Heavenly voices as the magical Augustinian choir releases new CD

The Augustinian Choir with leaders Pat Lillis and Sonny Molloy at the launch of the Augustinian Choir's new CD in the Ciy Museum on Tuesday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

The Augustinian Choir with leaders Pat Lillis and Sonny Molloy at the launch of the Augustinian Choir's new CD in the Ciy Museum on Tuesday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Right at the heart of Galway city lies one of its oldest and most frequented establishments, the Augustinian, and this Christmas the church’s renowned choir launch a heart-warming collection of Christmas carols.

The much loved sound of the city choir is one etched in the memories of Galwegians and visitors both past and present. Those lucky enough to attend Sunday Mass at the Augustinian never fail to compliment the professionalism and talent of the group. As one Augustinian patron said: “The choir has a way of reaching people, just as the church doors welcome visitors to pray, the choir embraces you, and communicates an emotional message through song.”

The present home of the Augustinians in Middle Street has served the people of Galway for nearly 150 years, offering a bright shining light of hope to its parishioners and visitors.

The church offers the city a beautiful house of adoration and worship, with a choir that is second to none. However this striking building, nestled among the shops and narrow streets of Galway city, did not appear without incident.

The order stood the test of time despite spending more than 100 years wandering between Forthill, and various safe havens in the city, when evicted from its original home in Bohermore by Henry VIII.

However the foundation stone of the present Gothic church was finally laid on August 28, 1855, and four years later, the church we know today was opened for worship.

The struggle of the order for a permanent place of worship in the city resulted in a strong, resilient, and traditional congregation. Built on the cornerstones of this fine establishment is the Augustinan choir, a choir noted by church goers for its sense of pride, tradition, and skill.

Just like the dedicated and passionate friars who secured the order’s continuity, members of the choir echo their efforts with passion and loyalty.

It does not take long to realise the very mature sound of the tight working choir’s melodies are a combination of its 28 members’ decades of experience.

“A newcomer to the choir has been in it for 10 years,” says choir member Phyllis McNamara.

“The Augustinian is a place that people come back to, attracting them from around the city. It has a real sense of continuity in many ways,” she added.

Ms McNamara’s own grandfather was in the choir, while many other families passed down the tradition and passion to younger generations.

Today’s choir has one man to thank for his persistence and commitment in fulfilling his ambition to have the best choir in the city for the centenary of the Augustinian church in 1955.

Previously a disorganised loose collection of singers, the unreliable group with no real commitment was knocked into shape by the Prior Fr Thomas White, appointing Fr Anthony Mansfield as choirmaster.

His recruitment drive from various schools and choirs resulted in a dedicated, smooth, and sweet sounding choral collective. Some of the members who benefitted from Fr Whites ambition still sing in the choir today, including Jimmy Dooley one of the longest serving members having joined in 1939, and conductor Sonny Molloy who joined a year later in 1940. Other long standing members include Patricia Lillis, organist for more than 28 years.

This Christmas marks the production and launch of the choir’s second CD, a fitting tribute to the group’s vast experience and passion for music. “It contains a collection of Christmas music that we have been singing in the choir for years,” says Ms McNamara. Along with old favourites such as ‘Silent Night’, and ‘Adestes Fideles’, the CD features newer songs like ‘The holly and the ivy’, and ‘Ding dong merrily on high’.

“Last years CD ran into three runs, so we are hoping to sell alot again this Christmas.

“The CD captures the sound of the church, and the choir. Our arrangement of ‘Silent Night’ is an unusual one, and when we sing it there is not a dry eye in the church, the whole arrangement is very beautiful,” added Ms McNamara.

“When we sing we pray,” she said, echoing the words of St Augustine: “To sing is to pray twice,” which ironically was also the title of the group’s first CD.

Christmas Mass at the Augustinian is one to be experienced, with a chill in the air the house of prayer offers a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, with song by candlelight, and a heart-warming community spirit.

“On Christmas night the church is a sea of returning Galwegians, many families have sat in the same seats for years, and even though we’ve changed the configuration they still come.

“Christmas evening is the highlight of the year for the choir. The music is our Christmas prayer, and it wouldn’t be the same without the choir,” concluded McNamara.

Christmas at the Augi is available from the Augustinian church office for €15, or two for €25

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