Live from the pitch on England/Ireland Soccer Friendly June 6th, 2015

 

LISTEN TO BOTH ANTHEMS HERE

Wayne Rooney is tiny. Really tiny. I stood less than ten feet away from him on Sunday, on the pitch in the Aviva, and I reckoned I was taller than him. When I got home I checked and so I am. But then I reckoned I was taller than most of the Irish and English football players as the two teams lined up before the momentous replay of the friendly match twenty years ago. The original match that was stopped short with rioting.

I was part of the Island of Ireland Peace Choir and we had been rehearsing for the past two months. We had a four part harmony for the British National Anthem and a three part for the Irish. There was no favouritism. We had to play it down the middle, play fair and make sure each team got a rousing welcome.

Jack Chjack charltonarlton, on the other hand, is very tall. He was also very emotional. A little skinny, he has not been well recently apparently. His grin was ear to ear. The crowd, all of the crowd, gave him a standing ovation. He was moved to tears. We clapped hard. The crowd cheered. It was an electric beginning.

 

The grass was wet with sprinklers. We had to duck these earlier. The paint was wet on the grass too. We had to avoid the lines. Do not step on the lines. We had to line up behind the team, smaller than expected up close, and never lose our concentration.

We had practised our unflappable faces. We were to be unstoppable. Regardless of the reaction from the crowd we were to remain fixated on our musical director.

The President, who is, to be fair, football sized, met the teams.  We got into position.

Then, we heard our introduction. We closed our ears to everyone else, looked nowhere else. Took the huge intake of air with which to sing. And sang.

It was the fastest two minutes of my life.  I don’t recall anything going so fast – it was like the final rattle of an examination with the clock racing around to the end point. We were so focused we did not have time to think.

The sound engineers set our volume to high, to stun. And we sung to stun. The BBC said that both anthems were immaculately observed before kickoff. I think there may have been some additional hubris but it counted for very little. The Irish Times said we were set to Spinal Tap 11 stun.

And then it was over. With the blood still ringing in our ears we stopped. Jack Charlton was not the only emotional person on the pitch. We paused. We didn’t want to leave the pitch and then piecemeal we turned and left the ground. We were like survivors, shell shocked and dazed. As we entered the tunnel to leave, the crowds clapped us again, some standing to show their appreciation.

And with our hearts beating, our eyes bright and our cheeks reddened we left the arena. It was without any doubt the most exciting part of the entire day.

Jillian Godsil

Island of Ireland Peace Choir

 

 

 

Messines – Happy Christmas Everyone!

 

Don Mullan, author, humanitarian and Christmas Truce ambassador, stood in front of two graves in Messines, Belgium. On the left was Private T Delaney of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died on Christmas Eve 1914 and on the right, was Private M Murphy of the same division who died on December 30th.  It was a charged and emotional moment as he spoke of the 1914 Christmas Truce. That first Christmas in the war that was to end all wars and had already broken another promise of being over by Christmas. The gap in the dates on the two gravestones indicated that the truce, or at least the death toll, had temporarily stretched for five days. In a war that killed 13,000 men a day, this was a significant easement. Mullan said if the dead solders could talk, they would exhort the living to live, live, live. We, the Waterford Omagh Peace Choir, sang Red is the Rose with difficulty. Everyone was obviously and visibly upset, especially the very youngest members, and we struggled through the verses. This moment had been four years in the planning and the choir carried its emotion in the song.

 

The 1914 Christmas Truce is well documented at this stage. It is said a young German tenor sang Silent Night or Stille Nacht, prompting the Allies soliders to sing carols in return. Tentatively, solders from each side emerged from the trenches and exchanged cigarettes and brandy. They showed the ‘enemy’ pictures of their loved ones. They played a game of football with the Germans winning 3-2. It is one of the more extraordinary and poignant stories to emerge from the senseless slaughter of millions, 18million to be more accurate, before the carnage finished.

 

It had been intended that Jeffrey Donaldson and Martin McGuiness would accompany the choir but the talks breaking down in Stormont had put paid to that plan. Instead, Brenda Hale, MLA, joined the 40-strong choir on our trip. Her story moved us deeply. Her husband had been an officer in the British Army, but had been killed fighting in Afghanistan five years ago. Her profound dignity and sorrow touched us on a very personal level. She spoke movingly of the sacrifice her family had paid for the price of democracy. In Brenda we could see the human cost to war, any war.

 

The choir itself had been founded out of war and the Omagh bombing in 1998 when Phil Brennan, musician and writer based in Waterford, reached across the divide to use music to heal. Over the years the choir had grown to encompass singers from Tullow, Wicklow, Gorey, and even Clare when renowned tenor Jerry Lynch brought his haunting version of A Silent Night to the mix.  The choir had been singing this concert for the past four years and finally had arrived in Messines to give the ultimate Christmas Truce concert.

 

Messines is the smallest city in Belgium and suffered horrendously during World War 1. The entire city was raised to the ground, with only the crypt of St Niklaas church remaining. During the war, the crypt was used as a medical space and a young Bavarian officer was treated for gas inhalation there. He felt it was dishonourable to greet the enemy that Christmas day. His name? Adolf Hitler. The choir visited the crypt and its cold felt even more oppressive with this story. We sang Silent Night in the chill air as if to stem the horror of the memory.

 

Messines is significant for Ireland as two Irish Divisions fought side by side in the battle of Messines Ridge in 1917. Catholic and Protestant from the 36 Ulster Division and the 16 Irish Division fought together and suffered terrible losses. Indeed, three old boys from my Dublin school, The High School, perished on that very battle field: Corporal William Francis, Captain George Porter and Captain Charles Alexander. There are links everywhere that cannot be severed or ignored. In 1998, ironically the same year as the Omagh Bombing, The Island of Ireland Peace Park was unveiled. The park was built by young people from Ireland to commemorate the Irish soldiers, north and south, who perished during World War I.  We visited this beautiful and simple park with its stunning round tower – the slit windows that only light the interior on the date of the Armistice – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. There we formally changed the name of our choir from Waterford Omagh Peace Choir to the Island of Ireland Peace Choir in the presence of the Mayor of Messines.

 

Afterwards we travelled to St Matthew’s church to give our concert. We sang from our hearts, the memory of the graves of the solders still in our thoughts and none more so that the tragically engraved stones for unknown solders bearing the inscription – A Soldier of the Great War – known onto God.

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Messines – The 1914 Christmas Truce

We traveled to Messines for an emotional celebration of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The Waterford-Omagh Peace officially changed its name to the Island of Ireland Peace Choir

Watch the news here 

Here we are singing in Iveagh House with President Emeritus Mary McAleese and in the Independent the next day

RTE  RTE video 

And we were also featured on Nationwide on December 19, 2014

 

And we went a bit viral along the way ….. including marking it into the UK Telegraph 

graves