Last week to snap up tickets for gala concert featuring Margaret Keys and The Priests

Margaret KeysMargaret Keys
Margaret Keys
​It’s 50 years this year since the young O’Hagan brothers encountered fellow boarder David Delargy and their voices blended into a sound the world has come to know as The Priests.

Next week, on Sunday March 24th, the Platinum-selling trio celebrate the milestone with a homecoming concert in the magnificent St Columb’s Hall – where they share the stage with beautiful Derry soprano and friend, Margaret Keys.

Margaret has featured on the BBC’s long-running Songs of Praise and BBC Proms and sung for celebrities and heads of state in parliaments and embassies across the globe. Sharing a bill with Andrea Bocelli and Aretha Franklin, she was among a select group of artists who performed for Pope Francis when he visited the US in 2015. Singing in front of a live audience of 35,000 people in Philadelphia – the mega-show was broadcast to 1.5 million viewers worldwide.

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Despite scaling the heights of classical/ crossover recital, both The Priests and Margaret agree there’s no experience quite as special as playing to a home-town audience. The artists will be accompanied on Palm Sunday by Ruth McGinley and Trevor Burnside and a string orchestra will add extra musical depth to the performances. The Priests are expected to perform a mixed repertoire of classical favourites, Irish ballads and contemporary interpretations of songs by Van Morrison and the Beatles.

Fr Eugene O'Hagan and Fr Martin O'Hagan, of The Priests'Fr Eugene O'Hagan and Fr Martin O'Hagan, of The Priests'
Fr Eugene O'Hagan and Fr Martin O'Hagan, of The Priests'


But a handful of duets with Margaret and the trio are likely to be among the standout highlights of what is being billed ‘a night of stars’. The concert is a fundraiser for the continuing restoration of the Long Tower Church, specifically to ease the cost of major repairs to the antique pipe organ that has stood, in one form or another, at the back of the gallery for 180 years.

Sons of a piano-playing nurse, Mrs Joan O’Hagan, formerly Daly, nurtured her family’s musical interests from an early age, encouraging them to share their talent wherever they went – at house parties and hospital wards alike.

The family of six, including two sets of twins and a sister sadly deceased, moved from Derry to Claudy before Martin and Eugene were born (Martin being the youngest twin by 10 minutes) before relocating back to the city again in the early ‘70s where their father worked as a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture.

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“Our mother played, taught piano and sang. She was very gifted and involved in various musical circles locally. Growing up she was the one who introduced us to that particular facet or charism in our lives,” Father Martin explained.

From their earliest years the Long Tower, was familiar to them: “Even though our parish was St Columb’s Waterside, we’d have visited the Long Tower frequently. Our mother walked ‘over the town’ with us following behind like a row of ducks and she almost always called into Long Tower for a visit.

“From a young age I was conscious of the rich history of this beautiful church. Its homilies in stone, word and painting spoke to me, although I couldn’t have articulated it that way at the time. It’s still a big part of our lives. When I bring visitors back to our hometown, I bring them to Long Tower.”

Growing up in the mixed Waterside community, music and song Fr Martin suggests, has always been a common thread linking the patchwork of neighbourhoods and parishes of different traditions and faith backgrounds in this city.

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"We returned to Derry at a very sombre, turbulent time – an atmosphere and reality I remember distinctly as a child.”

People from all backgrounds suffered in the Troubles, many of them deeply and that should never be forgotten, says Fr Martin. But music was a saving grace in the midst of all that people experienced.

“We sang at little concerts with our mother and that opened up a whole new world to us. Music back then, as it has always been, was a wonderful way of building bridges between different faiths and backgrounds.


"We were very close for example to our next door neighbours [from a Protestant tradition]. As children around the same age, our musical personalities just clicked. They were lovely, wonderful people and we still meet up a couple of times a year.”

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But it was at another tower, a boarding school for boys in the Glens of Antrim that their musical horizons broadened into opera and the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre.

St MacNissi College, better known as Garron Tower, was also the setting of an unplanned encounter that turned the brothers into a trio. Enter David Delargy, one third of the clerical group and described by Martin as “an honourary Derryman”.

“Garron Tower introduced us to many more opportunities in terms of festivals and competitions, as well as musicals and very memorably - Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Coming of age at the height of pogo dancing and punk, Fr Martin cites Thin Lizzy and the Undertones among the top pop bands of his youth: “We also loved Van Morrison. And being from Derry we were very proud of the Undertones.

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"To this day, the Undertones is a name and an association with the city that still resonates in music industry circles. And Abba too would have been a big part of our lives growing up. Those tunes were embedded in our youth.”

But if there was a single recurrent soundtrack to their childhood, it was the singalong hits of The Sound of Music blockbuster.

“We were presented, singing away, all round the north – the Von Hagan family no less! Our mother was a nurse by profession, working in the old City and County Hospital.

"She loved singing so much that the matron took her aside one day and reprimanded her. ‘Are you here to nurse or to sing Joan Daly?’ And my mother pluckily replied, ‘A wee bit of both matron’.

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"That wonderful sense of care for the patients’ emotional as well as physical wellbeing, lasted her whole life. One of mine and Eugene’s earliest memories was of being taken into hospitals with our whole family, to sing for the patients.

"Our mother did that right up to the very end when she was going through major heart surgery. She sang to the other patients on the ward and we had to sing of course as well.”

Over the years Fr Martin’s musical tastes have evolved into an eclectic mix of different genres: “I enjoy Mary Black very much, a bit of jazz…on the classical side we’ve had wonderful opportunities to attend so many different concerts and I still dip into a lot of classical listening.”

Ahead of the ‘great big night’ in Derry, Fr Martin promises “something for everyone”.

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“This will be a very Derry gathering and of course we know Margaret very well. Margaret will have her own treasures to perform – from different solos to well known favourites.

"And she encourages lots of audience participation. Eugene, David and I will do some solos as well as classics like Schubert’s Ave Maria and Ave Verum by Karl Jenkins who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, plus lots of banter and a bit of humour hopefully.”

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