Back in April 2014, Father Ray Kelly, the parish priest of Oldcastle and Moylagh in County Meath, decided to make a couple’s wedding extra special by singing a personalized version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” His rendition now has 40.5 million views on YouTube and his first album “Where I Belong” is already a success.
In less than a year Kelly (61) has gone from a much loved local priest to an international music sensation. Father Kelly told IrishCentral how quickly his worldwide fame escalated after the quick success of this YouTube video.
Kelly said in the days after the clip was uploaded he received requests to sing “Hallelujah” at weddings in Japan, Croatia, the United States, the United Kingdom, all over Ireland, South Africa, Poland, Lithuania and more besides. He also appeared on television in Germany and Ireland's “The Late Late Show.”
Two major record companies approached Fr Kelly when his popularity became apparent and eventually he signed with Universal and from August to October last year he recorded “Where I Belong.”
He told IrishCentral, “We built a temporary recording studio at my home and the last of the recording was completed in Vienna. The album has gone platinum in Ireland and is out now in the UK. In March it will be in record stores in the US. So my life has been very much in the fast lane since then.”
Fr Kelly has always been one to sing in Mass at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, but his parishioners could never have imagined that their priest would become a worldwide sensation. He said they’re “happy and excited to see their parish priest propelled into the limelight, so to speak. They've been so supportive. As they say, it's a great story that has really put Oldcastle on the map.”
Since the clip went viral Fr Kelly has also moved away from being a solo Church venue performer. In fact, this February he performed in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
“I’ve had sell-out concerts at home here in my parish and in Ireland, at Castleblaney and Navan. I've also had more requests to perform charity concerts from many of my fellow priests and other charities,” he told IrishCentral. “The important thing has been to find a balance to do that while running the parish on a day-to-day basis.”
Fr Kelly is keeping his feet on the ground but still seeing the worth in performing and keeping his popularity going for the sake of charity work.
“My dream for the future is to be able to do some of these charity concerts and maybe have a tour of concerts at home and even in the UK, Germany and other parts of Europe. And, of course, I would dearly love if people in the US like my album. A tour in the USA would be an absolute dream come true,” said Fr Kelly.
The album, “Where I Belong,” is being released in the US on March 10. His debut album is made up of eight cover songs, including REM's "Everybody Hurts," Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," "O Danny Boy," "Amazing Grace," and two original songs. Already it is being described as “soulful” and receiving critical acclaim. If Father Kelly’s success continues he’ll certainly have his wish.
He added, “I hope my music is really embraced and loved by people all over the world. I have enjoyed so much making this album, and I hope there will be more albums to come.”
Watch Father Ray Kelly speak about his journey over the past year: