Ronan Tynan is a big man with a big heart. He's also one of Boston's newest residents. Having settled into his new home earlier this year, he'll be appearing locally at Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis on Aug. 6 and South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset the next night.
As loyal fans know, the internationally renowned singer, recording artist, author, and motivational speaker was born with a lower limb disability. Despite that, he never slowed down or lost his lust for life. It was only after he suffered complications from a car accident at the age of 20 that his legs were amputated below the knee.
Firm in his determination, he re-learned the skills necessary to walk, and a year later was competing in the Paralympics.
Between 1981 and 1984, he would win 18 gold medals and set 14 world records for his athletic abilities.
The Kilkenny native originally planned on a career in medicine. In fact, he earned his degree from Trinity College and was well into his residency when he shifted his attention to music. Encouraged to study voice by his Dad, he soon won the BBC talent show "Got For It" as well as the International Operatic Singing Competition held in France. Initially focusing on operatic work, he made his debut as Pinkerton in "Madame Butterfly" before going on to perform the works of Rossini, Verdi, and Handel, among others.
His life changed again in 1998 when he joined Anthony Kearns and John McDermott (later replaced by Finbar Wright) to form The Irish Tenors. In his subsequent solo career, he has sung everywhere from the funeral of President Ronald Reagan (at the personal request of Nancy Reagan) to the White House, Yankee Stadium, The Belmont Stakes, and at ceremonies prior to the Papal Mass in New York in 2008.
We spoke a few weeks ago as Boston was in the midst of a sizzling heat wave. Here's an edited version of our conversation.
BIR: You're just back from a short concert tour in Ireland. How did that go?
A. It was hugely well received. As we know, it's a tough economic climate at the moment, [but] that didn't stop the fans from coming out, which was great. I really enjoyed it. We did nine dates and we had sell-outs and it worked perfectly. It was really terrific.
BIR: Does audience excitement vary as you travel the world?
RT: Country to country, definitely. English audiences are more reserved. And I've sung in Italy and France and they're reserved, too.
BIR: So are the most expressive crowds back in Ireland or here in the States.
RT: I would say it's equally balanced. The States are terrific. It's just a wonderful, wonderful country and people have been wonderful to me and it's fantastic. There's tremendous support. So you have an equal kind of love, as they say.
BIR: Between your musical career and your inspirational speaking engagements, your audiences embrace you with a special kind of affection.
RT: The most important thing in life is to be able to give back. And to be real.
BIR: So what can audiences look forward to in Hyannis and Cohasset?
A. Well it's great, because this is going to be the first time that I've ever done a real kind of intimate setting. It's going to be with my pianist Bill Lewis, which is great. Bill and I have worked for ten years together; we know each other. It's a high level of music appreciation as well as cognitive awareness of where we are in the music. As usual, I do a lot of Irish.. I have an eclectic taste in music, but I know my audiences love Irish songs and I will always give them that. But I will always give then something else as well.
BIR: You've got a PBS concert special coming up later this year.
RT: I have indeed, with my band. I think it's planned for [airing in] September or October if my memory serves me right. It was great fun to do. Again, the audience will see a nice healthy, wealthy proportion of Irish, but they will also see other stuff that I've done, you know. That's important . . . Plus, we are in a country that has all different cultures and ethnicities from all over the world. So we try and embrace those as well.
BIR: Will we be seeing a DVD version of that concert?
RT: You will indeed. I would like to be 30 or 40 pounds lighter, but unfortunately, God designed me the way I am and I have to accept it.
BIR: Since moving to Boston you've sung for the Red Sox at Fenway Park, you appeared at the annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast - you've become a real local.
RT: You know what, it's amazing. Boston is a unique place. Aside from the fact that there are a huge number of Irish living in the community [and the] Irish heritage, I kind of fit in, you know. And they have welcomed me with open arms and I am thrilled to be here. It's a wonderful, wonderful city.
BIR: It's a little hot at the moment.
RT: Sacred Heart of God it surely is!
BIR: Well it's not normally 102 degrees, but I guess that's part of our New England charm.
RT: You know what, charm is the right word. It really is . . . It has an extraordinary beauty. For my 50th, we went to Nantucket and God that's such a gorgeous place. There are so many little nooks and crannies in Boston, in this wonderful part of the world . . . The state embraces beauty.
BIR: I've enjoyed your blog entries about your horses. You write about them with great affection.
RT: I love 'em.
BIR: I know you've been riding since you were a boy, but how did you first get involved.
RT: My family always had them. We used work horses in the farm, and the horses were a part of our mainstay. And I guess when you grow up on a farm, everything is part of your growing. And they were part of mine. I never lost the passion for them.
BIR: And I hear you're reuniting with The Irish Tenors later this year.
RT: That's right. I am reuniting with Fin and Anthony for a short summer tour, and then a more creative advanced Christmas tour. . . It's like with wine. Every so often wine needs to mature a little. And I took five years off and matured. So now I'll come back with a more interesting palate for the listener.
BIR: But that doesn't mean you're thinking about giving up your solo work.
RT: Oh God no. But where possible I'll work with them. I like to keep busy.
An Evening With Ronan Tynan: Aug. 6, Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, 508-775-5630 or melodytent.org; Aug. 7, South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, 781-383-9850 or themusiccircus.org. Also visit ronantynan.net.