Those who sing pray twice

A friend once told me that the quality of choral singing in her local church was such that even the most familiar hymns sounded unfamiliar. For those who frequent the Augustinian church on Sunday mornings, the reverse is true as each Sunday is made special by the wonderful four-part harmonies and beautiful singing of the choir there. A century ago they were referred to in the local press as ‘magnificent’ and even then were singing works by Haydn, Mendelsshon, and Weber.

Today their range of material is even wider, and varies quite a bit depending on the time of year... ‘Hail Glorious St Patrick’ in March, ‘Regina Caeli’ or ‘The Halleluiah Chorus’ at Easter, ‘All in the April Evening’, ‘The Queen of the May’, Christmas carols including their never to be forgotten ‘Silent Night’, etc. Mind you, you can get the occasional ‘Happy Birthday’ or maybe ‘Galway Bay’ if we are in a final, lullabies for christenings, and always wonderful dignity for a funeral. Whatever the occasion, they add a whole new dimension to the liturgy.

They have a long tradition of high standards which is why they regularly get standing ovations from the congregation. They obviously love singing because many of them remain in the choir for a long time. Jimmy Dooley joined in 1939 (because his wife to be Nelly was in it ) and, remarkably, he still sings with them. Sonny Molloy joined in 1940 and still conducts. Patricia Lillis has been playing the organ for 28 years.

In the early days the presence of the choir was unreliable and episodic, people drifting in and out at will with no real commitment. In the late forties the Prior Fr Thomas White set about reorganising it and appointed Fr Anthony Mansfield as choirmaster. He was the one who really set up the choir in its present format. His ambition was to have the best choir in the city in place for the centenary of the Augustinian church which was coming up in 1955, so he recruited new talent from various schools and other choirs. In 1952 Mrs Jeanne Byrne replaced Miss Biddy O’Halloran as organist. Some of those in the bass line at the time were Jimmy Dooley, Paddy Corcoran, Tom Lynskey, Paddy Kelly, Dick Byrne, Gerry Glynn, Finn McRea, and John Armitage.

Among the sopranos were Marie Geraghty, Miss Francis, Breda Green, Bernie Folan, Bernie Ryan, Teasy Geraghty, Grace Semple, and Nelly Dooley. The altos included Mrs Wallace, Dolores Kelly, Lou Buchan (Geraghty ), Bernie Corcoran, and Maura Joyce (O’Connor ). Among the tenors were Johnny Cloherty, Tom Coogan, and Sonny Molloy. They rehearsed in the room behind the sacristy every Wednesday night, and sometimes after Mass on Sunday.

A feature of this group since then has been their willingness to experiment and take on new material. This evening they break new ground when they launch a CD entitled To Sing is to Pray Twice which they recorded during the summer. It will be launched in the Kenny Gallery by Reverend Patrick Towers and it is a beautiful collection of many old favourites which are very evocative for anyone who has heard these choristers.

So, by way of thanking them for their important contribution to the quality of life in Galway over the years, we have a photograph take in 1985 of a presentation being made to Johnny Cloherty in celebration of his 50 years singing with the choir. He joined on November 18 1935. In front are Sonny Molloy, Mayor Bridie O’Flaherty, who made the presentation, Fr John O’Shea PP, and Patricia Lillis. Other members of the choir are, second row: Noel O’Rourke, Martina Duggan, Ann O’Hehir, Lisa McLoughlin, Mary Cantwell, Ann McDonagh, and John Armitage. Third row: Michael Staunton, Tom Lynskey, Michael O’Hehir, Ann McManus, Hilary McLoughlin, Joan Armitage, Dolores Glynn, Mary O’Leary, and Clare Madigan. At the back are Joe McDonagh, Cathal Cunningham, Gerry Staunton, Denis Killeen, Michael Giblin, Gerry Glynn, Declan Rapple, and John Mannion.

Tomorrow evening at 8pm, Birdwatch Galway will host an illustrated lecture entitled ‘The magic of Rahasane Turlough’ which will be given by Pete Capsey. Rahasane is one of the most important habitats in the country. Admission is free but contributions will be gratefully accepted.

On Monday next, October 13, at 8pm, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture in the Harbour Hotel entitled ‘The Galway Mechanics Institute’. The Mechanics Institute was established in 1825 to improve awareness of the importance of practical education, especially science. It was later linked with the Temperance Movement. It sounds fascinating. All are welcome.

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