The Clonmore Choir has been a wonderful vehicle for putting Clonmore firmly on the map, through performances, recordings and goodwill gestures. The choir has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It would be remiss however, not to testify to the already strong musical talent in the area and within the Sacred Heart community.
Many have spoken fondly of the congregational singing which was always strongly upheld in the chapel and as some local people have suggested would have been talked about with envy in other churches and parishes. The fostered talent from Clintyclay Primary School may have played an important role here as music and singing was always of much importance in the school. Memories will be clear of approximately 25 years ago, the orange and brown ‘Hymns Old and New’ which the congregation turned to for words of the chosen hymn, the numbers of which were displayed on the board on the altar. Ciaran Donaghy was positioned on the right hand side of the altar and old favourites like ‘Colours Of Day’, ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ and ‘Go The Mass Is Ended’ filled the building with a mixture of voices ‘old and new’.
After the disrepair of the organ, the music quelled and for a period of time, there was no singing. In about 1995/1996, Gerald Muldoon set up a choir – mainly made up of youth members from the area who sang more folk style hymns. Niamh McNally assisted Gerald in arrangements and harmonies and it was a welcome addition to Sunday service. Some of the repertoire included ‘A Little Peace’, ‘Gonna Lay Down My Sword And Shield’ and ‘Just A Closer Walk To Thee’. The choir took part in some parish concerts and it was a great opportunity for the youth of the area to meet. With the university and family commitments of a number of members, the folk choir began to wind down.
After the attack of 1998, Mass was held in the local football hall and approaching the Christmas period, Gerard Cunningham a renowned local musician and Clonmore advocate, took on the task of gathering in members of a choir who had previously been involved in Masses for the deceased members of the football club. Along with other locals, the choir practised in the hall and many will remember the vigil Mass held in the hall that year where Fr Joe McKeever led the congregation in requesting an encore for the choir’s rendition of ‘O Holy Night’. This particular piece along with ‘Sweet Heart Of Jesus’, can perhaps be described as the choir’s ‘signature tunes’.
This group continued to partake in the hall Masses and were joined by other willing members of the community when it came to the rededication ceremony of the Sacred Heart Church in July 1999. From then the choir has rehearsed in the chapel every Tuesday night from 8pm to 10pm (except holiday periods), with unwavering dedication.
There are currently approximately 30 members of the choir and on the Sundays when it sings, there is not much space in the gallery of the chapel. Gerard works with arrangements and harmonies as well as accompanying the choir on guitar. Pat Donaghy plays the organ and on occasion the choir is joined by other talented musicians such as fiddle/harmonica player, Pat Casey whose mother Brigid (née Hurson) came from Clonmore. Wes Taylor has also done much work on the technical side of things through management and provision of sound equipment, maintaining choir books and recording the group’s CDs. His dedication and commitment brings the choir to a new level of professionalism. The choir members range from young to the not so young – there is a lower age limit of first year secondary school or over, but no upper limit. Indeed in P7 at the Primary School there is much talk of being able to join the choir in the following September.
What is unique about the choir is the close family ties, there are few members who are not related in some way to another member in an area where there is only a population of around 50 families. It shows a great capacity for talent to have a choir of 30 who can handle three and four part harmonies.
The choir repertoire includes a mixture of traditional hymns such as ‘Seek Ye First’ and ‘Hail Queen Of Heaven’ and more modern or secular pieces such as ‘Oh Happy Day’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’. Over the years the choir has had much success including highlights such as:
Release of three CDs – ‘Come Now is the Time to Worship’ a live recording to accompany a series of concerts to raise money for youth workers going to Lourdes, this was followed by a studio recorded album ‘Let there be light’ which was sold to raise money to bring the choir to Lourdes. In 2011, the choir release a much anticpated Christmas album “Clonmore Choir Celebrates Christmas”
Representation of the county/diocese at Lourdes – The Choir went as the Diocesan pilgrimage Choir to Lourdes in the Jubilee Year of 2008 (pictured on previous page).
Concert series – the choir performed at sell out concerts in Dungannon, Magherafelt, Kilrea and Cookstown in 2005, performing a programme of over twenty songs.
Guest performances – The choir were the Supporting Act for the Harlem Gospel Choir during their 2007 tour and received a standing ovation in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. In 2008, they returned to the Waterfront as guest support for the Soweto Gospel choir. They were support for Cara Dillon at a St Patrick’s Day festival concert in Armagh Cathedral in 2011.
But despite the success and glory of external performances, the choir has and always will maintain that their most significant and special singing is dedicated to their own people and their own chapel