Marcus Magee and Band played two sold out shows in the Townhall Cavan recently on the anniversary of Marcus getting a cancer diagnosis. Photo: Anna Wiercioch Kaniuta Photography

It’s the magic of the moment that matters

CONCERTS Cootehill musician and songwriter Marcus Magee recalls courageous cancer journey through music

Ruairi McKiernan

It’s often said there’s nothing like matters of life and death to remind us of what’s truly important. This sentiment filled the air at Townhall Cavan recently for two emotional and triumphant performances by Marcus Magee. The gigs took place on the anniversary of the 39-year-old receiving a stage 4 cancer diagnosis that has inspired a remarkable journey of healing, self-discovery and creativity.

At the time of his diagnosis, Marcus had been living a healthy, full and vibrant life. He was running his own adventure tour business and project managing in wind development with Galetech. With his Danish wife Julie, the pair had just welcomed their third child and were in the midst of a major renovation of their farmhouse while temporarily living with Marcus’ parents.

“We were busy getting on with life when I started to feel unwell,” says Marcus. “I was very tired and decided to get my bloods done which showed I was anaemic but there was nothing else of concern. Shortly after this, my friend Mairéad McDermott came to me in a dream. Mairéad had breast cancer and died in 2020. In the dream, she was giving me a message. It was something very frightening and powerful and I’ve written about it in my song Mac Dee.”

Marcus was eventually diagnosed with colon cancer and life as he knew it would never be the same.

“It became a full-time series of medical appointments, tests, research, and treatments. Needless to say, there was a lot of fear and anxiety and worry for what the future would bring,” he recalls.

Marcus had surgery to remove the tumour in his colon before undergoing chemotherapy, both treatments which took a toll. Things took a further turn after just four of 12 planned cycles of chemotherapy when doctors informed him that cancer had spread to his liver. This led to surgery to remove a tumour from his liver last May followed by Immunotherapy treatment, which is ongoing and showing very positive outcomes. Good news followed and Marcus received his second clear scan just a few weeks ago.

“When you go through something like this, you reflect a lot on your life. You look to find where you can make healthy changes, and ask where is the learning in it. You look back on the past, you worry about the future and you ask yourself, ‘Have I any regrets in life?’

“I had only two that came to mind, probably loads more in reality but one was not to have played one final year with Kill GFC as I stopped playing when I was 30 and I am turning 40 next year so the gap is closing. The other was not to have done anything with my original music. I had used my music to express thoughts that I would have not expressed in my everyday life, which was very important for me, but the year before I got sick my guitar broke and I was just too busy at the time to even play music.”

This realisation that led Marcus to approach Padraig McIntyre at Townhall Cavan and enquire about the possibility of performing his original music on the anniversary of his diagnosis.

“Padraig didn’t know me from Adam but he knew my late Uncle Pete Ward and we had a great conversation. I might have told a bit of a white lie saying I had a band ready to go but something in me knew it was possible. It turned out the date I was looking at was one of only two dates available and the venue booklet was going to print about 24 hours later.”

Tickets for the Saturday night sold out within hours and it was decided to put on a second night and before long that too sold out.

“It was remarkable, the force behind it all,” says Marcus. “I was so fortunate to know the most amazing musicians in my friends Ben Folkman on bass, Darragh Slacke on lead guitar, and Mark Brady on drums. These men have gone above and beyond over the last three months and have just brought my songs to another level. I also roped in my childhood friend Ronan Brady on flute and my rapper pal Bobby from Wexford agreed to do a special guest appearance, as did my brothers Mal and Ray.

“The icing on the cake was having my amazing wife Julie behind me as always, adding her stunning vocal on several of the songs. We ended up practising in Mark’s parents’ garage and it was like being a teenager again. The whole process was very therapeutic, like re-finding a lost part of myself.

“It was a hugely healing experience, not just to return to old songs and write new ones, but also to develop them with friends, and then perform them in front of people I love. It was an experience I’ll always treasure and one I hope to be able to repeat before too long.”

Marcus describes Remember Me as “one of the most emotional and releasing songs for me to write”.

At the time of writing it, Marcus was worried that his illness would deteriorate to the point of being unable to say goodbye to his three children.

“Each verse is a message to each one of the kids. It was an incredibly difficult song to write and to finish but I’m so happy I get to sing it now that I am out the other side.”

Another favourite I Won’t Hold Back captures the great strength, courage, spirit and determination that Marcus has shown in his journey and his message that we have to get out there and live this precious life.

In it he sings “Don't let my fear, appear and linger through the corrupted wall of someone else's view. I teach my experience, remember what I’ve been taught, life is just a dream but it’s got to be sought.”

The band's high-energy performances have left music lovers keen for more of their rich blend of soulful folk, rock, and indie. And with a diverse setlist of songs, deserving of national radio play, hopes are high an album and tour may be on the horizon.

First up is a two-night stint in the Ramor Theatre for the band that now go by the name of “Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men” in April. As is now the trend, tickets for one of Marcus's shows sold out within hours.

Forever grateful

“There are so many people I want to thank for their love and support,” he says. “These are people that I’ll be forever grateful to. Among them are the staff at Cavan Oncology Ward, and those involved with Cootehill Cancer Care and with Cuan.

“My employer Galetech have been phenomenal and of course, there’s my amazing family, friends, and the wider community. I’m also grateful to music, for helping me connect with myself again, and for the joy and insight it brings to people.

“Most of all I’m grateful for this life and excited for what the future will bring. I also know that it’s the magic of the moment that matters, each breath and each word, each hug and each smile”.

'Marcus Magee & The Hollaw Men' will play the Ramor Theatre, Virginia on Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22. While tickets for the Saturday gig are sold out, a few tickets remain for the Friday night via: or box office at 049 4380494.