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June 2019
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2007-08-02 Celtic Tenor bridging faith gap in Northern Ireland

Interview by Julie Carroll /The Catholic Spirit

We would like to thank The Catholic Spirit for their permission to post this article.

The Celtic Tenors, one of Irelands most successful classical crossover artists, will perform Sunday, Aug. 12, at the Irish Fair of Minnesota in St. Paul. The groups most recent addition, Daryl Simpson, 30, spoke with The Catholic Spirit July 19 from Mallorca, Spain, where he was on vacation.

In the following edited interview, Simpson, a Presbyterian, talks about life in Northern Ireland, his efforts for peace and reconciliation, and a Catholic-Protestant youth choir he formed in the wake of a car bomb that killed 31 people, including two unborn babies, and injured hundreds in his hometown of Omagh Aug. 15, 1998.

Q. What has your life been like since you joined the Celtic Tenors a little more than a year ago?

A. I think its fair to say it seems to be getting from one plane on to another. We have been incredibly busy. Since Ive come into the group, weve performed approximately 200 concerts in a year. Ive been on three different continents. Ive been back and forward to the States and Canada at least six or seven times. So, its been very, very intensive, but very enjoyable.

Q. What compelled you to form a choir composed of Catholic and Protestant youth?

A. Ive been taught . . . that religions have to work together and people have to understand each other.

Unfortunately, at that time [1998], Northern Ireland wasnt in that place as such, and there were, of course, the Troubles, which have been well-documented for over 35 years. During August of 1998, there was the worst terrorist atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Q. Where were you when the bomb detonated?

A. Literally just around the next corner. . . .

Something that we were used to as kids were bomb scares and terror alerts. I suppose maybe you cry wolf enough and you become immune to that, and on that day, I think it is fair to say most people felt the same.

Unfortunately, it was a very real threat and a very present danger. The security forces did what they normally do, which is evacuate people from the immediate threat, but unfortunately the timing of the device was such that it went off when people were still being evacuated.

It was a very harrowing day because we were approximately 18 months into a cease-fire, and it was pretty much unexpected. People had started to get used to having a peaceful coexistence without the threat of terror. But unfortunately this was an extremist group that decided to keep things on the side of the terrorists.

Q. Did you know anyone who was wounded or who died in the attack?

A. There were five people who lived within a 200-meter radius of my home that were killed. Obviously, they were friends and neighbors, so it was a very difficult time.

Q. Do you think the youth choir has helped heal some of the religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland?

A. Its very hard to know. Its not something that you can put a measure on. All I can say is that we made an effort to try and encourage the youth, which hopefully will go on to be tomorrows leaders, to share and learn and evolve in their own capacity without the shackles of the past attached to them.

The best way that I thought that I could do something was through a youth choir because I had obviously been trained in music, and I myself had been through an organization called the Ulster Project, which brought Protestant and Catholic teenagers to the States each summer. I believe theres a group actually in Minnesota. It basically trains young people to develop leadership skills and to share time and energy with members of their opposite religion. I suppose I felt maybe it was an extension of that program, except through music.

I feel weve probably have made a huge impact, but its difficult to measure. I know we have developed sort of an international reputation certainly, and whether that has any impact in the local community is always a debate and always a point of discussion.

All we can say is, since we started, weve had over 100 kids come through the process and stay two or three years each, and then move on. Some are now doctors and lawyers and different professions, and you would hope that that little bit of understanding has developed. . . .

The future for us is the young people. Its far more difficult to change generations who already are solidified in their opinions and their stance.

Q. Has your Presbyterian faith influenced your music?

A. I was certainly brought up in a house where I was taught to respect all religions, and it wasnt uncommon for me to play music in Catholic churches, Protestant churches and the other faith churches as well. I suppose I took a little bit from each and developed sort of my own sort of style of what I wanted to do with music.

Q. Do you have a particular message that you would like to get across to both Catholics and Protestants?

A. I think the strongest message that I can give is that you should always appreciate where youve come from, but also look to understand people in a different position to yours. . . .

And, I suppose for people not to lose the interest in what is going on in Ireland. I know that we now are in a situation of peace, but it still takes outside help and intervention from people to make that work over a sustained and lengthened period, and I certainly welcome peoples contributions to groups like the Ulster Project or the choir. Were hoping to bring the choir back to the States next year on our 10th anniversary and also to Canada.

To learn more
" For more information about the Celtic Tenors, visit
" To learn more about the Omagh Community Youth Choir, go to
" For more information about The Catholic Spirit, visit