By Niamh Hayes
A GROUP of women who come together every week to share their love of singing, have raised €5000 for two local groups. The choir, Ilen Vibe, made two cheque presentations on Monday night at the West Cork Hotel, with funds they raised at a charity concert in May being spilt between West Cork Down Syndrome Support Group and Aughadown Community Council Heating Project.
Founded in November 2017 by Niamh McCarthy, the choir is based at Church Cross, on the banks of the Ilen River, which of course has produced Olympic and World Champion rowers, and Niamh says that their singing embodies the spirit of the area, hence the name.
‘Ilen Vibe is all about joy and fun and we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we definitely take our singing very seriously,’ said Niamh, who is also the musical director of the choir.
Having taught children’s choirs for many years, Niamh wanted a change and tried her hand at getting some adults together to form a choir. Her experience of community choirs was that there was always a big turn-out of women but very few men and she was worried about balancing those minority male voices with the overall sound, ‘so I decided to go the women-only route,’ says Niamh.
Perhaps a rarity in this day and age, but the choir does not have any social media account so they depended on word of mouth to get the message out that the choir was up and running. It certainly worked and women have been coming from all over West Cork to meet and sing
every week since.
They meet every Monday night in the Community Hall in Church Cross and to date, more than 70 women have been through the doors.
‘We now have a core group of over 40 members. Everyone is free to drop in as they please but we all sign a roll each week – as I keep reminding the ladies, they never know when they may need an alibi,’ jokes Niamh.
To join, there are no auditions, no sheet music, you don’t even need to be able to sing. This choir is all about enjoyment and fun. This was Niamh’s vision from the start but she never expected it to be quite as enjoyable or as successful as it has become.
The choir performs mostly upbeat, happy songs, with a large leaning towards 1980s hits. They believe in keeping it simple and creating good sounds. ‘We are not organised into sopranos or altos, there is nothing formal about us. A sheet is given out with lyrics, we learn them, add some harmony, and belt out a classic song each week,’ says Niamh.
Having been invited to perform at various concerts and events over their first year, last January they decided it was time to go about organising their own event. They loved singing in Abbeystrewry Church at Christmas so they settled on that as their venue. They didn’t need or want any money themselves so they chose to raise funds for the two groups which were close to the choir members’ hearts.
‘One of our members has a child with Down Syndrome and is involved with the Support Group and there are three sheltered homes at the entrance to our rehearsal venue which are undergoing a costly upgrade to their heating and fire system. When it comes to supporting local, we couldn’t get more local than that,’ says Niamh.
At the event in May, the choir was joined by three local soloists: Joe O’Leary (of Fred and Levis’ Ballydehob fame), Roisin Harte Leonard and Mary Beth O’Mahony. The choir sang throughout the evening, both alone and in collaboration with the soloists, and the three guests also performed solo.
The three singers joined the choir again at the cheque presentations last Monday night, where they recreated the magic of the Abbeystrewry concert, in front of friends, family and members of both beneficiary groups.