'I Am Ireland' shares struggle for Irish independence- Southtown Star Oct 2015
With the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising approaching in Ireland, now seems like the perfect time to launch a show chronicling that trip to freedom.
The U.S. premiere of "I Am Ireland" with Irish tenor Paddy Homan is set for Oct. 10 at Beverly Arts Center's Baffes Theatre in Chicago.
"It's a labor of love. It's how all these things come about," said Homan, who grew up in County Cork, Ireland.
"Over the last two years I've been working with Michael Londra, a huge superstar in Irish music. Lo and behold, there's a music session that I run at Galway Arms. We do it every week consistently. I was able to formulate a lot of these songs and narratives within those sessions.
"Michael is passionate about this story. He wants to take it on a national stage so people can get a sense of the real story of Ireland."
Produced by Londra's Wexfordhouse, "I Am Ireland" is directed by Andrea Dymond and features musical production by Sean Gavin. Presented in two 45-minute acts, the show includes songs such as "The Rising of the Moon" with a three-piece band, speeches and projected images.
Audiences will experience a sense of journey, Homan said. The show covers the years 1798 to 1916.
"If you really look at it, it can be really very depressing. For us, we have to look at the funny side as well. After the trauma of the Irish famine, people went back to what it means to be Irish, what it means to have a language, what it means to promote our national sports like hurling and football.
"That's what people will get a sense of. It's that sense of Irishness, that sense of uniqueness. It's definitely not bashing England. This is definitely a story that needs to be told."
Singing came naturally to Homan, who grew up in an Irish Nationalist working-class family and spent much time fishing on the River Lee.
"I have been singing longer than I can remember talking. I do not know a time I have not been singing," said Homan, whose latest CD "The Hard Way Home" was released in 2013 and features a mix of traditional Irish songs and contemporary tunes.
"I've always been captivated by the stories behind the songs, of how they came about and also the melody."
Homan, now of Chicago, said he is looking forward to bringing "I Am Ireland" to Beverly Arts Center.
"It's the bridge between the North Side and the South Side. What better place to have it?" said Homan, noting that many people from the surrounding area including Chicago's Beverly community have Irish ancestors.
"It's very poignant and very emotional. My only goal is for people to make some kind of connection, that they can see these people come alive."
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.
"There will be all manner of celebrations during next year's centennial, but it is hard — almost impossible — to imagine any will be as moving, entertaining, enlightening or soaring as "I Am Ireland."
Margeson on Music - Live Ireland Dec 2009
A quick note---next month is The Livies. They are our annual Awards for the best of the best for 2009. Don't miss them! No Awards are seen and heard worldwide so quickly, and by so many people!!!! Now as to the reviews:.........
But, Paddy Homan is the deal. Complete. I hesitate to say the next bit. He is a tenor. Stop. Don’t roll your eyes. Everyone--and I do mean everyone—says the same thing. “I don’t like Irish tenors-----but Paddy is not an Irish tenor.” Well---yes he is. But that is like saying Secretariat was simply a horse. This Cork native is no patent leather shoe, tuxedo-wearing poseur. We are all, all sick of the guys screaming out nasal tenor voices improperly placed in the glottal area and too high in the throat. You know exactly the type I’m talking about. You’ve heard them. And, they seem to be rapidly breeding and reproducing. Get a dart gun.
Then comes Homan. The album is self-titled. Recorded at the growingly important studio of Dennis Cahill. As stated, Paddy is originally from Cork. Wait. Let’s look at it this way. Check out this list of accompanying musicians---Jimmy Keane on accordion, Dennis Cahill on guitar, Maurice Lennon on fiddle, John Williams on button box, Jimmy Moore on four different instruments, Kathleen Keane on fiddle and whistle and Pat Broaders on bouzouki. Incredible musicians, but here is the point. These musicians get asked constantly to work on albums. They can pick and choose at this level. And, they are all on this album, supporting this singer.
The voice. Oh, the voice. Clear as a bell, and a gift from heaven. Now, we hear Paddy has had formal voice training, but he fortunately has taken the best of the formal stuff and left the other squealy nonsense behind. Oh, the voice. The recent album launches also offered Jimmy Keane, Dennis Cahill and Maurice Lennon accompanying. I have never been at better sessions. I kept thinking I’d eagerly pay $50 or more for this ticket, and all it took to be was the purchase of a pint of Smithwick’s!!
Nobody sings like this, and nobody sounds like this. The voice never, ever grates. The range is stunning. The interpretation is perfect. This is the whole, total complete deal wrapped up in one voice, one talent. I suspect Paddy Homan is going to get very famous, and I hope very rich. You read about him here first, and radio show partner Mary Ann Keifer and I were thrilled to offer the world premiere of his album on our Monday night program a few weeks ago. I know you can get the album online. goggle his name and get to his site. Now, stop sitting there. Get this. I warned you at the start of this column—but here it comes---this is history in the making. The day you bought Paddy Homan’s first album. In a world of lunacy and junk, there is this voice. And, it sings to every one of us, reminding us all of what could and should be. Get up. Get it. Good Lord, this is a new level. I warned you. Rating: Four Harps—oh, hell---throw away the Harps rating, there aren’t enough Harps! Paddy, you are THE boyo!!
Chicago Tribune, Nov. 21, 2007
His Irish songs lift others' hearts; As he visits disabled, social worker Paddy Homan connects by bringing memories, songs of native Ireland
By Judith Graham, Tribune staff reporter
The old man was tired and found it hard to talk. No matter. Paddy Homan leaned in close and looked into his client's well-lined face.
"A bit of music now, what do you say, Lorry," Homan suggested gently, taking a flat Irish drum and a brush-like drumstick out of his sack.
Lorin Uffenbeck's eyes brightened as a lively bar song filled his apartment. "I went in and I called for a bottle of stout. Says the barman, I'm sorry, all the beer is sold out. Try whiskey or paddy, 10 years in the wood..."
Uffenbeck's fingers found the beat on the armrest of his chair. His attention, which had been wandering, fixed on Homan as the Irishman warbled away. It's the kind of experience Homan looks forward to as he visits old and disabled clients across Chicago and, to their surprise and often delight, serenades them with song.
An accomplished Irish tenor who makes listeners quiet down and reach for tissues to dab their eyes, Homan isn't your ordinary social worker (his job by day) or your typical musician (his passion after hours). "We all love him," said Lucy Allen, a 91-year-old South Side fan who attends every concert of his she can. To Homan, the two activities are joined spiritually by what he calls the "power of being present." If you connect with your listeners, the music will soar, he said. And if you're genuinely interested in them, older people will sense it and be open to your aid.
Homan, 32, hails from north Cork, "Ireland's second city," he says, where he grew up with six siblings and a largely absent father. How his mother, a homemaker, put three meals on the table every day he doesn't know. But he remembers watching a gray-bearded beggar come to the door and his mother finding a can of beans to give away. "Paddy, always be there for people," she told the boy.
As a boy soprano, Homan was the child whose voice rang out in church choir on Sundays and who sang "Away in a Manger" in church at Christmas. In high school, he starred in shows such as "Make Music Not War," a tale of an Irishman who goes to America to make his fortune singing. Even then, Homan says, he knew that was his dream.
But it wasn't all Homan wanted. The boy also felt drawn to people such as Jenny Boyle, an old lady on his newspaper delivery route who'd invite him in to chat over a cup of tea. When Boyle moved to a nursing home, the teenager would visit and sing to the residents.
It seemed only natural to go to the seminary and serve others through the Catholic Church. But Homan realized he liked girls too well, left after two years and eventually found his way to a university program in social work and a nighttime job as a health aide in a local hospital.
Chicago beckoned when a friend invited him over in summer 2001. While driving a truck, helping people move furniture, Homan fell in love with the city's lakefront, its skyline and its vibrant Irish music scene -- the best in the country, he contends.
One day a job advertisement for a caregiver, placed by Wellspring Personal Care in the Chicago Reader, caught his eye.
"I saw right away that he had what we look for in social work -- the essence of everything we do -- the ability to connect," said Sheila McMackin, president of the home care agency where Homan now works as director of client services. Particularly for people with dementia or mental illness, "there's very little sharing that goes on," said Dr. Steven Fox, Wellspring's medical director. "All that people will hear from professionals is 'I have a plan for you.' Not, 'I'd like to spend time with you and learn more about you,' the message Paddy gives."
Almost two-thirds of the 55 caregivers who work for Wellspring are immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, east Asia and South America. It's hard work, looking after old people whose bodies are breaking down, and not work many young Americans want.
Homan's job is to make sure these personal care workers have what they need to get their jobs done -- a leak-proof mattress pad, handrails for a bathtub, transportation to take a client to a senior citizens' center, special food for a picky eater -- and that his frail clients are being well-tended. "I tell you, it's an honor to be with these folks in their time of need," said Homan, who moved to Chicago permanently a year ago, after two extended visits to the city. Characteristically, several weeks ago, he gave out his cell phone number on a local Irish radio program and invited older listeners to call him if they ever wanted a ride. "He doesn't know what the word 'no' means," said Maureen O'Looney, 85, host of the radio program and a well-known leader of Chicago's Irish community.
On a recent afternoon, Lorin Uffenbeck was sunk in a large leather chair as the Irishman came in for a weekly visit. The tall, lean old man looked all angles, like a stork that had alighted and settled in the living room.
A former French professor and war correspondent, Uffenbeck has had Alzheimer's disease for a dozen years. On this day, an awakening before sunrise left him weary and fumbling for words. But the old man's eyes were intelligent and watchful.
Homan pulled up a chair, as if he were a friend come to chat. "So, Lorry, how was your week?" he asked, noting the lack of a response. "You're listening to French music again," he tried again, getting a nod. At that point, Homan reached for his Irish drum.
"Do you remember, last week you tapped out a beat for me," he said, handing Uffenbeck the drumstick-like brush.
"You can do it," encouraged Margaret Anderson, a live-in caregiver whom Homan supervises, standing at the back of the room.
Uffenbeck paused, a question in his eyes, then started tapping. As the song ended, he put down the brush and clapped his hands, then put them behind his ears as if to say, "I'm listening." It was a nonverbal way of saying "more." Homan picked up the cue and started singing again. "The music goes in so deeply for my uncle, it's like a light switch goes on," said Liz McChesney, Uffenbeck's niece, who lives three blocks away and is his closest family member. Before her uncle became ill, "I guess I assumed Alzheimer's was a complete cognitive blackout," McChesney continued. "But it's not. It's still my uncle in there. He still knows things. He still feels things."
The next day, Homan was patient as Pola Zuska, a 91-year-old client in Wilmette, seemed fixated on the idea of moving from her large home to a smaller apartment. The more Zuska focused on the subject, the more upset she became.
Expertly, Homan paid attention but quickly found a way to turn the conversation to something else, like a parent distracting a child. Together, they looked at letters documenting her accomplishments as one of the first female dentists. The old lady spoke of her mother and her parents' home in Sicily. But soon, her irritation returned.
Homan steered the conversation to dance. Getting up, he did a little jig on his way across the room. Zuska was not amused. But the Irishman remained confident he could find a way around her crusty defenses.
"Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day. Oh, dreammaker, you heartbreaker, wherever you're going I'm going your way..." Zuska looked away from Homan, eyes trained on the floor. Whatever she might be feeling, she would not show. She examined her knuckles, seemingly intent. Then, her shoulders relaxed. Holding her cane, she was centered, listening.
The Irishman let the quiet sit after the song for a bit. But it's his job to reach across the silence and engage his client. With a hearty tone, he began to talk of a slice of Irish history -- it might interest her, Homan calculated -- and then began to sing, again.
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IN THE WEB EDITION
Watch a video of Paddy Homan, the singing caregiver, serenading his clients and explaining his mission
Credit: By Judith Graham, Tribune staff reporter