Solstice Choir offers hope following Blackrock search


‘An emotional experience’ – Hoban


The tightknit coastal community of Blacksod in Co. Mayo has rallied together over the past six weeks following the Rescue 116 helicopter tragedy at Blackrock lighthouse on March 14th.

  Last weekend saw an intensified search take place in the area with up to 175 divers working tirelessly in an effort to locate remaining missing crew members, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby.

  A few weeks ago as the tragic events were unfolding and as the local community scrambled heroically to support the search effort, Roscommon Solstice Choir had offered its services in any way that could prove helpful. It was arranged therefore that the choir would make its way to Blacksod last Sunday in order to perform a concert in aid of the community.

  Choir chairperson, James Hoban, said that it was an emotional experience.

  “It was a real rollercoaster of emotion – it was the most difficult but most rewarding concert. We felt insignificant compared to what everyone else had done over the past six weeks.

  “We didn’t arrive with diving equipment but we arrived with hope and aiming to express the country’s gratitude for what the local community had done for those involved in the search,” he said.

  James highlighted the mammoth task taken on by members of the local community who had not only taken part in the search but had provided food and shelter to those arriving from all over the country.

  So, as the remaining divers returned to shore last Sunday, choir members Vera Cusack and Bernie Naughton stepped forward with a wreath which Bernie had created. Three red roses to represent Captain Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman, Ciaran Smith and one pink rose to represent Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.

  As the wreath was laid on the lighthouse helipad, the choir sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in the sunlight. This was followed by Eimear Reynolds’ heart-wrenching rendition of Sarah McLachlan’s ‘In the Arms of an Angel’. The ceremony provided a measure of closure and comfort to those returning from their exhausting work in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

  According to founding member Marie Gillooly, the choir had arrived in the midst of an awe-inspiring search operation, aiming to bring some measure of comfort and hope to the heartbroken families of Rescue 116 and the coastal community.

  “We went down there to pay our respects to Rescue 116 firstly by laying a wreath and performing the concert. We also wanted to provide some comfort and hope for the community of Blacksod. Way down the list was the financial support. The people of Roscommon offered great support. There are cards and letters down in Blacksod from all over Roscommon. People in the county heard about this and offered donations without me even asking,” said Marie.

  Local coordinator in Blacksod, John Gallagher, described the underwater search operation and the role played by members of the Blacksod community over the past few weeks.

  “160 dives took place over the two days last weekend with diving teams from all over the country taking part. It was a huge coming together of people which culminated in the wreath laying and then the concert in St. Brendan’s Church in Tirraun,” he said.

  Mr. Gallagher spoke about the “huge sense of emotional highs and lows” since the tragedy and paid tribute to the many local volunteers who have assisted in the search. He described how the community had come together to find beds and feed those arriving to assist.

  His emotion was audible as he highlighted the importance of local involvement in the search.

  “The whole community was passionate in this. This was personal to us. Local boats would go where the navy wouldn’t even go. The search also shows how important local knowledge is. It was a local boat which had listening equipment on it as we searched for the ping (of the blackbox recorder).”

  He also praised the Roscommon Solstice Choir and the people of Roscommon for the assistance and support they have provided.

  “The choir brought an element of peace, harmony and comfort…I’m thankful to them for coming to our aid, they helped us to get over the line.”

  The Roscommon Solstice Choir had initially made their way to Blacksod to offer some measure of comfort and support to those involved in the search operation. In the end, their arrival and subsequent emotional performance in St. Brendan’s Church provided a level of closure and a ray of hope at the end of a heart-wrenching weekend in search of fallen heroes.