Ryan Andrews

First Published October 2021


“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.


Ray Goggins

First Published October 2021


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. 


Grace Foley

First Published September 2021


Just shy of a year ago now, I had the pleasure of hearing from classical-crossover artist GRACE FOLEY for the first time. A native of Killarney, Grace dropped me a line to let me know about her plans to release a Christmas EP – A Time For Christmas – on November 27th of 2020. Unfortunately we weren’t able to plan anything at the time, and between one thing and another it took us until last week to finally sit down for a chat. But I’ll tell you what, never has a first email from someone so guaranteed that they would be featured in OTRT at some stage. 

As you’ll find out as our chat goes on, Grace is an exceptionally talented individual, with her gift for singing matched by her gift with words. I can’t remember too much else about the day I first heard from Grace, but I know for certain that all I did while reading her email was either laugh or smile at her sense of humour and her flair for storytelling. 

When someone tells you about recording a song in their wardrobe and deadpans that it “was a new experience”, shares that, “Basically, I have been creatinga lot and narrowly avoiding lockdowns all year!”, and – and perhaps most importantly – reveals that she made sure her little dog kept her company and was part of things when she performed on RTE’s Today show with Dáthí O’ Sé and Maura Derrane via Skype…well come on, how can you not like that kinda person?! 

So yes, it took a while to plan, but I finally had the privilege of catching up with Grace the day after she had the photoshoot for her album cover last week. And, as I knew she would, Grace lived up to all expectations.

Our chat got underway by talking about how the big shoot day had gone…

“It went really well! It’s a bit crazy to get to that stage, because the cover of your album – certainly in my case anyway – it’s the last hurdle, or the last thing on the to-do list. So it certainly feels very final now. I haven’t seen the pictures yet, so I can’t tell you too much anyway [laughs]. But when I finally see them, and finally see the name of the album on those photos, it’s going to feel way more real. It was the last big thing to be done, so it kind of feels a bit like we’re all there now!” 

I get the impression with Grace that a lot of thought goes into everything she does, and that something as important as her album cover would definitely be no different. Did it feel like a bit of a project in itself? 

“Yeah, it’s lots of mini-projects. Everything from writing my own songs, to choosing what musicians you want to have on it, onto the cover and the details on that. I definitely wouldn’t be the kind of person who would just say let’s use an old photograph and put a name on it, ya know [laughs].” 

Before we moved on to Grace’s new single, I wondered if her album had a title yet, and if she had any idea on when this collection would be coming our way? 

“I’m hoping to share the album in the very last week of November, but I haven’t got an exact date yet. I’m going to be releasing it in physical form first – actual cds – and then a couple of weeks later, kind of mid December, it will be available to download online. Just to be a bit different, it’s going to be gradually appearing [laughs]. I haven’t announced the name yet, so I’m gonna keep that a secret for a little longer. But a clue would be that it’s actually the second in a trilogy, and the first part of that was my EP, ‘Unleashed.’ So it’s kind of going to be another UN… [laughs]. And then there’ll be a third Un at some stage in the future to finish off. So there’ll be ‘Unleashed’, ‘Un’-something else, and ‘Un’-something else [laughs].” 

Grace’s new single, Caught Up, which will be available on all platforms from October 1st, is also her own song. In talking about it recently, Grace remarked that it’s about, “…people appearing perfectly fine on the surface, but you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind.” Obviously a song that’s quite personal to her? 

“It’s really very much related to mental health. I’ve often had panic attacks and that kind of thing. I also go out and wear make-up, and I know a lot of people do the same thing, you put a smile on your face, but you can’t really read what’s going on in everybody’s life, inside their mind and their heart. We can all wear a bit of a mask, so it’s like don’t judge anyone by their cover, because you never know what’s going on underneath that. It’s a circular song, if that makes any sense? There’s a line, ‘Caught up, all in circles on the inside’, that’s the opening line of the whole thing. It’s about going around and around inside yourself, appearing fine on the outside but churning away on the inside. I started putting some ideas for this song together pre-lockdown, and then I got some funding from the Arts Council, which I used on this song and on ‘Goodbye To Dublin’ which I released as part of my Christmas EP last year. Songs you had written yourself, that’s what the funding was for, and I started with this one. Then, because of the pandemic, I was thinking a lot about artists, musicians, and entertainers in general, we’re all very good at putting out great stuff, online concerts and everything. But I was thinking about these poor artists who were probably smiling away, but probably so upset on the inside. So the music video itself, and you’re the first person to hear this, is actually on an empty stage, in an empty theatre. It reflects the mental health of everyone in the entertainment industry. That’s the road I went with the video. It all ties in. It went from being very much my own story, to being one for every artist out there.” 

And that video will be debuting on Grace’s YouTube channel on October 10th, which is actually World Mental Health Day.

Grace mentioned anxiety, and one of the things I love to talk to all artists about is what goes through their minds in the minutes and moments before they go on stage, because for a lot of people, that can be an anxious time. Does anxiety affect Grace’s performance in any way at all? 

“In a very different way. I would say in the run-up to a concert it’s very hard to keep all of the anxiety in check. It’s not the performance adrenaline. It’s a daily, continuous adrenaline which is very different. Performance adrenaline comes just before you go on, but then it morphs into a nicer adrenaline [laughs]. The practise one keeps you on a little bit of a high over a couple of weeks! Depending on the type of performance, there can be a couple of wobbly weeks before it where you’re going, oh God…will it all be ok?! But that’s different from general anxiety. But yeah, there’s definitely performance anxiety that begins well before the concert, but then that day, it’s a slight excitement. And then just before I’m about to go on stage – and I’ve spoken to fellow artists about this and they’re the same – I’ll stand side-stage and say, ‘Why do I do this to myself?!’ I brought this on myself! Nobody forced me to do this! I don’t have to do this!’ [Laughs]. My legs are ready to run away [laughs]. But afterwards, I’d always say this is the best feeling in the world, and I’ll never question it again. But then the next time, it happens all over again! [Laughs]. I think artists, like a lot of people, can struggle with their mental health. It’s a rollercoaster anyway because artists can often be quite connected to their emotions, because you have to be to do what we do.” 

As well as Grace’s forthcoming single Caught Up being an original, she’s also written Together Apart, and co-written Close The Door with Dave McCune. So it’s fair to say that her artistry extends beyond the beauty of her voice and into her songwriting as well. I asked Grace to tell me about that side of her and that side of her life…

“I still consider it a very new side to me. When I was finishing recording ‘Unleashed’ in the studio with Dave McCune in Dublin, somebody said something about how maybe someday I’d sing my own stuff, and I said I’d love to do that. I like to write, I said, but I’d never written a song. In school I always liked English, and I used to write poetry when I was younger, and I wrote a column for a local publication here in Killarney. Then Dave, who was right next to me in the studio at the time, said, ‘Well, I’ve written music myself, so if you ever want to team up, we’ll have a think about it. That stuck in the back of my mind, and I started writing down some ideas. In 2019, when the homelessness crisis in Ireland was becoming more and more apparent, well, like a lot of things when you’re an artist, you’re thinking is there anything I could do. And I was thinking maybe I could sing something. And a bit like with ‘Together Apart’ when the pandemic started, at both those times I thought well why don’t I get my own feelings down on paper? It was driven by a need to say something. ‘Close The Door’ is a song I’m very, very proud of, I wish it had gotten more airing at the time. It was weird, because when I started writing the lyrics to it I knew I wanted to give the proceeds to the Simon Community, but I hadn’t done my research on it. So I didn’t even realise at the time that ‘close the door’ was their slogan. I went to their website the next day, saw that, and I was like, oh my God, this is meant to be! [Laughs].”

So I wrote the lyrics”, said Grace, “and Dave McCune wrote the melody, and I had some input on the melody too. We got the musicians into the studio in Dublin and they all gave us their time for free. We got the videographer from Tralee, he gave us his time as well. It’s a song I hope we can use again, because unfortunately it’s not a crisi that has gone anywhere. And ‘Together Apart’ was born from the same feeling, wanting to say something about something big that was happening in the world. That’s how it’s happened for me so far. The Christmas one, ‘Goodbye To Dublin’, I did try and sit down and write a song, but they all kind of flowed. There was another one, but it was terrible [laughs], I spent half an hour looking at it and thinking ahhh this doesn’t work [laughs]. So I think I need to be inspired! I think I’m one of those people. Some people have their writing time, I think I need to have inspiration. And at the moment inspiration is a bit low to the ground, I’m afraid, trying to create an album and raise a child at the same time [laughs]. I’m hoping that there’s some bits and pieces in Anna’s short life so far that I’ve written down about her, that maybe I’ll get to write a song about her someday. That’s the next thing that’s in my mind, but we’ll get this album out first!” 

As well as some of her own originals, Grace also has a Bryan Adams classic – maybe THE Bryan Adams classic – on the record. So, what I needed to know is was this a particular weakness on Grace’s part, a guilty pleasure perhaps, or the flicker of a long-standing love affair from long before she met her husband, John? What was the story? 

“[Laughs] I’d love to say it was something as romantic as that! [Laughs]. Every year for the last few years, when it comes up to Christmas time, I record a song for my parents for their Christmas present. And they very much love the classical-crossover stuff, especially my mom, the Italian and English mix. I heard Katherine Jenkins singing it and I thought it was a beautiful song but it kind of went out of my head. Then I came across the Bryan Adams version and I thought, I wonder if I could sing that? The Katherine Jenkins version was entirely in Italian, then I listened to his one and his is so passionate in English. I didn’t want to sing it in italian because it had been done, but it’s such a romantic song it really lends itself to the classical-crossover voice. So I said I’d try it in English and Italian, and I recorded it for them for Christmas. The minute they heard it they said I couldn’t keep it to myself, that I’d have to release it at some stage. So very selflessly of them, they gave away their present [laughs]. We developed it slightly more than the version we presented to them. We had decided pre-pandemic that I was going to release three singles last year; ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’, and ‘Silent Night.’ Little did I know what was going to happen. But I had started to have everything organised in January and February for the year, and that was one of the songs. Everybody probably thinks it’s about John, but with everything I’ve done over the years my parents have given me everything. So I wanted to say, everything I do, I do it for you, to them. The love of a child for their parents is the inspiration for that one.” 

What other songs have become presents like that over the years? 

“For my wedding, I actually did ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’, and that’s on the album. That’s kind of blown my mind recently, because towards the end of the time I was looking at my options for the album and I was thinking right, how am I going to manage this. Then I think it was Brendan, down in the studio in Killarney, he said, ‘That song you recorded years ago’ – which I kind of put on my YouTube channel but I didn’t do a whole lot with, I got it mastered at the time and I didn’t even know why I did that! – but he said, ‘That’s a gorgeous song.’ And then, ya know what, after the year that it’s been and with Anna being born and everything, wouldn’t it be nice to have that on there? I had a lot of time away from my family, but I didn’t actually sing that song online during the year but I often thought about it because it reminded me of them. Then suddenly, it shifted, and that song had a new story and I thought I’ll have to think about its new meaning for me. I had a listen to it one day, John and I went out into the car, I wanted to listen to the running-order of the entire album before it went to mastering, so I was chopping and changing it. So we put that on, and I hadn’t listened to it in ages. I completely broke down in tears! It had a different meaning to when I recorded it for mam and dad because now it’s for her, for my daughter. And I’m so glad it’s on the album now. That song has gone on a bit of a journey. I think I wasn’t actually meant to release that properly until now. That song’s been around for a while. So, these Christmas presents, they grow legs! [Laughs].” 

When Grace had first got in touch with me, she told me that contralto – how she sings – was “a classical style of singing, but with a dark edge…”

“Well, contralto is the lowest female voice in the classical world. That’s what I am. Sopranos are what you’d hear most often, and tenors you’d hear of a lot in the classical world. They’ve the highest voices. But contralto is the most rare voice type in the world. And over the years, be it in contemporary style or classical, everyone would say that it was very rich, like chocolate, like gold. So there’s lovely colours and lovely descriptions that come with it. And it is, it’s a classical voice, and a classical crossover voice with a dark edge, my voice just has a darker colour. No matter what I sing, be it a happy song or a romantic song, whatever it is, there is a darker sound to it. And that can bring a little bit of a melancholy to the way I sing because there is that…maybe slightly more lonesome sound to my voice. So it was never a decision to sing this way, it’s just the voice I was born with.” 

So was it a big surprise for Grace to find out that her voice was one of the rarest kinds in the world? Or how does that happen? 

“It was very unusual. And what’s even more unusual is that the first singing teacher that I ever had, Áine Nic Gabhainn , fourteen I think I was, and I didn’t have a clue about classical music or anything. She was listening to me for a bit and, ‘Well!’, she said – and she herself was a contralto, so she always knew how rare it was – and she said, ‘You’re probably one of the youngest I’ve come across to have such a developed lower range, you actually are a contralto.’ And sure I didn’t have a clue what that was! Mezzo is the middle, and contralto is the lowest, and even the mezzo in the college would say, God, you just have a different voice to the mezzo voice, which is Katherine Jenkins, let’s say for example. She wouldn’t sound all that different, but my voice quality would be darker. Even if I’m singing something now, there’s always someone in the room who just knows their stuff, and they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, a contralto!’ I just find it fascinating that somebody will always know what it is [laughs]. It’s kinda cool! It’s been tough too, because when I was younger it was always harder for me to sing the higher stuff, but that’s kind of settled now. It’s a privilege, I think, to have this voice.” 

Grace has previously spoken about the tremendous support she’s received from three men in particular; Dave McCune (mentioned earlier in our chat), Brendan O’ Connor, and the great Liam O’ Connor. I asked Grace to explain the importance of kindness like that being shown towards an artist like herself who is on the upward climb in her career…

“I think everyone in this industry, and everyone in any job, you can just do your job, but there’s people out there who go that extra mile when they’re working with you. And especially Dave and Brendan, because I work with them very closely. One of the first people to find out I was pregnant was Dave McCune because I was going up to record with him when I was six weeks pregnant, and no-one knew. Suddenly, I became really unwell, and I didn’t want to cancel because I knew the pandemic was just getting worse and worse. So I said, ok, I’m gonna have to go, but it’s the middle of the pandemic and I look a bit grey so they’re gonna say why did you come in here sick?! [Laughs]. But he treated me so kindly, and he always did, we’ve always had that relationship. But even recently he’s gone that extra mile again, trying to finish off the album. Like, I don’t have a big budget, I’m an independent artist, I’ve had no work for so long. But he’s done so much extra work, especially in the last couple of weeks. I’m aware of how much more he did than he should have done for what he got paid [laughs]. And Brendan’s the same, and it’s not even mate’s rates because we’ve only worked together professionally, but we’ve become friends. During this whole time I’ve been recording some stuff in Dublin, and then Brendan too, I had to tell him quite early on as well that I was pregnant. And I was sayin’ to him, look, don’t let on anything cos’ I was tryin’ to get a bit done before Christmas. I hadn’t publicly announced it at that stage. They’ll both say things, Grace, maybe this isn’t really the way to go with this. But then they’ll both really listen, and it’s a lovely thing to feel so heard, especially when you are an up-and-coming artist. Neither of them care if they’re working with a famous person or an up-and-coming artist, they don’t care. They’ll give you the exact same amount of attention. They’re both very different men, and they’re in different parts of the country, but they’re both an absolute pleasure to work with. And it’s lovely in the industry as well that neither of them are ever like, ‘Oh, but you’ve gone to this other studio to do this…’, you know? They don’t work together on any of the songs, they’ve always worked independently on different tracks, but if I ever mention one to the other it’ll be, ‘Ah yeah, you did that song with Dave…’, or ‘You did that one with Brendan’, so I’m blessed.” 

Grace continued, “And then with Liam O’ Connor, he came into my life when I was releasing Unleashed a few years ago. He’s such a phenomenal performer. Obviously living here in Killarney, so I was very ballsy, and I thought is there any chance he might come and play a song at the launch because he’s just so exciting, he’s amazing. We didn’t know each other at all, we probably might just have seen each other at a couple of events, we’d never spoken. But I got his number, gave him a quick text, thought he might say that he didn’t have time, but not only did he ring me back, he took me for a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee one day! We talked for about five or six hours, and he gave me loads of advice. He came along that night, gave a phenomenal performance, stayed around afterwards and had a couple of drinks with us. He came on this album as well, very same thing. He rang back straight away and said yeah, he’d do it, anything to help out. It’s kindness like that during a time when we’ve all been hit. Those men in those studios, they’re busy now, but they were very quiet for a long time. Liam the same. I’ll never forget their kindness.” 

Before our time came to an end, I asked Grace about her column for the Classical Crossover magazine, the wonderfully – and aptly – titled Grace Notes…

“I’m quite a storyteller, I think I write columns differently to other people. They’re not just factual factual, I always have a bit of an emotional reaction to things in that. It’s kind of my perception of the world of the arts, different things about it, like online versus ‘live’ performance. That was an interesting one for me to even write. I don’t have a big plan when I’m writing, I just sit down and I start. It kind of helps me figure stuff out when I’m writing it. I write about the role of music in my own life, the role of music in the world, there’s a lot of me in my columns as well. Particularly in that one about online versus in-person performance, it was me thinking out loud. That’s kind of what the column is, it’s me thinking out loud! [Laughs]. I give my opinion on classical crossover music, and look at why people like it. I often ask questions in them, I don’t always get answers back from people, but I still ask the questions. I hope that will make people ask themselves questions about music. When you’re at a concert and you don’t know the artist, or you’ve never been an artist, or maybe you’re a performing artist yourself, if you read one of my columns I’d like to think that you’re not separated from that person on stage. That instead, you’ll be thinking, ‘I wonder are they like that girl that wrote that column? I wonder if they are feeling this way backstage? I wonder are they delighted to be back performing ‘live’ again? I wonder if they miss performing online?’ So yeah, it’s me thinking out loud, and I’m hoping that it will allow people who read it who aren’t performers, to kind of get into the mindset of a performer.” 

CAUGHT UP, the brand NEW single from GRACE FOLEY will be available on all platforms from Friday, OCTOBER 1st. And keep an eye out for the accompanying video which will premiere on Grace’s YouTube channel on World Mental Health Day, October 10th. 


David Mallaghan (& Ken Hume)

First Published September 2021


One of the longest-running spoken word events in Ireland, Tullamore’s SCENE OF THE RHYME (SOTR), makes its long-awaited return to the world of ‘live’ events this coming weekend. Saturday, September 11th will see the first of two special performances taking place in John Lee’s Bar and Venue at 5pm, while on Sunday a ‘pop-up’ show will happen at Chocolate Brown in Tullamore. And the man behind the return of the SOTR is poet, painter, activist, and Tullamore Rhymer, DAVID ‘MALLY’ MALLAGHAN. 

In describing Mally for an edition of the Under The Fading Lamp chapbook published by the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club some years ago, I wrote the following…

“A writer without honesty in their work is a writer in fear of the very characteristic that can transform mere lines on a page into the trenches of the soul, the places where the hardest, bloodiest, most unforgiving and merciless battles of life are waged and recorded with every passing moment counted off into eternity. David Mallaghan is a poet who has made a very brave and deliberate choice to embrace in its entirety the depths and span of his being in all of its forms; his dreams, his nightmares, his passions, his demons, his frustrations, and his desires. His honesty in stripping bare any pretense of what disguise may need to be donned to gain the acceptance or approval of some sections of society is not only admirable, but stands as a lesson to all writers, of all genres and formats. David knows, and proves in his work, that writing is not a calling pursued in hope of being understood by the world, rather it is a world entered into and a mission undertaken to understand and accept oneself.” 

That’s still Mally. 

I had the pleasure of catching up with Mally last Saturday, and, by coincidence, our fellow Tullamore Rhymer KEN HUME too, who we’ll get to a little later.  But Mally and I began our chat by talking about the two very special SOTR events that were a week out as we spoke, and he gave me the low-down on how it all came to be…

“Well Scene of The Rhyme (SOTR) has been running for almost ten years now. It was Cormac Lally who started it, but then Cormac moved down to west Cork, and Richard Brennan and I took over. Richard then moved on to some other commitments as well, so David Hynes and I ran it for a while. And now it’s me. Before the pandemic, we were running every month, but then everything collapsed. So these events next weekend will be the re-launch of SORT as a monthly event in Tullamore. We’re the longest-running event in the midlands for spoken-word, comedy, and music, and we want to get back out there again. Poetry Ireland contacted Terri Dale, event manager for Castlepalooza and Shakefest at Charleville Castle, she then contacted me, and we put things in motion from there. So we have John Lee’s booked for the 11th of September, and we’re also doing a pop-up event on Sunday at 3pm in the Chocolate Brown coffee shop. The re-launch will be these two events. At the Lee’s event, it’s in a bar, you can have a pint, that’s where we regularly hold the SOTR. At Chocolate Brown on Sunday, it’s something new for SOTR, but you can have a coffee and a cake while listening to some poetry. That’ll be new for us. We’re really looking forward to getting SOTR back as a monthly event in Tullamore, for local poets, comedians and musicians, but also to bring talented people from around the country to Tullamore, so that people in Tullamore can see poets, comedians and musicians that they wouldn’t normally see.” 

I asked Mally to give readers an idea of what a typical SOTR night might be like…

I’d open the night and I might read a poem or two, and tell a joke or two, and then I’d introduce the acts for the night. I usually start with the poets first, the spoken-word artists, and we’d have maybe two or three at the start. Then in the middle of the event I’d have one or two comedians, and more than likely I’d wrap things up with a music act or two, maybe someone like Niamh Dooley, aka Dubh Lee, or Eoin Martin, for example, just to name two of our local Tullamore musicians. That’s the progression we’d usually have. We like to have poetry first, then comedy, then music. I find it’s very hard to follow comedy, and it’s very hard to follow music, but poetry is a great way to start the night. And, of course, poetry is what we started with, SOTR was just a poetry night. Then Cormac started to add a few musicians, and when I started I added the comedians. But at its heart and soul, it’s a poetry night.” 

The re-launch events happening on Saturday and Sunday, however, will just be poetry, as Mally went on to explain…

“I decided for the relaunch that it would be just poetry, and not only just poetry, but just local poets. Except for David Hynes (from Dublin) who is an honorary Tullamore man at this stage. All the other performing poets are local. We’ve got Noeleen Flanaghan from Clara, Ken Hume from Tullamore originally but also living in Clara now, David Hynes from Kilcock whom I just mentioned, Roseanna Tyrrell, Seamus Kirwan, Thomas Carty we’re 90% sure of, yourself Anthony, and of course, Tullamore’s poet laureate for the Poetry Town event, Cormac Lally, who we’re hoping will be able to perform at one, or maybe even both events. He’s actually doing some workshops this weekend too. The Poetry Town event organised by Poetry Ireland runs from 10th to the 18th of September. Twenty towns around the country were picked, and Tullamore was one of them. Those towns got funding to run events in that time period, live events, workshops, to get people into poetry who maybe aren’t already. But also, for people who are into poetry, to give them something to go see and perform at. Poetry Ireland, fair play to them, they spotted that all these nights and events around the country were struggling to get back going, so they came in with the funding, which is great.” 

As mentioned earlier, one of the poets that Mally mentioned would be performing at the SOTR events, Ken Hume, also happened to be with us on the day we spoke. Before turning to the author of the Snowstorm of Doubt and Grace poetry collection to hear from him, I asked Mally to share a little bit about his own creative background, and to tell us who David Mallaghan is as an artist…

“I started writing poetry in 1986, in sixth class, in Ballinamere National School. The teacher we had was Larry Fleming. Every second Friday, we had to have a poem or two written for him, while in sixth class. So for nine months in 1986, every second week I was writing poems to perform in front of the class. Cormac also came through Ballinamere National School so he had Larry Fleming a few years after I did. A lot of people came through that school who would have had Larry in sixth class, and he got them all writing poems, and he got me started too. I didn’t start performing until I hooked up with the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club about ten years ago. And once I started performing, I started to write a lot more because I realised I was enjoying it. And I had events to go perform at. So I think joining the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club was a big part of things for me too. Then when Cormac got SOTR going, that’s when I started to perform not just in Offaly, but around the country. I started to meet other poets and promoters, and I started to realise that there was a scene all around the country. Galway, Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Belfast, there’s a scene in every part of Ireland, and events in every part of Ireland. Especially in Dublin, there was a huge scene in Dublin. The first year I started to perform with SOTR, I started to do stand-up comedy as well. That was another avenue for performing. But when I go to comedy clubs, I’m doing my funniest poems as my show, so it’s still poetry, just funny poems. But when I do SOTR, I might do a serious poem, or a political one, maybe a mental health issue poem. But when I do comedy clubs, they’re just funny poems. By now, I’ve performed at five Electric Picnics, five Castlepalooza events, and two more events at Charleville Castle pre-Castlepalooza. And we actually brought the first ever spoken word event to Castlepalooza. They kept it on every year after we did it first. That was done through Terri Dale as well, I think. I’ve performed all over Ireland, in Amsterdam as well, and Berlin. I love performing. I use a lot of the same poems, but they’re my best poems. I always go with my best poems. So if you’ve seen my show five or six times, you’ll see that I’m rotating my best poems all the time with the odd new one.” 

In the same edition of Under The Fading Lamp that I referred to earlier in relation to Mally, I wrote these words about Ken…

“Many writers, knowingly or not, are chained to certain portals of possibility by way of their own perception of themselves. They think they are a certain ‘type’ of writer, so even before they leave the first drop of ink on paper or hit that first key, their voyage has begun and they are merely a passenger on a ship they should be captain of. Ken Hume, however, is not this kind of writer. Constantly evolving and maturing into a wordsmith of tangible self-confidence, Ken can sit calmly before a blank page or screen awaiting the next world of words to reveal itself to him, that he may then bring it to life by a sure, poetically calibrated hand. Equally so can he begin with just a simple seed of thought and shape and grow that small beginning into a deeply meaningful end. Nothing is forced, but a gentle attention to detail is constant. ken is a fully accepting but fully aware passenger when cresting literary waves, and also a steady presence on the bridge when in command of turning sail to wind and bringing a new creation to shore.” 

Turning my attention to the same Mr. Hume, and picking up on the fact that Mally had mentioned the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club, of which Ken was a founding member, the man himself filled us in on how the Club came into existence…

“Well I began my writing journey as a film critic with the Tullamore Tribune, that gave me a taste of writing regularly. I’d always written poetry, for as long back as I can remember, since I was a kid, encouraged by my late mam. And I’d always been talking about publishing a book, so a couple of friends of mine said well, why don’t you do it? Maybe now is the time. So I wrote it, with my mam – there’s some of her writing in there as well – we had it published, but I still felt there was something else I wanted to do, something more. I was wondering if there were other poets out there to share work with, and encourage each other, get ideas, ya know. So I thought wouldn’t it be great to have a group that would meet up on a regular basis. I texted a couple of my friends – Thomas Carty and yourself – and we set up a meeting. We started first in a back-room in my old family home, and we called it the ‘Hume Library’ because there were so many books in it! [Laughs].” 

It was the idea of Thomas Carty to name the collective The Tullamore Rhymers’ Club, in a nod to the famous Rhymers’ Club of which W.B. Yeats was a founding member in London. 

Ken continued, “After a few months, our numbers had increased from three at first, onto to four, then five, then six, including Mally here who was brought along by Cormac, and there was Seamus Kirwan, our friend the late Camillus Boland, Lorraine Dunican, Richard Brennan, James Delaney, and others too. It started to grow beyond what any of us had originally anticipated, so we moved the venue to the Bridge House Hotel, who kindly offered us a room for use. From there really, we started to talk about spreading our wings a bit further, to start performing, and move away from just sharing our work privately.” 

I wondered what did being a part of a group of writers like that did for Ken as a poet, and even as a person, too? 

“It gave me huge confidence. I’ve always written because I’ve found that I express myself better in the written word than in any other way. So for everything to have evolved from scribbling a few words on a page to meeting up with a group regularly to share poetry, and talk about it, get feedback, that was incredible. A very satisfying feeling. For that then to evolve into public performances with some of the leading entertainers in the country – Brendan Bowyer, Brendan Grace, Mike Denver, the Fureys – incredible experiences. Nerve-racking too, for me. Public speaking is something I find challenging, but I’ve always wanted to share poetry with people, to make it accessible for people.” 

And sharing his work, and making poetry accessible is exactly what he’s going to be doing as part of the return of SOTR next weekend. How is he feeling about that? 

“I’m excited. And nervous at the same time. But mostly excited, because I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to sharing my work for a while. I took a break to focus on family (proud dad of two, Grace and Ava), and on writing. But in the past year or so – ironically in the time that you couldn’t go out at all! [laughs] – I’ve really wanted to get back out to sharing my work, and back in front of an audience. I think now the country needs it more than ever, to be able to get back to live events like SOTR. Poetry is for everybody, that’s what I feel. And everybody has a story to tell. So we want to reach out to people with poetry, because there’s a hunger out there for the arts, there always has been in Ireland. We’re a nation of bards, storytellers, and writers.” 

And in Tullamore in particular, there’s probably a lot more along those lines happening than most people ever know about. And Mally has been a man at the heart of so much of it during the last decade, through his involvement with SOTR and the Rhymers’ Club as well. But there’s also much more to Mally than simply being a creative and insightful wordsmith. He’s also a passionate activist, with what’s happening in Palestine being something that he has focused a lot of energy on in recent years…

“I follow world history and world events, and for years and years and years, ever since the Second World War, the Palestinian people have been treated terribly. They’re being murdered – even children are being murdered – they’re being bombed, they have no rights. There are two million people living in Gaza and it’s like an open prison, they can’t leave it. Human rights have been destroyed. What’s happening, at this moment in human history, is unacceptable. Palestinians need their own state. They need passports. They need healthcare. They need all the things they’re being denied. But because America is backing Israel, Israel is just stealing all the land, and knocking down villages, hospitals, and schools, replacing them with their own settlements. It’s totally against everything that’s right in the world. And it’s going on in our time. But we can do something about it. We can make people aware that this situation is going on. Just on a human rights level, it shouldn’t be going on in 2021.” 

And Mally doesn’t just talk about doing something, he actually did something – bothe amazing and profoundly sad – to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people…

I asked poets and writers around the country if they would, if I contacted them with details of a child or a woman or a man who had been killed in Palestine, would they write about that person. We spent six months – me and Dr John Ennis from Mullingar – collating these poems and these writings about people that died, and we put them into a book called ‘Turangalila Palestine’, which is sanskrit for “an event that keeps occuring in Palestine.'” From all around the country, and even with some writers and poets from abroad, we got people writing about the people that were being killed. It’s a very personal book. It’s not a very happy one, you’re not going to read it and feel that way, because every poem that’s in it was written about someone that was actually killed. And that’s quite sad. You can check the news – I mean, look, it’s not in the news enough – but every week the Israeli Defence Forces are killing innocent Palestians. That’s unacceptable in 2021. It just is. And all around the world there’s a network of people who are trying to help the Palestinians and raise awareness. Roger Waters from Pink Floyd is one of the big guys behind it. Maverick Sabre from Ireland is involved too. There’s a lot of support. But that support has to turn into changing things.” 

Mally is not shy about letting people know about his own roots as a Tyrone man, and rightly so. And those roots are one of the reasons why he feels such an allegiance of sorts to the pain and suffering of the Palestinians…

“There’s a huge solidarity between Northern Ireland and Palestine, because very similar things happened in each place. People were being oppressed, people were being killed. The people of Northern Ireland have been through that, so they kind of reached out to the Palestinians, and they reached back. In fact, Ireland did in general, because we have a history of 800 years of struggle with the English invaders. Because we have this history of struggle, we know what they’re going through in a way, and we want to help. We have ways of helping them that we used to get over our struggles, without violence. Peaceful protest. Information. Like the hunger strikers, that was a peaceful protest, and that changed things. They have hunger-strikes going on at the moment as well. So we can say, look, we had it really bad for a while, but we sorted it out. This is how you can do it.” 

Does Mally see a resolution being found and agreed upon by all parties? 

“I hope so. It has to be a two-state solution. The Palestinians have to be given a state, and a capital. Their capital was Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has been stolen from them, which isn’t right. And the Americans were kind of behind that. There needs to be a state of Israel and a state of Palestine. At the moment, there’s only a state of Israel. The UN is very powerless on this. The UN, have they any power at all? I don’t know.” 

Before we finished up, I wanted to ask Mally about what began as just a lockdown project for him, his wonderfully and beautifully artistic tree paintings…

“The entertainment industry collapsed overnight, so during the lockdowns I had nothing to do! I was sitting here one night and I said, I’ll go down to Mr. Price and I’ll buy paint and start painting. So I did, and I started painting trees. I started posting them on Facebook, then one day someone said, “I’ll buy one of your paintings”, and I went…ok! [Laughs]. Six months later, I’d sold forty-four! All done, basically, off my Facebook page, and by word of mouth. Still have some for sale, too [laughs].” 

My last question for Mally before wrapping things up with one more for Ken, was how did he think he’d feel come next Saturday, and being back at the mic for a SOTR event again? 

“I can’t wait! The SOTR ethos, well for me anyway, is that I want to support local talent. Local artists, local poets, local comedians, local musicians, get them involved. And if I can be the first person to put them on stage, I want that. Because someone gave me my first time on stage, and I want to pass that on. If I can give a poet, a musician, or a comedian his or her first time on stage as a boost to them, that’s what SOTR is for. But also featuring established acts, national as well as local, we want to bring them to Tullamore and get them performing. A mixture of fresh, raw talent, giving them a boost, and poets, musicians, and comedians, and putting on shows in Tullamore. There’s no-one else doing this here, or even in the midlands. Giving people a boost, and getting established artists in, that’s what SOTR is about.” 

And for Ken, as a performer, how will he be feeling when Saturday comes? 

“Woaaa…[deep sigh]…nerve-racking! Getting up on stage has always been a challenge for me, in front of people, but that’s countered by my desire to share my poetry, and that always wins over. I’m excited, because I have a lot of new material, a lot of new experiences since I last really performed. A lot of things have happened, births, deaths, and everything in-between that have shaped me and my viewpoint on a lot of things. And that has impacted hugely on my writing, and can be seen in my writing. So I’m looking forward to sharing that with the general public and seeing how it impacts on them, and can they relate to it. If people can relate to what I write, that’s my job done.” 

The SCENE OF THE RHYME events take place on Saturday, September 11th in John Lee’s Bar and Venue, 5pm; and on Sunday, September 12th at Chocolate Brown coffee shop, Tullamore, 3pm.  


Marc Roberts

First Published August 2021


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.