Mike Hanrahan tells Fiona McGarry he is on a mission to highlight escalating crisis of Alzheimer’s in our society
STOCKTON’S frontman, Mike Hanrahan, has described himself as being on “a crusade” to improve services for those with dementia and memory loss.
It follows the recent passing of his mother, Mary, who had vascular dementia, and to whom his new single ‘A River Rolls On’ is dedicated.
The deeply personal piece, performed by Mike, along with Sandy Kelly, Lisa Lambe and the inclusive Forget Me Nots Choir, will raise funds for The Alzheimer’s Society.
Mike hopes it will also spark a conversation about an issue facing an increasing number of Irish families.
“After our experience of living with my mam’s dementia, I am on a crusade,” he told The Champion.
“I feel I have to help. Our generation is encountering this condition on a scale not seen before. People are living longer and we’re going to need more supports for those with dementia.
“The whole issue of nursing home care is still stigmatised to some extent. Families go through terrible feelings of depression and face serious questions over their ability to care for their loved ones in the way they need to be cared for. That needs to change.
“Caring for someone with dementia is a really tough ask and nobody is taught how to do this. There’s the pain of watching your loved one disappear in front of your eyes.
“We should be reaching a stage where there is more understanding in society, but there’s still a way to go. We need to talk about dementia.”
The Ennis native said that resources for older generations urgently need to be improved. “We have to create a society that we ourselves would be happy to retire into,” he said.
“At the moment there’s a huge lack of facilities and services. Attitudes need to change too because there’s still a lack of understanding and tolerance for people with memory loss and dementia.”
As Mike and his family come to terms with Mary’s passing, he takes comfort from the fact that she is being honoured in song.
“She was a tremendous lady and, at the age of 91, she left a great legacy behind. We were lucky in that we have a lot of photos of mam when she was young.
“In a ways, we’ve seen her life in pictures.
“When we were young, we’d spend our summers on the farm where she grew up in Tiermaclane. She was a giver and always helping people.
“When I got time, during the lockdowns, to write the song, I had a strong image of a river moving towards the sea. She touched everyone with her grace, like a river flowing.
“When she was deep in dementia, there was a sense of the river needing to reach the ocean.”
Teaming up with a choir for people with memory loss and dementia is another facet of this project that Mike is particularly happy about.
“There’s a few of us who believe that the late Brendan Grace, who did amazing stuff with the Forget Me Nots, is now pulling the strings from above,” he said.
“By a crazy coincidence, Norah Walsh, the director of the choir, turns out to be my second cousin. Mam and dad spent their honeymoon in Dublin at Norah’s house.”
Because of the pandemic restrictions, choir members faced the additional challenge of rehearsing and performing remotely.
“For people that have memory loss, learning a new song is not easy in the first place,” Mike noted.
“Choir members also had to learn to sing into phones and computers. They did a huge amount of work over Zoom and we got 50 to 60 voices sent in to us.
“When restrictions eased, we were delighted to get into studio to record the main vocals, music and percussion.”
Mike’s support for The Alzheimer’s Society has highlighted the need to move the conversation about dementia into the mainstream.
“I’ve just been invited to participate in a podcast hosted by The Global Brain Health Institute (Gbhi.org),” he said.
“That’s led by two prominent medical researchers. In general, people are really reacting to the song because they’re going through what my family has, or they’ve just gone through it. I’ve had so many calls and messages to say thanks for shining a light on this subject.
“I’m asked all the time to do gigs and projects for charity and I don’t consider this charity. It’s a necessity. We have to talk about this.”
Mike and his family have, in recent days and weeks, drawn on the huge support of the people of their native town.
“There’s an amazing community in Ennis,” he said. “We’re so grateful to everyone for their support, especially the people of St Michael’s Villas. We grew up there. It was all big families and we were one big happy family. People were always there to help mam out.
“It has been great to see the humanity of the people of Ennis who have been so decent and so giving. We are also so grateful to everyone at Cahercalla too, where mam lived for the last four years. There are amazing people there.”
‘A River Rolls On’ can be downloaded at Forgetmenotschoir.bandcamp.com/releases.
Full credits on the single include musical arrangement by Norah Constance Walsh, with Aldoc on percussion. Graphic design and video services were provided by Una Healy.
The Alzheimer Society national helpline is open six days a week Monday to Friday 10am–5pm and Saturday 10am–4pm on 1800 341 341. It can be contacted by email to email@example.com, or via live chat at Alzheimer.ie.