Father Ray Kelly, who is undoubtedly the most famous priest in Ireland since he became a global singing sensation with his wedding ceremony cover of “Hallelujah,” will perform in New York on Tuesday, May 13 to support the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).
The video of Kelly singing “Hallelujah” at the wedding has amassed close to 33 million hits on YouTube as of Tuesday afternoon. His concert on behalf of ILIR will be his only public appearance during his time in New York.
Kelly is pastor of his parish in Oldcastle, Co. Meath and he is very aware of the undocumented Irish citizens who can’t travel home for family occasions. He discussed his upcoming trip and views on immigration during a phone interview with the Irish Voice on Tuesday.
“My job as a priest in Ireland makes me very aware of the situation of the undocumented Irish in America, and the great sadness it brings to families in times of joy and sorrow,” Kelly, 60, said.
“Recently in my parish, a local man died and his daughter was unable to travel home for the final goodbyes as she was too afraid to travel. So it is in cases like this that the sadness of the many Irish who left Ireland years ago and built lives in America is highlighted.
“It is my greatest hope that the politicians lobbying for immigration reform will be successful and end the void felt by so many Irish communities.”
Ciaran Staunton, the chairman of ILIR, who organized Kelly’s visit, said he’s thrilled that the famous Meath priest is lending his support to the cause of the undocumented.
“He understands the situation that the undocumented face here,” Staunton said.
“He’s officiated at weddings and funerals where there’s been an empty chair for those who could not travel home because of their status. And he wants to do something meaningful for these people and their families.”
Kelly told the Voice that his vision for the upcoming trip and concert was to bridge the gap between Ireland and America and bring a certain sense of community to Irish Americans based in New York.
This is not the singing priest’s first trip to New York, but rather a return to a city that holds many fond memories for him.
“I have been to New York three or four times now from what I recall. I was part of the singing priests tour from Dublin and we held some concerts on various trips for the Irish American communities and they were always well received, especially up in Albany,” Kelly recalled.
Kelly also confirmed rumors that he has been approached by record companies about signing a deal since he became a YouTube sensation. He said that he would be “having a chat” with various music industry executives in the coming days.
"There have been a couple of approaches made from big record companies," he said. "I'll sit down and talk to them and see what they have to offer."
Kelly says he has an appointment with Sony later on this week, but his job as a priest comes first.
“Since I've been telling people that I'm going to New York to support the Irish immigrants there, a lot of people have reached out and I am very much looking forward to reconnecting the sense of community that is so strong in Irish American communities,” he said.
The parish priest put his celebrity status on hold over the Easter period at home as he had a very busy Holy Week and wanted to focus on his main duties as a priest. “Easter was a busy period for the parish and I noticed that mass attendance seemed to be up on last year, as was recorded across Ireland,” Kelly said.
“I’m not sure if it had anything to do with catching a glimpse of the ‘singing priest’ but we welcomed people who had traveled from Co. Dublin to attend the Easter services.”
The 60-year-old from Oldcastle, Co. Meath recently told "Late Late Show" host Ryan Tubridy that he hoped his new found fame would allow him to raise money for good causes.
"In the community, when you do the likes of weddings and funerals, you're very conscious of the relatives who are away, some of them legal, many of them not, who can't make it back.
"So it’s great to touch base with them and if doing this show in New York brings a little bit of Oldcastle, and Ireland to them, well then, that’s beautiful."
The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform’s evening of Irish entertainment will take place at Town Hall on West 43rd Street on Tuesday, May 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets will be available at the Town Hall box office and through Ticketmaster. For inquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org.