The Michael English Charity Concert in St Brendan’s RC Church, Birr on Thursday evening last was a huge success, packing out the church, providing fantastic entertainment and raising thousands for charity.
Michael English is a hugely popular and very busy Irish Country singer who runs a really impressive and polished show, a show with a lot of razzmatazz and panache. He and his band of about ten musicians, including guitarists, a violinist, a saxophonist, trumpeter and drummer, are constantly on the road travelling around Ireland and abroad. Michael reminds one of Daniel O’Donnell as he has a similar clean-cut, homely personality and puts on shows which sometimes feel a bit old school. They are certainly celebratory of long-cherished values of decency and charitable behaviour in Irish society, values which are obviously profoundly important to Irish people. In a global economy where souls have been replaced by economic units this celebration of the things that are decent about us can feel very welcome, like arriving at an oasis.
The concert in Birr lasted for three hours but everyone had enjoyed themselves so much they were reluctant to leave. Afterwards there was a real feel good appraisal of the show, with many locals opining that it was a highlight during the town’s year.
There was actually not that much Country music in the show. The first half featured a selection of classic, much-loved songs with great melodies and powerful messages. The second half was devoted to Christmas music, for which Michael replaced his green jacket with a more festive red jacket. The second half also saw one of the highlights when Michael invited Fr Michael Reddan on stage to sing a solo. Fr Michael gave a committed, robust rendition of Red is the Rose, for which the crowd joined in at the chorus. Fr Anthony Sajeesh was also called up to the stage for the song “Dance All Night.” The audience were on their feet now and it was great seeing the clergy dancing with the band on the stage. Fr Michael, who was obviously really enjoying himself, even did a bit of air guitar at one stage. Everybody was clapping and singing along - “Come Sunday morning and I feel so bad my legs are tired and weak, Monday morning I got the blues, I’m so hoarse I could hardly speak. Then Tuesday Wednesday drank some more, Thursday bores me too but Friday night I feel alright ‘cos now I’m gonna dance with you. Everybody turn to the left, everybody turn to the right, Take one step forward and one step back we’re gonna dance all night.”
The evening began with three songs performed by the Birr Choral Society, St Brendan’s RC Church Choir and the Carrig Church choir conducted by Michael Hanna and accompanied by Enda O’Connor. This was very well received by the audience. The songs included the lovely number by Eddy Arnold, “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere” with its hopeful and uplifting lyrics, “Somewhere the sun is shining, somewhere the songbirds dwell. Hush then your sad repining; God lives and all is well. Somewhere, somewhere beautiful isle of somewhere.”
Michael was full of praise for the choirs including Gerry Dolan who, he said, was “a gentleman” and had been very helpful in organising the rehearsals. “The choirs and I have been rehearsing for the last month,” said Michael, “and their contribution and effort has been fabulous.” Later on in the concert one of the choir members, Conor McDowall, sang a beautiful rendition of “Away in a Manger.” Conor wasn’t phased at all by the big occasion and sang the classic carol with feeling and sensitivity.
A couple of other highlights of the first half of the evening included the heartfelt “Lady of Knock” and the rousing and wonderful “May we never have to say Goodbye” (which would make a great opening anthem at sporting events). The audience joined in for the chorus of Lady of Knock, “Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland, all my cares and troubles cease as we kneel with love before you, Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace.” The choir sang with great energy and feeling “May we never have to say Goodbye” - “So come we all to take our chances, For we’re prepared to try; To run the race, to face the challenge, And may we never have to say goodbye.”
Speaking to the Tribune after the concert, Darren Mulledy (the Chairperson of the organising committee) was strong in his praises of the business community of Birr. “The retailers and business community were fabulous,” he said. “They really got behind this concert and financially supported it. They are a credit to their community.” He said more than €30,000 has been raised for charity, including an anonymous donation of €10,000 which was dramatically announced during the concert.
“The Concert Committee,” he said, “came together through Eoghan Jennings, who is a member of Birr Community Responder Group for the past five years. Birr Community Responder Group then decided they would involve other local charities that have touched families in the community and surrounding areas. The charities chosen are, Billy’s Recovery Story, Birr Community Responder Group, Birr Mental Health Association, Lorrha Community Responder Group, Offaly Hospice, South Westmeath Hospice, as it would be difficult to find a family in the areas that has not been touched by one of the charities chosen. A donation will also be made to St Brendan’s Catholic Church who very kindly agreed to host the concert. I was invited to come on board to represent the South Westmeath Hospice, who provide hospice and specialist palliative care services to people that need it. Their area covers all of County Longford, South Westmeath, South Roscommon and West Offaly. In 2009 I lost my wife to cancer and the support the Palliative Care Team gave me was overwhelming. The care and attention they gave my wife was unreal and I will be eternally grateful. Our concert organising committee started working on the event last September, and the group has worked and gelled very well together.”
Billy’s Recovery Story is an especially poignant charity. Four years ago Billy Goulding was a healthy two year old boy playing with his sister when he suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to Temple Street and diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of his spinal cord that has since left Billy paralysed. Against expectations, Billy’s parents have seen improvements and continue to support his recovery through private home physiotherapy and twice-yearly visits for specialist care in Stoke Mandeville in England. This is of course a huge challenge for the family financially, therefore the concert committee decided to donate some money to them.
Birr Community Responder Group was founded by local Birr man David McEvoy in March 2012. After being trained in CPR and First Aid in April 2009, three weeks later his own Dad, Peter, suffered a cardiac arrest. Thankfully David knew to start chest compressions straight away and continued to do so until help arrived. Paramedics arrived on the scene a short while later and continued to resuscitate. After 43 minutes David’s Dad was saved by a dedicated team all working together.
Since March 2012 Birr Community Responder Group have attended over 900 calls from the National Ambulance Service. The group consists of 18 very strong voluntary members who give up their time to help with these calls.
Darren said people are able to view some footage from the concert on the facebook page Michael English Charity Concert. It’s also been confirmed that Michael English and his band will be returning to Birr for another charity concert next year.