Concert for peace in Knock was ‘almost a religious experience’

The ‘Concert for Peace’ held at Knock Basilica to commemorate the 1916 Rising and the First World War was “fantastic”, according to shrine rector Fr Richard Gibbons. 

Describing the evening as “a wonderful night”, Fr Gibbons said the concert, performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and conducted by David Brophy, was the first time they had hosted something of that scale in the basilica, and added, “we were extremely happy with it”. 

The concert was divided into two parts, the first being Patrick Cassidy’s ‘Elegy Suite for 1916’, drawing together older pieces by him such as his ‘Vide Cor Meum’ from the film Hannibal and ‘A Supplication’ from Famine Remembrance with his more recent ‘Mise Éire’, ‘Irish Volunteers’ and ‘The Proclamation’ from the major documentary 1916: The Irish Rebellion.

Alluding to how Patrick Cassidy had been born at Claremorris, just a few miles from the shrine where his father had been a volunteer, Fr Gibbons said “the Cassidys have a very strong local connection, so it was wonderful to have their music performed here”, adding “the talent that’s even in that family unit was extraordinary, so it was kind of a ‘coming home’ for that”.

The second part of the concert consisted of extracts from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins, originally dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and in Knock “commemorating all those who died in the First World War”, according to Fr Gibbons.

Extra dimension

Explaining how the concert had come about, Fr Gibbons related how his cousin Anne Marie Gibbons, the mezzo-soprano who sang in the concert, had approached him saying that the Western Choral Society and Cór Mhaigh Eo were interested in putting on a commemorative centenary concert in the basilica. 

They had been discussing whether this would be possible, and said the Mayo International Choral Festival would love to put this on, so Fr Gibbons encouraged them to go ahead, not least as events such as this were “part and parcel of why the basilica was refurbished – to give an extra dimension to it”. 

Clearly delighted with how the newly refurbished basilica had worked as a concert setting, Fr Gibbons added that “the setting with the mosaic lent itself to each of the pieces that were performed there on the night”. Describing this as “extraordinary”, he cited how during the ‘Agnus Dei’ in the Mass for Peace, “your eyes would literally be drawn to the lamb and the cross on the altar”, noting how one priest who attended, and who goes to many concerts, said that performance had been “almost a religious experience”.  

Following this success, it’s hardly surprising that Fr Gibbons is keen for this to be but the first of many such events. “There’s another one coming up in October,” he says. 

“The season, of course, keeps us extremely busy”, he explains, pointing out that during the pilgrimage season the physical aspect of staging a full concert orchestra would not be practical, “but after the season there are plans for more concerts, of a sacred nature of course”.

“One very big one,” he continues, “is an initiative by Willy Hughes in Dublin, called The Creation Concert, linking in with Laudato Si’, on October 15.” 

In the meantime, those unfortunate enough not to have been among the 2,700 people in attendance at the concert will have a chance to enjoy it – without its distinctive and sacred setting – when it  will be broadcast on RTÉ Lyric FM later this year.