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Town in tune for gospel choir festival

ENNIS is to host the first ever national gospel choir festival next May with gospel choirs from all over the country set to sing in the town.
It has emerged that the Really Truly Joyful Gospel Choir in Ennis, who this week celebrate their fourth birthday, have been chosen to host the festival next year.
“We’re delighted to be chosen to host this brand new festival. Ennis is a perfect town for such an event in that it has a wide variety of accommodation options, professional concert venues, excellent transport routes, city-style amenities in a town environment and an inspiring community spirit as seen for Muhammad Ali’s visit,” said Fiona Walsh of the Really Truly Joyful Gospel Choir.


Members of the Ennis Gospel Choir performing at the Clare County Show in Ennis.  Photograph by John Kelly.

The festival will feature workshops for choirs, as well as performances.
“There are so many gospel choirs setting up in Ireland now and we don’t have a tradition of gospel music in Ireland. We need support in training, repertoire and, of course, it will be nice for us all to pull together and meet with like minded individuals,” she added.
This week saw the local gospel choir celebrate their fourth birthday in style, singing as part of the town’s festivities to welcome former world boxing champion Muhammad Ali. The choir entertained those gathered at the Abbey Street Car Park to witness Ali receiving the honorary Freeman of Ennis award via big screen.
“We mark our birthday each year in some way but we could never had thought that on our fourth birthday we would be welcoming Muhammad Ali to Ennis,” she said.
“I came within a foot of him in 2003 when I was working with the Special Olympics and I had a great sense of the significance of the occasion. I thought it was a once in a lifetime chance,” she laughed.
And if the performance at the Ali celebrations isn’t enough, it’s been a busy birthday week for the choir. They have performed at the Clare County Show at the weekend and at the monthly Mass with a Difference in St Joseph’s Church, along with keeping up with regular rehearsals. And on Friday, they will be bringing a version of their show, A Gospel Experience, to Bridgetown Church.
“The commitment of the choir has been fantastic. Usually we do something to mark our birthday, but what we have been doing this week has been a real celebration for us. We see the choir as being very much a part of the community and between the county show, Muhammad Ali, the mass, the concert and other community events, these are all aspects of what we are, so what better way to celebrate our birthday,” said Fiona.
Since beginning four years ago, the choir has grown and grown with performances in a variety of locations throughout the country. They have welcomed the London City Gospel Choir to Ennis and performed alongside musicians such as Tommy Fleming, along with releasing charity CDs and being a Lyric fm choir finalist.
The choir are now joined at the monthly Mass with a Difference in St Joseph’s Church by a band with Michael Hennessy and sons.
Their production of A Gospel Experience sold out in Glór and their performance in Thurles at the start of the year helped raise €16,000 for charity.
They have received support from Ennis Town Council, Clare County Council, Glór, Joe Betts at Ardsoilse and Carmel Griffin.
Although the choir has grown, they have not lost their essential ethos of being a community choir for all. The Really Truly Joyful Gospel Choir prides themselves on being a non-audition choir open to singers of mixed abilities.
“That is an important part of who we are. We welcome everyone into our choir regardless of their background or abilities. One of the real achievements of the choir is that even though most of the choir have no singing experience, have not auditioned and have no musical background, their singing succeeds in lifting congregations and audiences wherever they perform. It really is a case of ordinary people doing something extraordinary,” said Fiona.
The choir are about to begin rehearsals for their new production, Gospel at the Movies, which will be showcased on January 22 and 23, 2010.
“We’re very excited about the new show. We’re working with the Galway Film Centre and it will feature gospel songs that have been used in the movies. People straight away think of Sister Act, but there are lots more. We’re not really looking for new choir members at the moment, but if it is something you have always wanted to do then this Tuesday would be the day to start as we’re working on brand new material for the show,” she said.
With four years already behind them, the gospel choir are firmly looking to the future with their new show and the festival.
“Four years ago I didn’t think we’d still be here. But it’s much more than the music. It’s like a little family, we’ve even had four choir babies born since we started. We’ve all been through different things personally but the choir has always been a constant and we’re just going to keep on going,” concluded Fiona.

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