The Fermoy International Choir has been invited to perform in Cork City Hall on December 17 in a pre-Christmas choral event, hosted by the Lord Mayor of Cork, John Sheehan.

Just 11-months after being formed, the choir under the directorship of Lisa Dunphy, celebrates the cultural diversity which exists in Fermoy and uses singing to bring together those who live in the town and surrounding area, regardless of nationality.

“This is a real honour for us all,” said Graham Clifford who helped establish the choir as part of the Tomar Trust-supported Together Ireland initiative.

“This wonderful town boasts over 60 nationalities and it’s important to provide spaces and initiatives in which people can come together to meet, to socialise and to get to know each other, ” he added.

“Community integration benefits everyone in a community like this. Through this choir, so many wonderful friendships have developed between people who might otherwise have passed each other on the street. This is Ireland at its best – but we can always do better.”

Saturday Concert

And this Saturday night, the Fermoy International Choir will perform as guests of the Fermoy Concert Band at their annual Christmas concert in Gaelscoil de hIde. The event begins at 8pm and promises to be a magical occasion.

Included in the Choir’s repertoire will be the hymn ‘Silent Night’ sung in Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Italian and Czech.

Irish choir members have been learning the verses in different languages with the assistance of their non-Irish neighbours, friends and fellow choir members.

In rehearsals for December’s performances, Fermoy International Choir members Natallya Sadovaya from Belarus and Geidre Vasiliauskiene, who moved to Ireland in 2011 from Lithuania, tell me this is where they first met.

“It turns out that we were neighbours back home,” laughs Natallya. She explains: “Our home towns are just 40 kilometres away from each other but there’s an international border in between. We met here at the choir and quickly realised that we grew up so close to each other.”

“I feel so comfortable with this choir,” said Geidre, “Everyone is very welcoming and friendly and I feel part of the community here. We feel included, not like to the side.”

Positive approach

David Rae believes the choir is a hugely important beacon of inclusivity and an example of how smaller communities can be enriched from such community integration initiatives.

He explained: “Running through this all is the underlining concept of inclusivity and that’s so vital in today’s world. Being part of the choir is increasingly good fun but also Lisa (Dunphy) helps us towards a higher standard all the time. She’s fantastic and her positive approach has brought us all together. Now we just need to be at our best for our upcoming performances.”

Natan, from Brazil has been working in Teagasc Moorepark for a year but will be returning to South America next February with his wife and fellow choir member, Larissa. Within a week of arriving in the town they’d seen a poster written in Portuguese advertising that the choir was recruiting.

“The poster was in the Brazilian shop in the town. We couldn’t believe our luck. Within a few days of arriving we were singing with the choir and welcomed in by people from Ireland and from so many other countries. We love it,” said Natan.

Herehau Blais, all the way from French Polynesia in the Southern Pacific, also believes initiatives such as this can improve society for the better.

“I’ve studied and worked in other countries including France and Switzerland and I’ve never seen such a caring initiative as this. It’s clever, it’s important, it’s needed,” she said.

Since it started in January 2019, the choir has welcomed over 120 singers – from over 25 countries including Latvia, Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Brazil, France, USA, Nepal, the Philippines, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, South Africa, Italy, Nigeria, the Netherlands, French Polynesia, Germany, the UK, Portugal, Antigua, Belarus and the Ukraine.

Almost a quarter of the town of Fermoy (23%) are non-Irish according to the last census and over 1,500 people have moved here over the years.

“Now when I go shopping I meet so many people from the choir. It makes the town really feel like home and I love that,” explains Iris Nonhebel from the Netherlands; while Kasia Sosnowska, originally from Poland but now running the Coffee House Café in Fermoy, explained how through the choir, she has rediscovered her love of the flute.

She said: “I used to play at home but haven’t now for a few years. Some of the other guys in the choir invited me to join them to play and now we’re meeting regularly. Without the choir I wouldn’t have made that connection with new Irish friends.”

For Carmel Lonergan the choir has been both invigorating and eye opening. “I’d never been part of a choir before. It’s been so much fun, it’s enabled great friendships to begin and now I’m meeting people from other countries who I’d never known before. It’s enriching to us all.”

“I just love the atmosphere of fun and friendship that’s here, it kick starts so many connections,” said Kay Sheehan. “I’m so delighted that I’ve become part of this amazing group of people, all singing with one voice and with a smile on our face.”

The choir is generously supported by Mellerick’s Pharmacy in Fermoy and once the dust has settled on an amazing year’s work, they plan to regroup and develop exciting plans for even bigger and better things in 2020.