Who is Kilkenny native Ronan Tynan who sung at the funeral of George HW Bush, and when did his music career begin?

06-12-2018 17:12

WHEN millions of people worldwide tuned in to watch the funeral of former US president George HW Bush this week, one voice stood out above all others.

And it belonged to an Irishman, Kilkenny native Ronan Tynan.

Singer Ronan Tynan

He may not be a household name here, but the talented tenor is in such demand internationally that his list of clients includes presidents, world leaders and A-list sports teams.

Now 58 and having made America his adopted home, his influence is such that he was even invited to perform for George HW Bush on his death bed.

Tynan’s meteoric success has all the hallmarks of an Irishman-made-good tale, but it’s all the more remarkable given that when he was a baby, his parents were told that he would never walk.

What deformity was he born with?

He was born with phocomelia, a congenital deformity that affected both of his legs and left him with just three toes on each foot.

The funeral of former President George HW Bush

Doctors didn’t hold any hope for his prospects of mobility and he spent much of his first three years in a Dublin hospital.

His mother Therese then decided he should be brought home to Johnstown in Kilkenny where she would do her best to help him to walk.

He later credited her for instilling in him a huge sense of determination as he continuously defied the odds.

Despite his disability, he enjoyed an active childhood but suffered a serious setback when he was involved in a motorbike accident at the age of 20.

How did Tynan get involved with the Paralympics?

As a result of his injuries, he needed to have both lower legs amputated in order to enable him to walk on artificial limbs.

Undeterred, he turned to Paralympic sports and became a decorated athlete, winning 18 gold medals between 1981 and 1984.

Tynan is a former Paralympian

He also broke 14 Paralympic world records.

He became the first disabled person admitted to the National College of Physical Education in Cork and later went on to Trinity College where he qualified as a doctor.

When did he begin his music career?

Tynan’s time as a student was certainly well spent, and he indulged his passion for singing by performing ballads in pub sessions.

His fondness for music had been evident from an early age, and was encouraged by his father.

Ronan Tynan performing in 2005

Yet he didn’t begin to take it seriously until he turned 33 and began formal voice training.

His efforts quickly paid off and in 1994 he won the RTE talent show Go For It.

The following year, he won a prestigious operatic contest in France, and released his debut album The impossible dream.

It went platinum, but he continued with medicine and opened a clinic in Kilkenny where he specialised in orthopaedic sports injuries.

All changed in 1998 when he accepted an invitation to become a founding member of the Irish Tenors, alongside Anthony Kearns and Finbar Wright.

When did his career move to the US?

The Irish Tenors instantly became a huge hit in the US following their debut on PBS television.

Having built up a profile, Ronan was called upon to sing at the at the funeral masses of several firefighters and police officers in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities.

Ronan Tynan performing at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday

America’s rich and influential elite began to take note, and in 2003 he performed at the wedding of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

A worldwide TV audience of 35 million beckoned in 2004 when he sang at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

By then, he had already developed a relationship with the Bush family. And when the call came to sing at George HW Bush’s 80th birthday party, he was invited to travel to the event alongside then-president George Jnr on Air Force One.

He repaid the favour in 2005 when George booked him to sing at his second presidential inauguration.

Inevitably, Ronan’s time in the limelight wasn’t without its controversies, and in 2009 he hit the spotlight for all the wrong reasons when he was accused of making an anti-semitic remark to an estate agent’s client.

Tynan later said that the remark was in jest and he told NBC New York at the time: “It was stupid of me to be so callous, and I would never want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

“A lot of my friends are Jewish, it’s something misfortunate.. I was stupid with my mouth.”

Ronan Tynan with George Bush and Rick Perry

Since then he has gone on to carve a hugely successful career in his adopted home, although he still maintains close ties with his family in Kilkenny.

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Lauded by the Bush family, he was invited last week to George HW Bush’s bedside and sang two songs, including an Irish language ballad and a version of Silent Night.

The former president reportedly mouthed the words to the hymn before slipping away hours later.

And when the world’s attention turned to the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Wednesday, Ronan was again centre stage, wowing the congregation with two powerful renditions, accompanied by the Armed Forces Chorus and the United States Marine Corps orchestra.

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