On the banks of the famous salmon-fishing river Moy, Ballina, stands the imposing cathedral of St Muredach, patron saint of Killala diocese. Regina Deacy, organist and director of music in St Muredach’s since 1998, gives an account of the life of music-making there over recent years. Regina is a graduate of UCC where she obtained Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music in the early 1990’s. She also received a diploma in Church Music and Liturgy from NUI Maynooth and subsequently completed a research Masters Degree in sacred music under Professor Gerard Gillen, also in Maynooth. Regina is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Church Music to the Bishops and she is also employed as a full-time music teacher in St Mary’s Secondary School, Ballina.
If St Muredach’s cathedral is Ballina’s signature building, then St Muredach’s Cathedral choir is its signature institution. Going back into the reaches of the nineteenth century,the choir has been a constant of Ballina’s life, known for its sustained excellence of liturgical music. Today, the SATB choir has a membership of forty choristers and is a successful blend of experienced and young voices. Its membership includes many fine soloists and instrumentalists who have been successful on the national and international stage.
The choir rehearse every Thursday evening and sing at 11am mass every Sunday in St Muredach’s Cathedral as well as at the usual liturgical highpoints in the seasons of the church year.
What we sing…
The repertoire of the choir is varied and includes plainchant, 16th century motets and music by contemporary composers, many of them Irish composers such as Ronan McDonagh. In 2007, the choir commissioned Ronan to compose music to the text of the Easter hymn ‘O filii et filiae’ for the live televising of the Easter ceremonies from the Cathedral. The result was the beautiful Come Christians all Rejoice and Sing, now known as the Song of the Resurrection. St Muredach’s were delighted the following year to host Ronan’s beautiful newly-formed choir Fuamlaoi in October 2008.
Recording and travel!
In Advent, 2008, the choir produced a best-selling CD of Christmas Carols, Glory to the New Born King, recorded in St Muredach’s Cathedral. One of the tracks from the CD was featured on Lyric FM during the Christmas season of that year.
In November 2010, the Cathedral choir travelled to London where they provided music for the 6pm mass on the Feast of Christ the King in Westminster Cathedral. Westminster Cathedral provided a set programme of music to which we were able to add Ronan McDonagh’s Faith, Hope and Love and the choirs’ SATB arrangement of O Riada’s Ag Críost a Síol. These pieces moved many to tears, especially Irish people living in London who attended the mass!
The choir also led the singing at the Irish mass on the Thursday of The Eucharistic Congress in the RDS in Dublin in June 2012. It was a wonderful experience to be immersed in the atmosphere of that unique week. The event also holds a special place in our hearts as Fr Muredach Tuffy,who accompanied us on the trip, sadly went to his eternal reward several months later. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
In July 2014, the choir received the prestigious honour of singing in the Vatican. After a rigorous application and auditioning process for the choir, lasting many months, the special invitation to sing in St Peter’s Basilica was extended to the choir in February by Padre Pierre Paul OMV, Maestro di capella- musical director- of Capella Giulia, the choir of St Peter’s.
The trip wasa huge success and the choir left a deep impression on the vast congregation in attendance Bishop Fleming who concelebrated the mass at the beautiful altar of the Chair of St Peter was immensly proud of the Ballina choir. The choir and their supporters present found the experience overwhelming, emotional and unforgettable!
Also in 2012 the choir came of the gallery for the first time and put on a feast of classical, sacred and Irish favourites in the newly-formed Arts Centre in Ballina to help raise funds for its completion. Indeed, so successful was the event that the choir hosted another fundraising concert in May 2013, this time for Cathedral funds, particuarly for the cleaning and general repairs of our beautiful pipe organ. The valuable two-manual pipe organ, one of Kenneth Jones’ first in the country, is a gem in the cathedral and is an integral part of every liturgical celebration.
St Muredach’s Cathedral is committed to the ongoing training of young people as cantors and organists and the fruits of that process are being seen at present. Several younger members of the choir are pursuing both undergraduate and postgraduate college courses in music and in theology in Maynooth and elsewhere. Some of these are also receiving further vocal and organ tuition in these institutions. These students travel home at weekends to Ballina to accompany the choir and assist in the cantor training of younger members. Over recent years, the parish has facilitated many young cathedral choir members to attend the Irish Church Music Association Summer School in Maynooth where they experience a wonderful week of tuition in all disciplines of church music and had a great time in the process!
Indeed, so impressed was Bishop Fleming by the interest of these young people in church music, that he is in the process of establishing a Cathedral Music scholarship fund, where young people can formally apply to the fund for assistance for their music tuition.
In addition to the Cathedral choir, there are a number of very committed cantors and organists who lead the singing at the other weekend masses. There is also a youth choir who sing at a dedicated youth mass every fortnight.
The crux of it all…
In the midst of all of the achievements and activities of the cathedral choir, the core of and reason for our existence is to raise the hearts and minds of people at our liturgies to a deeper contemplation of the mystery, majesty and love of God. The choir is deeply committed to this task and constantly strive to better themselves and to choose music that will facilitate this. We know as a choir that we need to strive harder to facilitate congregational singing for example!
May God be a constant support to us in our work and help us to continue to use our talents to serve Him.