By Michael McDonagh
Father Ray Kelly, S.P.S. from Tyrrellspass, County Westmeath, is the parish priest of St. Brigid′s & St. Mary’s parish at Oldcastle, County Meath but apart from his clerical duties he is better known as a fine singer.
In 2014 he became world famous when a YouTube video of him singing Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah with adapted words by the ten-year-old bridesmaid Lucy Pitts O’Connor, while officiating at a young couple’s wedding went viral getting over 60 million hits.
As a result of that Universal Music signed him up and released a 10-track album Where I Belong featuring Celtic inspired arrangements of some classic inspirational songs, in time for Christmas 2014.
He released two albums and toured America and Europe but always put his priestly duties first.
More recently Fr Kelly auditioned this year for the 12th series of Britain’s Got Talent, singing Everybody Hurts by R.E.M but having made it to the live shows he was eliminated in the fifth semi-final.
It later came to light that Kelly missed out on a place in the top three after he came fourth in the public voting. Even Simon Cowell was almost moved to tears by his emotional performance.
Coming up to Christmas, I talked to him about his musical career this year and his enduring Christmas album.
“I had a Christmas album that came out about three years ago and it still sells so we push it every Christmas,”
“It is called An Irish Christmas Blessing and we did that for Universal – but I am not with them now as, for want of a better word, they have dropped me.
“It was great working with them though and they were very professional and treated me well and the first album we did was a fantastic album and it still sells amazingly. When we go to concerts I bring some with me and we sell them at the door.
“This year I’m just doing some local concerts and a few concerts around Ireland I’m going down to Kerry and I was in Cavan for one last week and last Sunday I was in Meath, the county I am in but I don’t do as many as I could as my work here as a priest takes precedent and I have another life here in the parish.
“Britain’s Got Talent was a great experience as well and I’d never regret doing it and Simon Cowell was moved by the song Everybody Hurts.
“I was not expecting the reaction at all as I had a bad experience on a similar talent show in Germany where I ended up walking off the stage and said I would never do talent shows like that again.
“Britain’s Got Talent was an amazing experience and I really enjoyed it and Simon was very polite and mannerly and afterwards, he said he would be seeing me again. ITV and Fremantle were very helpful and very professional so it was good to take positive memories from it.
“The Church is very happy with me doing my singing as long as it does not interfere with my parish duties and some see it as a vocation in itself because people are moved by it and they see the church in a different light and the priesthood in a different light by it as well.
“I enjoy it as long as I can, and I am no spring chicken anymore, so to be able to do it and to be able to do a bit of good is great.
“The only thing I’d love to do is I’m A Celebrity but I doubt if I’d be asked to do that.”
Then as priestly duties called the irrepressible Fr Frank wished me and the readers of the Irish World well for Christmas and went off on his Christmas rounds.