Singing priest in fine voice

“Christmas when I was a child were very traditional. Santy came, we got up for early Mass and couldn’t touch our toys until we came back home,” recalls Fr Ray Kelly, Oldcastle PP and much loved ‘singing priest.’

“There was Mass and carol singing and of course it was very much about the family. We were always hoping it would snow - just a very traditional Christmas.”

Fr Ray was born in Tyrrellspass, Co Westmeath and there were four in the family, two brothers and two sisters. He will be returning home to Tyrrellspass on Christmas Day, when he has finished Masses in Oldcastle.

“My sister, Regina, died four years ago, and her daughter and family still live in the home place,” he explains.

“I won’t be staying very long because I’ll have to be back in Oldcastle for the following evening’s mass.”

He remembers his childhood Christmases fondly. His grandparents and aunt and uncle, who he was very close to, also lived nearby and were all part of the joy of Christmas.

“Our names would be put on four chairs on Christmas Eve, so we would know what Santy left for each child.”

Some of his favourite Santy presents were Lego and Mecanno.

“I have great memories of those days. We used to get up for 7am Mass and would be looking forward to getting back to the toys.

“I remember too, when Santy stopped coming. Growing up can be hard!”

Fr Ray, who is known the world over as a talented singer, will be releasing a new album for Easter entitled ‘Hallelujah Days’, which was recorded in London prior to the Coronavirus pandemic.

His first album, ‘Where I belong’, released in 2014 was recorded during summer 2014 in a studio created for the purpose in the Parochial House in Oldcastle.

Fr Ray became an internet sensation when a video of him singing a version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ at a wedding in Oldcastle in April 2014 was uploaded to the internet and went viral.

He competed on Britain’s Got Talent in 2018 and wowed the judges, including Simon Cowell, who led a standing ovation .

This time last year, he was rehearsing for Dancing with the Stars and working on his memoir ‘Hallelujah; Memoirs of a Singing Priest’.

Fr Ray was eliminated from the RTÉ dance competition in March.

While things are a lot quieter on the entertainment front for Fr Ray this year, he is expecting to be very busy with parish duties over Christmas.

“The church is closed at the moment because of the Level Five restrictions, but I am hoping that we will at least be back to level three by Christmas,” he says.

At the moment Fr Ray broadcasts mass to his congregation on the internet.

“I have been thinking about Christmas for the past few weeks. “We can have 150 people in the church when restrictions are lifted. The children’s Christmas Eve mass at 6pm is usually jammed so I think I will have to have more Masses.

“There are priests coming home on holidays, so I have them booked and we might have to have a ticket system for the Mass times. Of course everyone will have to wear masks, communion can only be given in the hand.”

Like everyone else, Fr Ray’s plans for the New Year depend very much on what happens regarding COVID-19 and whether recent good news about a vaccine will mean life can return to some level of normal.

One thing he does know is that RTÉ will be reviewing previous Dancing with the Stars competitions in January and he has been interviewed for that.

“I have had half a dozen concerts cancelled this year and I usually do a tour in the US in September. Obviously that didn’t go ahead this year but I am booked for a series of concerts in the US next September, which will depend on the COVID-19 situation.

“I feel so sorry for people like Nathan Carter and Daniel O’Donnell and so many other musicians. They have lost their livelihoods. At least for me it was only a hobby.

“From being in ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ I saw how many people are involved in the industry from make-up to floor managers and that is all gone this year.”

Fr Ray says it is hard to know what the year ahead will bring as regards religious services.

“We had our First Communions in September and we actually had confirmation in early March before any lockdown. “We are revising our ceremonies for next year, but by early spring that might have changed “A vaccine may allow us all get back to normal but I think people will be slow to come out and resume normal life”.

It has been a tough year, particularly when it came to funerals. “Particularly in the beginning having to tell people they could only have 10 people at the funeral was terrible.” He was moved by the way people adapted to the new normal. “People who couldn’t attend funerals lined the streets and the Church avenue. It was their way of expressing their grief to the families.” Strangely, Fr Ray found he had a lot less funerals to officiate this year.“I would often have up to 30 a year, but this year I have only had 10 or 12. It is almost as if people protecting themselves from the virus had kept them safe from everything.”

Fr Ray’s message this Christmas is to continue those efforts to keep healthy and well. “It is important to keep safe and enjoy it as much as possible. I hope everyone has a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas,” he said.

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