Faith, fame and music with The Priests

Faith, fame and music with The Priests The Priests
Despite musical success The Priests ‘are the opposite of the Rolling Stones’, writes Chai Brady


Even while rubbing shoulders with musicians as critically acclaimed as Rihanna, Tom Jones and more, The Priests look at it is as an opportunity towards an “encounter” and even a possibility to evangelise celebrities.

Breaking the Guinness Book of Records on sales for a classical act, worldwide concerts and international fame may seem like a full time gig, but The Priests manage to continue fulfilling their parish obligations and never forget their evangelical mission.

With Christmas day just over a week away the group has been very busy with live performances. They toured across the US last month but returned to Ireland for gigs in counties across the country during Advent, which continue into January.

Sitting down with The Irish Catholic, brothers Fr Martin and Fr Eugene O’Hagan agreed they are “very privileged” to meet famous, talented musicians, but added “they’re also getting used to meet us!”.

“Maybe some have never met a priest before, in a sense there’s a whole new encounter that begins to emerge there,” said Fr Martin.

“They are as intrigued as we are about them, insofar as they want to learn about what makes us tick. So in a sense it’s been good interacting with the musical world, it’s been very rewarding, and you never know what might happen as a result of that chemistry that has happened through the encounter, it could be again a reigniting of a sense of Faith.”

Their Faith and music are inextricably linked, with their performances being a “very gentle type of evangelisation” according to Fr Eugene.

Many people who go to see them know what to expect, he said, they may come from a background of various religions or none but music can be used as a conduit to reignite or generate a curiosity about the Catholic Faith.

Fr Eugene said: “As has happened for so many people they’ve heard us by accident and that has been a bit of a hook for them to find out more. People have said to us they have thought again about their Faith and some have turned to a more active practice of their Faith.”


Everything kicked off for The Priests 10 years ago, when an A&R talent scout from Sony Music was looking for a priest who could sing Mass in the Extraordinary Form. They asked for Fr David Delargy and Frs Eugene and Martin to record a demo, which peaked the interest of the label.

On the steps of Westminister Cathedral, The Priests signed their first ever worldwide record deal with Sony Music and subsequently recorded their record breaking album The Priests in Dublin and St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

The following year they sang for Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family as well as the then president of Ireland Mary McAleese.

They continued on to write three more albums while breaking into US and European markets and performed several other high profile concerts. Despite the success, the brothers haven’t forget their humble upbringing in Claudy, Co. Derry.

From a young age their mother, who played organ in the local church as well as piano at home, was their prime musical inspiration. Of the six children, five of them sang and were encouraged in a “nurturing” way.

“So we would have sung in a variety of places, so Mummy really discovered the voices in us and she nurtured those and encourage it, not in a competitive way but in a way which was fun and one that enabled us to really enjoy music just for what it was,” said Fr Martin.

She used to bring them to hospitals to sing for patients, as a nurse, Fr Martin said, his mother would have been aware that over the Christmas some people would get regular visitors, while others wouldn’t, so music played a big part in the healing process.

They were also very involved in the life of their local parish and because of their mother’s role the siblings would accompany her into the organ loft so she could “keep an eye on them”. Over the years they began to add their voices to her playing at Christmas Mass, 40 hours Adoration and more.

“It left its imprint on us I think, we had a wonderful experience of clergy, we were very fortunate in that,” Fr Eugene said.

“Our parents weren’t overly religious, they weren’t fanatic, just ordinary good people who made the contribution to the parish when they could because they had six of us to look after, so it was when they could do it they did it and they did it willingly.”

It was at St MacNissi’s College, Co Antrim, where the trio met for the first time and realised their musical prowess. Nicknamed ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ by their peers due to their shared determination to enter the priesthood, it was a priest at their school who first noticed how talented they actually were.

After leaving St MacNissi’s they started training for the priesthood in St Malachy’s seminary in Belfast – which closed this year leaving the North of Ireland without a seminary – where they also studied music.

The Priests concluded their training in the Irish College in Rome.

Speaking about the challenges of ministering to their parishioners and being part of The Priests Fr Eugene said: “We’ve celebrated 10 years now, we’ve always tried to combine the music with our commitments and our appointments in our parishes and in the diocese, and that has always been the primary focus of our priesthood, the work we’ve been asked to do by the Church, by our bishop, thankfully we have been able with a lot of former planning and giving up our holidays…”

The members of The Priests grew up in a time of turmoil and violence during the Troubles, but they found music was a unifying force that broke the barriers of creed which divided communities to a colossal extent at the time.

Fr Eugene and Martin were both effected by the horrific events that coloured the Troubles, which influenced there mentality while growing up.

“Young as we might have been I think it gave you a sense that life is very precious and fragile because people you knew were in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t come out of the shop or they didn’t come out of the pub,” said Fr Martin.

“There was lots of indiscriminate shooting going on and I think you could be forgiven at times to think that could so easily have been me, or somebody I know, so I think it gave you a real sense of the fragility of life – you could be snuffed out at any time.”

The brothers recalled a story their father told them in which he crossed the bridge in their home town of Claudy and narrowly missed a bomb.

“If he had just delayed leaving the office where he was, at the Beaufort Hotel, we wouldn’t have had a father,” said Fr Martin.

“When you look back on those sort of things, you think well those were terrible times nobody wants to go back to them. But in the context of the darkness and the shadows of the Troubles music played a vital role and that’s the beauty about music in our experience. It brought a sense of sanity, it brought a sense of humour, it also was a vital bridging point between all those of different denominations.”

Fr Martin continued saying music should be “highly honoured” as integral to the peace process during those turbulent times.

“It speaks to the human spirits, it helps to unravel the knots of peoples’ pain and suffering, it also creates a context people can step into which is full of life, full of joy, not as a form of escapism but as a means whereby there can be a sense of healing brought about as well,” he said.

The three priests were involved in an organisation called Castleward Opera which consisted of musicians from different Faith backgrounds and none, but everyone worked together without issue.

Fr Eugene said they would often have sung in places and people wouldn’t know they were Catholic priests, and that for some people if they had known beforehand “it might have been the likelihood that they said they weren’t going there”.

“The music kind of paved the way to a conversation… music is a very open door, it allows us to open a door and for others to come in and out through.”


Many artists have come through difficult periods throughout their lives, which are known to have formed them and their art, so when music is recognised and appreciated it can be an opportunity to fulfil dreams and goals.

For the priests playing in front of the Pope in August this year during the Festival of Families, an event organised for the World Meeting of Families, in Croke Park, it was an experience filled with “delight”.

Standing in front of 80,000 people “there was a sense of warmth and a sense of family, a sense of intimacy in terms of that experience, getting up there to sing just felt wonderful,” according to Fr Eugene.

“I must say I just felt at ease, I felt at home, I felt very relaxed in myself I just felt that we were all very much connected – I can’t put it into words, I was just filled with delight.

“And I wanted to do my best, as we all did, to celebrate family and celebrate all of us together in Faith.”


Christmas can be a time of hectic scrambling and undue emphasis related to buying gifts that can blur the day’s true meaning according to Fr Eugene.

Part of Christmas is getting a gift for someone you admire or respect, he said, and sometimes there’s a temptation for people to push the boat out financially.

“I think as you get older certainly amongst family members the expectation for big presents finds its proper place, there’s no need to give someone the gift they already have.

“I suppose really the Christmas gift you can give to your family is being with them and sharing your time and maybe just telling them you love them, because we don’t do that often enough.

“We do it all too often when somebody is sick or it’s too late, so I think that comes with the passage of time and experience. If you’ve got kids in the house and you’ve got their expectations there’s a big pressure on families to make Christmas special for them. The emphasis can be on the tinsel side of things.”

As children the brothers grew up in the 1960s were Fr Martin said there wouldn’t have been much material wealth, adding that even so there are still many families that live in poverty today, and their expectations were probably at a very different level to some children in modern Ireland.

They would get one small gift, but there would be “a sense of excitement, a euphoria in the house, all of us together of course”.

Looking past the presents and the tinsel, helping children understand who is in the manger is one of the most important lessons to teach for Catholics and Christians, Fr Eugene said: “I suppose that’s the challenge for all of us, priests, people and family and parents.

“I’ve seen children’s little faces light up as they carrying the little baby Jesus in the little procession, they remember that, and their parents are awfully proud of them. But they will remember those little things, I remember those things from childhood and they stay with you.”

For the two brothers growing up in the countryside gave a special meaning to the Christmas tree and Christmas lights.

With Fr Eugene saying that their father would put up much of the Christmas decorations and they were “wonderful for us as children”.

“In the midst of the darkness – we lived way out in the countryside – so we were very well aware of the darkness when the night fell, and no street lighting. It created a warmth and a sense of tenderness in the home and there was always an excitement about getting things ready for Christmas day,” he added.

For more information about The Priests’ upcoming gigs, visit: