act, with his Every Single Friday campaign beginning on July 15th 2016, and ending on July 21st 2017), I think Liam is only the second person I’ve ever interviewed who has been in the Guinness Book of Records. Back in 2008, Liam was – and remains, actually – the fastest fingers in the world on the accordion. I asked him to tell me about that experience and process…


I was playing over in Scotland and the Guinness Book of Records people were there so they asked me. There were five adjudicators, and they had a repertoire of tunes that you must play, you pick one of those and do it. I went on and I broke it then again. But look, it was a bit of fun, and it was nice to be in the Guinness Book of Records. And I’m still in it! So it’s still good [laughs].” 

The speed at which Liam can play, was that something he set out to do through practise, practise, practise? Or was that speed always part of his natural talent anyway? 


“No, no, no. I play many different instruments, but I have a good feeling for the accordion. But it’s not about speed at all, music is not about speed. I love music and I love the right tempo and all that. There’s an old saying, ‘Give time time’, ya know. Take your time. It’s not about speed, but I suppose I can play fast and that’s ok too.” 

Some wonderfully talented names had come up during the course of our chat, from Moya Brennan to Brian Kennedy, Maureen O’ Hara to Danny O’ Reilly, and others too. But who else, I wondered, might Liam love to perform with or for? 


“Well I did the famous flashmob with Christy Dignam on the streets of Killarney, that was another big one. If anyone searches flashmob and my name they’ll find that. Who else would I like to work with? Well there’s so many famous artists, isn’t there. It all depends. If we cross paths, that’s important. I have some beautiful new music coming out, a couple of tunes I recorded with Michael McGoldrick during lockdown. They’ll be coming out in the new year. Just a couple of singles, a couple of tunes.” 

Liam had mentioned his daughter Saoirse who now performs with him, as do his sons Oisín and Cillian too. And I’m sure Liam has been able to give them some priceless pieces of advice for working in the entertainment and showbiz worlds. If he could share one or two similar pieces of advice with anyone else already in those industries, or coming into them, what might he say? 


“Work hard. Practise. Be honest about it. And don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of being yourself. And don’t be a bad copy of anybody else.” 


~ LIAM O’ CONNOR will be performing at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney on December 8th, with MOYA BRENNAN, the SAINT BRENDAN’S COLLEGE MUSIC GROUP and SOLOISTS, and with guest speaker JOE CANNING. Tickets available from 064-6631021 and ticketstop.ie Show begins at 8pm. 

ENDS

Linda Martin

First Published November 2021

A LEGEND AND A LADY

The thrill of watching LINDA MARTIN win the Eurovision for Ireland when singing Johnny Logan’s brilliant Why Me? is a memory that will never leave me. Nor will hearing it ever fail to stir those same emotions of excitement and pride that I felt bursting in my heart as I watched Linda cast her spell over a continent back in 1992. Hearing her perform Why Me? in person in the Tullamore Court Hotel a couple of years ago was just like travelling back in time. I wasn’t a sixteen year old sitting at home in the kitchen in Lusmagh anymore, but I might as well have been. Music is magical, and songs like Why Me?, performed by artists like Linda prove why that’s true. 


Little did I know way back then, of course, that one day I’d have the pleasure of working on a project with the very lady who won the first of Ireland’s famous three-in-a-row, leading the way for Niamh Kavanagh who took the crown in 1993 with In Your Eyes from the pen of Jimmy Walsh, before Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington gave us the hat-trick with Brendan Graham’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids in 1994. But, that pleasure did indeed come my way. And just last week, it was my privilege to sit down for another chat with Linda. 


We’d been meaning to get around to this for a while now, and with Linda having two spectacular concerts coming up in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral next month, what better time to finally make it happen?! 


“I’m grand, back to work again”, revealed Linda, as our chat got underway. “I had a year and a half off like everybody else. What can you do? You just get on with your life. But it’s been so difficult for everybody. I mean, looking back on it, I can’t believe that for a year and a half there wasn’t any gigging, or meeting musicians, or setting keys for songs, or doing something. It’s just incredible.”

 Moving on to the forthcoming concerts of December 6th and 7th next, Linda explained how they came about…


“Well, we’ve been running them for about the last five years, hugely successful. Not last year, obviously, because of Covid. But this year, I reckon that people are gonna want to get out and revisit those fantastic nights that we had in the Pro Cathedral, which is a beautiful place. So I thought ok, we could go with a night which is Celine [Byrne], who is an opera singer, Red [Hurley], Mary Byrne, Michael English, and the choir [the Halleluia Gospel Choir], do that sort of a night. Then the second night, I was talking to Johnny Logan, and I said to him are you around at all on the 7th, and he said he was. ‘Will you come in?’, I asked him, and ‘I will’, he said, so when he said yes I got onto the other ones and they all said yes immediately. The only one who couldn’t do it is Eimear because she lives in Geneva, you see, so she couldn’t get home. So we went ahead and put all our arrangements in place and that’s what we have, two nights, and all profits, of course – as usual – going to three charities. The first one is The Peter McVerry Trust, I adore that man. I just think he should be sainted. We have a new charity on board [this year] called Blossom, which helps mentally impaired people get into the work-place. And the third one, of course, is the charity that I’m a patron of, and that’s Dogs Aid, up near Finglas in north county Dublin. That’s what we’ll be doing. And we have a raffle both nights in the middle of the show, and then we’ll have our guest readers as well, like Mary Kennedy, Anne Doyle, Rory Cowan comes in and he does a little Santa skit with lots of little kids dressed up as elves. He’s done that before for me and the public love it because all of the little tint kiddies are dressed up and he’s talking to them about Santa and everything. Peter McVerry will speak too. He enthralls everybody. People just sit with their mouths open listening to that man talking. Covid, I know people are scared, but we’re definitely adhering to every Covid rule that that government has told us to do, I think that’s important to say and for people to realise as well.” 

CHRISTMAS VOICES FROM THE PRO CATHEDRAL

One of the charities Linda will be helping to raise funds for is the Dog and Animal Sanctuary, and animals – dogs in particular – are and have always been a hugely important part of her life. In fact, Linda has twelve – that’s TWELVE – rescue dogs living with her. I wondered was there a moment, or perhaps a combination of certain moments in her life, that her love of dogs grew from? 


“Ah yeah, it’s twelve. But listen, for this house, that’s quite a small number. Trust me. Trust me! I remember one Christmas many years ago, there were twenty-four dogs in this house. I couldn’t walk across the kitchen [laughs]. But sure I don’t care, I love them! My father’s family were the same, they always had animals, always. So it comes from that side. When I was a child, I didn’t actually play with dolls and prams and things like that, it was always a dog. And I was always allowed to have dogs as a child. But my mam, she used to say to me, she never had to worry if I was lost, she just had to look for a tail wagging somewhere and she knew i’d be beside it. So it’s just in my heart. I just adore them.” 

How old is Linda’s eldest dog at the moment? 


“Fourteen. I can tell you that immediately because I’m going to the vet with her on Saturday morning, just for a check-up. When she came in here, she was a little mange-ridden puppy fourteen years ago, and he’s still here. He’s called Tinky-Winky, and he looks like one of the characters out of Emmerdale, I think his name was Red? [Laughs]. He’s fourteen, still moving about, still eating away, still doing everything. I became a patron of the sanctuary just because they asked me. That would be the closest one to me, it’s only about twenty minutes away from my house, so I’d known of them. I can’t really remember the exact reason, but I got a message from them asking would I come on-board as a patron, and I did so gladly. And I’m still with them. They’re good people. It’s a voluntary organisation. Nobody takes any money, all of the money that comes in goes to the dogs. It’s actually operational because of public donations, it’s marvellous.” 

EUROVISION VOICES AT CHRISTMAS

Eurovision is the theme of one of Linda’s concert nights, and no-one in this country is more connected to Ireland’s Eurovision history than Linda. Not only did she win it in 1992 with Why Me?, she also came second in the contest in 1984 singing Terminal 3, and has been a National Song Contest entrant nine times, a number that is – to the best of my knowledge – still a record. But in recent years…ok, decades at this stage, sadly… Ireland has badly lost its way in the Eurovision. There’s a Late Late Show Eurosong special coming up again soon, something which doesn’t fill me any hope because this is an event that deserves and warrants its own stand-alone show, not simply being tagged as another Late Late Show special, or indeed, having anything to do with The Late Late Show. How would Linda go about putting us back on the right path again? 


“Well, exactly what you said. I’d make a special night of it. It could be in one of the studios in Dublin, but you could make it special [for the night], or else you could go to one of the theatres in Dublin and make money out of it. I truly believe that you’d be able to sell tickets. It’s a competition alright, but you could also have stars from Eurovision [as guest artists], you could bring them in. Think of Brotherhood of Man, for instance, they could be brought in. You would obviously go for the Irish winners, but you could go outside the box as well. Different countries that have won, RTE could approach them and just ask how they would feel about taking part in a show like that. It could be anybody. I think that would be a huge success, and it would make it something special again. When we don’t make it special, then the public tends to dismiss it. And Terry Wogan, God rest him, he was the worst! Jesus, the things he used to say about it [laughs]. But at the same time, he loved it. Graham Norton absolutely adores it. And I just think if we made this something special, whether we made the competition a stand-alone event, or really started trying to change the public’s opinion of it, because when you think about it on a base level, you’re providing work for an awful lot of people. Songwriters. The studios where the songs are recorded. Employees involved in putting the show together. There’s so much work in it that people would benefit from. People shouldn’t dismiss it, but think of it as a platform. If you can get your voice out in Europe in front of four-hundred-million people, that’s a platform for you! I just think we have to make something special of it. And we also have to take into consideration the days when we were all performing in cabarets, discos, variety shows on RTE and in the theatres, people got to know you, and you got your experience. So by the time that you had a few years under your belt, RTE would have heard about you, and you could put your name in the hat, and they would say well this song would suit X, Y, or Z.”

Linda continued, “Now I’m well aware that those situations don’t exist anymore. But, it’s not a contest for beginners. There’s no point unless you’ve got experience, are used to crowds, and dealing with people, don’t touch it. Seriously. If you think of last year’s Eurovision, and the amazing acts, all of those acts were brilliant. And I’m thinking of the women in particular. They were beautiful, dressed immaculately, smiling, dancing, singing, and they looked as if they owned the stage. And that only comes from experience. That applies to the boys as well. I remember suggesting to RTE one time, why didn’t they go around the karaoke competitions in Ireland. And they looked at me as if I’d just grown two heads! But it’s the only way these days that you’ll actually see and hear somebody. But I don’t know what we are going to do, because we can’t compete monetarily, or with some club-beat song, it doesn’t work for us. The Europeans have that nailed down. You know what their tracks and everything sounds like. We’ve always won with the big ballad. And I think we have to stick to that. Don’t try to compete with the other ones.” 

So, what Linda is really saying, if I’m correct, is that it all comes down to the song still? Or at least it should all come down to the song? 


“Yeah. Yeah. It really does. The song should be the most important thing. But it means nothing if you haven’t got a package around it. There has to be a ‘look.’ There has to be good vocals. They have to be camera-friendly. It’s a complete package that’s needed. And it’s very, very difficult to get that.” 

It’s that time of the year again when loads of fabulous new books begin to appear, and one in particular that I can’t wait to get stuck into soon is Backstage Pass by Pat Egan, a man Linda knows well. 


“I do, I do of course know Pat.”


And everyone is eagerly awaiting the day when another good friend of Linda’s, Louis Walsh, finally puts pen to paper! 


Hahaha!”


But what about Linda herself? Has the thought ever crossed her mind to tell and share her incredible story in that way? 


“Well, do you know something, I was approached a couple of times and I met up with a couple of publishers. And I just kept saying to them that I wasn’t going to name any names [laughs]. And they were sort of like well you’re no good to us then [laughs]. But I think I’d be boring. And I’m not looking for you to say, ‘Oh no, you wouldn’t’, or anything like that. I mean, genuinely, I think it would be boring.” 

I knew Linda wasn’t just looking for compliments because that simply isn’t her way. But I had to disagree, and I said it anyway: No way would her book be boring. No way. I think it would be fantastic.


“Well you’d never know what would happen in the future [with me], but Pat Egan’s is definitely going to be worth reading. I’ve known Pat for years, and he’s an extraordinary character. He’ll tell you the stories, but he never, ever runs anybody down, I’ve learned that from Pat. He always speaks very respectfully of people, no matter who they are. He tells amazing stories of stars he’s worked with and booked into Dublin, the festivals he’s run, and everything in between. A really interesting and lovely man. His book is definitely worth a read. I’m a voracious reader. My favourite author of all time is Frederick Forsyth.” 

It’s funny that Linda mentioned her karaoke idea to RTE all those years ago, because with their latest show – Last Singer Standing – well, it’s basically just karaoke and nothing more. When it comes to TV shows like this, of course, Linda has been there, done that, and went home with the tee-shirt as well, as they say. She worked with Louis on The X-Factor, and she played a major role on You’re A Star, so she knows what these shows are like. But in terms of something like Last Singer Standing, and indeed, the recent mess that was Virgin Media One’s The Big Deal (definitely not a big deal!), what were thoughts? 


“I have to give kudos to people who are actually trying to bring things forward. From what I’ve seen, there wasn’t anybody that sort of stood out and made me say oh Jesus Christ, you’ve got to sign that guy or that girl, you know. I did notice the winner of the first week of Last Singer Standing, a guy called Alex King, I remember Alex when he auditioned for Louis’s bands and things like that. And he’s a fine singer alright. But trying to get a record deal [now], it sounds to me like you need to have millions of followers on Facebook, then the record companies take notice, then possibly they’ll sign you to something. But there’s no money involved anymore. There isn’t. In days gone by you might have got €100,000 up front. That doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you’re Lady Gaga or somebody like that, that’s a different thing altogether. But no, I have seen anybody standing out. And Louis Walsh watches these things like a hawk. And nothing has come to his mind either. But he is putting some sort of a new act together. He’s looking for ‘something’, or ‘somebody’, or maybe a group, or people that he can put in a group, sixteen to twenty-one years old. He’s going to do something, he just doesn’t know what. The way he feels about it is when he sees it, he’ll know. And then he’ll push with a record company. But like I said, it’s very, very, very difficult.” 

Is it so difficult now because so many people try to just copy what’s already out there, rather than trying to be themselves and stand out as an individual? 


“There’s some unique people alright [that stand out]. Dua Lipa, I think she’s fantastic. There’s some around. But I don’t know if copying is the right word because you fall into that trap anyway without realising it. Somebody could sit down and start writing a song and then realise it sounds like Elton John, but listen, that’s just the way it goes. Music selling, of course, has been destroyed because of Spotify and all of those things. Songwriters are making nothing because of that. It’s so easy to go online, listen to a song or listen to an album, and if you don’t like it, you don’t buy it. In the old days, you had to buy the album to listen to the one song. We’re caught in that trap as well.” 

Returning to the idea of if Linda did ever write a book, I have no doubt that she could fill volumes with advice to those in the worlds of  music, showbiz, and entertainment. Acknowledging the fact that it’s hard to ever narrow down advice to one or two golden nuggets, if Linda were to try, what words of wisdom might she pass on? 


“Yeah. To all young people who ask me that, I say you’re limited where you can be seen, so go and join your local amateur dramatic society. And they’re looking at me like, ‘Whaaaat?!’ [Laughs]. But I say, I’m telling you, these people know so much, they’ve been there for a long time, they will teach you stage-craft, voice projection, they’ll teach everything that happens backstage, and it’s so well worth trying. I don’t know if anybody has ever gone and done that, but I think it’s a great idea to do it. Most of these people [in local ADSs] are so helpful as well. The second piece of advice is go and camp out outside Louis Walsh’s house! [Laughs]. The options are limited. You have to push yourself because if you don’t, nobody hears about you. But then there’s an over-confidence that turns everybody against you. You’re looking for that middle-line all the time.” 

As we tip-toe around the edge of another new year now- and even if things are still somewhat uncertain in a lot of ways – what is Linda looking forward to or hopeful about in 2022? 


“Not so much for myself, but what I’m hoping we can do is progress animal welfare laws in this country, that the government will actually say no, and start to take action against these dreadful puppy farmers and people who inflict such cruelty onto animals. That would be one thing that’s always on my mind. And for myself, just getting back to work! That’s all. That’s how my life has been spent, so it’s alien to me to be sitting not doing anything. And the Covid, I know we’re going to be living with it for the rest of our lives, but hopefully we can get it down to where it’s there, but we’re not actually getting sick from it.” 

~ CHRISTMAS VOICES from the PRO CATHEDRAL takes place on DECEMBER 6th, featuring Celine Byrne, Michael English, Mary Byrne, Red Hurley, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. The EUROVISION VOICES at CHRISTMAS concert takes place in the Pro Cathedral on December 7th, featuring Johnny Logan, Dana, Paul Harrington, Charlie McGettigan, Niamh Kavanagh, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. Tickets for BOTH shows are ON-SALE NOW, available from eventbrite.ie, and the Pro Cathedral Parish Office. 

ENDS

Outdoor Country Music Festival

NEWS

Press Release via AS Written, October 2021

COUNTRY FUNDRAISING CONCERT A HUGE SUCCESS

September’s Outdoor Country Music concert which featured a line-up of Irish country’s star-names at DON’S BAR in Moate, has raised an incredible  €11,382.36 for the KEVIN BELL REPATRIATION TRUST (KBRT). The presentation of the cheque took place recently with some of the event organisers – Aidan Higgins, Dolores Burke, and Tom Duffy – meeting with the late Kevin Bell’s parents, Colin and Eithne. 

The concert took place on September 12th last, featuring performances from TR Dallas, Larissa Tormey, Olivia Douglas, Alex Roe, John Molloy, Shane Moore, and David Mills, and the iconic Seamus Moore. It came in response to tragedies suffered by three midland families – the Duffys, Higgins, and Burkes – each of whom had their own heartbreaking reasons to be thankful for the service provided by the KBRT earlier this year, as Tom Duffy explained in the run-up to the concert…   

     

My first cousin, Michael Burke, who lived on the Clara Road (out of Moate), died unexpectedly in Liverpool on February 17th this year. And by an untimely coincidence, that was the same day that his aunt Carmel, my own mother, was buried. To make matters even worse, though, that came just five weeks after Carmel’s brother Sean, who was Michael’s father, also died suddenly at his home on the Clara Road, on January 11th. As well as dealing with the shock of a wholly unexpected double-blow, the Burke family were faced with having to pay for two funerals in little over a month. Having heard about the KBRT, I contacted them and it was Colin Bell who answered the phone himself.”

The KBRT is named in memory of Colin Bell’s son, Kevin, a GAA player from Newry who was only twenty-six years old when he was killed in a hit-and-run traffic incident in New York in June 2013. Colin, and Kevin’s mother, Eithne, were not only faced with the horror of hearing that one of their twin boys had been mown down and left for dead, but they were also faced with the logistical nightmare of trying to organise the return of their beloved son’s body to Ireland, and the huge expense involved in making that happen. Overwhelmed by the generosity of their local community which raised an amount far greater than Kevin’s repatriation cost, Colin and Eithne founded the Trust in memory of Kevin, using the surplus monies there was to get the KBRT up and running. The aim of the KBRT is to support other families who suffer the hurt and hardships of losing a loved one abroad unexpectedly.      

   

Since its formation in 2013, the KBRT has repatriated 876 loved ones to their families in Ireland, from countries as far away as Australia, Argentina, the United States, South Korea, Canada, Ecuador, Cambodia, India, and Uganda, as well as Britain.     

 

For the fantastic work of the KBRT to continue”, observed Mr. Duffy, “it depends on the goodwill of those who have received the help of the KBRT to put something back in the kitty. That’s why some of us got together to organise the festival at Don’s Bar.”

Mr Duffy continued, sharing the story of how help from the KBRT had been forthcoming as soon as contact was first made.

“On hearing how this tragic series of events had unfolded, Colin Bell immediately offered the assistance of the KBRT to help get Michael Burke’s remains home. From then on Colin undertook the task of organising Michael’s repatriation, with the very much hands-on help of Aidan Higgins, Michael’s uncle, here at home in Ireland. I have to say, Colin Bell was true to his word in every way, and Michael’s remains were returned a fortnight later, about the normal timescale for the arranging of a funeral in Britain. The Burke, Higgins and Duffy families here in Moate and Tubber, were so grateful to the KBRT, and everyone was delighted to be able to do this for them. And of course, we couldn’t have done it without all of the artists who performed on the day, and everyone who bought tickets and came along to enjoy the music. So we’re very, very thankful to everyone who played their part in helping such a worthy cause.”

ENDS

Photo Attached (L-R)Aidan Higgins, Eithne Bell, Dolores Burke, Colin Bell, Tom Duffy

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