On this Sunday, mass will be celebrated in Ennis Cathedral by Bishop Fintan Monahan to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Carmody Hotel tragedy.
Music for the mass, which will remember the eight who died on January 15, 1958 and others affected by the tragedy, will be sung by the Enniscorthy Choral Society, under the musical direction of the Ennis-born Donagh Wylde.
The choir is an amateur mixed-voice group of 30 singers from the Enniscorthy area and the county of Wexford.
The choir has travelled extensively in Ireland and abroad for competitions and performances, including England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Highlights include performances in Rome, Belgium and Prague.
The music to be sung is The Mass of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, written by Ernest De Regge for an outside broadcast by Radio Éireann in 1947 by Ennis Cathedral Choir.
De Regge was the organist and choirmaster in Ennis Cathedral from 1923 until his untimely death in the Carmody’s Hotel tragedy. He and seven others died when a floor collapsed under the weight of an auction crowd. He was also a music teacher in St Flannan’s College and influenced generations of musicians in the town and beyond.
Donagh Wylde was born in 1962, four years after the Carmody’s Hotel disaster so he never met De Regge. His father’s uncle, Willie Meehan from Carmody Street, spoke French and when De Regge arrived in Ireland, aged 22 in 1923, with little or no English, Willie was one of his first and most important contacts in the town.
They became fast friends and De Regge spent a lot of time in the Meehan household (Donagh’s grandmother’s family home). Several of Donagh’s relatives feature in the photographs of the choir, from the early years right up to the last choir photograph taken of the group.
A number of elements came together, which prompted Donagh to revive De Regge’s music – the high quality of the music itself, the commemoration of the Carmody’s Hotel tragedy and his link with De Regge through his father’s memories and stories and profound respect for the man.
Donagh was introduced to the music of De Regge by his father, Denis, who studied piano with De Regge in the 1930s and ’40s. Donagh’s first experience of De Regge’s music was through a short set of variations on The Last Rose of Summer for piano, which he has happy memories of Denis playing.
Shortly before he died in 1998, Donagh’s father gave him a set of photocopies of Maestro De Regge’s music, which included a substantial amount of choral music, both sacred and secular, includingThe Mass of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, which will be sung this weekend. Other works included were some motets, masses and arrangements of Irish folksongs published by An Gum.
Donagh stored these away on his music shelves in a folder marked De Regge. A few years ago, they caught his eye and he felt inspired to take them down from the shelf.
Another inspiration for the revival of De Regge’s music was the radio documentary, As If Night Fell, by Ennis-based journalist Gerry Quinn, which tells the poignant story of the Carmody’s Hotel disaster through the accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses, including Denis, Donagh’s father.
It has always been a source of wonder to Donagh how musical performance can connect you directly with the past. He said, “Ernest De Regge’s music is a conduit; our singing and performance of it allow his musical voice to reach out to us from the past, connecting his time, place and community with ours, uniting us all in a common spiritual bond.
Through this revival, we have reconnected across time and space with former choir members and, of course, the De Regge family, singing the mass in his hometown of Overmeers in Belgium and in Rome also.”
For this, the 60th anniversary, Donagh’s cousin, Martin Meehan, son of George Meehan, longtime organist at Ennis Cathedral, will join the choir to sing the mass, thereby maintaining another family connection down through the years.
The mass is one of a number of events organised to commemorate the anniversary of the disaster. John Bradley of the Clare Roots Society will also launch a book on Carmody’s Hotel in the parish centre, following the mass.
By Jessica Quinn