Leitrim choir singers at Phoenix Park to regroup for Rome 2021

Leitrim choir singers at Phoenix Park to regroup for Rome 2021

World Meeting of Families mascot named Éirinn, with Papal Mass Choir members Ciarán and Sinead Tracey, Leitrim Village, Valerie Burke, Enfield and Helen Gilligan, Carrick on Shannon [seated].

Notwithstanding the dark and wet 5am coach departure from Drumshanbo on Sunday the 26th August, spirits were high on McGowan’s ‘pilgrimage’ bus to the Phoenix Park for the Papal Mass to mark the closure of the World Meeting of Families [WMOF].

Members of St. Patrick’s Adult Choir from Drumshanbo, St. Mary’s Choir, Carrick-on-Shannon, as well as singers from the parishes of Annaduff, Bornacoola, Granard, Legan and Newtownforbes, and others, travelling separately from other parts of the Diocese, represented the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, as members of the 3,000 strong Liturgy Choir from the four corners of Ireland.

Rehearsals, over the past few months, took place in parish churches, local schools, culminating in a Diocesan practice in St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford and a full choir [national] rehearsal being held at the Show-jumping Arena / Anglesea Stand in the RDS.

Members of Drumshanbo Choir at the Papal Mass in Phoenix Park

The opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families [WMOF] took place simultaneously in the 26 Diocesan Cathedrals around Ireland on Tuesday 21st August. This was the first of the public events for the ‘combined’ diocesan choir, under the baton of musical director and organist of St. Mel’s Cathedral, Fintan Farrelly. The event was ably organised by Fr Turlough Baxter, a former curate in St. Mary’s Carrick-on-Shannon. Drumshanbo lady, Orla Daly had the honour of playing solo accompaniment on the harp for a packed cathedral.

The music in the Phoenix Park, and indeed for the whole of the WMOF conference, in the RDS, was directed by Derek Mahady, a native of Rooskey. Derek also had the singular honour of singing solo verses of ‘A Joy for all the Earth’, the official hymn for WMOF. This hymn was composed by talented young Irish composer, Ephrem Feeley, and found its inspiration in the document ‘Amoris Laetitia’, (The joy of love), written in 2016, by Pope Francis.

The Choirmaster and principal conductor was Dr. John O’Keefe, who fully engaged humorously with, and inspired, the choir.  Indeed, Fr Turlough was the Ardagh and Clonmacnois diocesan co-ordinator of the WHOF and was busily involved in preparation on the Papal Altar, with Derek Mahady.

Hundreds of coaches assembled at the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown and were then provided with a Garda motorbike escort as far as St Brigid’s GAA grounds in Castleknock, at an appointed time. Almost 3000 choristers, from teenagers to octogenarians, filed cheerfully along the 4.5km route, in the heavy morning rain. Not even the inclement weather could dampen their spirits. A ‘sea’ of multi-coloured rain ponchos, which covered rucksacks filled with flasks and sandwiches to sustain the pilgrims, flowed smoothly all the way to the Papal Altar. It was simple, yet striking, the papal cross freshly re-painted; a rich red carpet adorned the steps of the altar, which was festooned in simple floral arrangements of yellow and white, the papal colours.

Among those proudly seated in the front row of priests, nearest the papal altar, were Fr. Tony Gilhooly, a native of Drumshanbo, and Fr. Michael McGrath. Fr. Tony was ordained to the priesthood in September 2013, after many years of public service with Leitrim County Council.  Fr. Michael was a curate in the parish of Kiltoghert, Carrick-on-Shannon, for many years. Both are now serving in St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford.

Fr Tony Gilhooly, native of Drumshanbo

After a most uplifting ceremony, the Pope concluded the mass, saying that the Church in Ireland is strong as well as fragile, and prayed earnestly that this visit would be a Spring in the Church after the Winter of dark days, a poignant prayer that resonated with both those present and television viewers alike. Before the final blessing, it was announced that the next WMOF will be held in 2021 in Rome.

The happy coachload of singers from Drumshanbo, Carrick, Annaduff, Bornacoola, Newtownforbes, Granard and Legan, quipped that they would keep their choir books safe for the next three years and re-group for Rome in 2021, as they went their separate ways, back to their own parish choirs.

Article submitted by Sinéad Tracey, secretary of St Mary's Choir, Carrick-on-Shannon.

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