TAKING a leap of faith in switching careers is simpler when you’re already a Paralympics gold medalist in the long jump. And fast-tracking Ronan Tynan’s musical career was his win in the aptly named BBC talent show Go For It.
“I was an intern in the Adelaide Hospital at the time  and again, my medical colleagues were fantastic. Some even went to the show. That win was a lucky break and typical me, I prepared and polished, prepared and polished.
“It was one of my father’s proudest moments when they showed it on the TV, he wanted to leap through the screen he was so thrilled. Mam was there, it was a great moment for them.”
Not that it was their son’s first television appearance. “When I was 18, Gay Byrne had a show in Goffs, all about Paralympics. That was the first time I was on TV.”
‘The Singing Doctor’ as Tynan was often dubbed, was considering career options before his breakthrough win. “I was planning to go into rehabilitation but after Go For It, I went in a different direction altogether. Bill Hughes, one of the adjudicators, became a good friend and in 1998, he rang me and said would I like to be part of the Irish Tenors, I said I’d love to.”
The first album released by the Irish Tenors original line-up of Ronan, Anthony Kearns and John McDermott went triple platinum and the trade wind caught by the group has continued right through to their upcoming 25th anniversary tour in Dublin and Killarney.
“We don’t want to saturate the market in Ireland as it has so many musicians here. It’s been three or four years since we were back and you want to make a reason for coming back, like the 25 years celebration.
“I’m delighted to feel we became ambassadors for Irish music. I love Irish culture, Irish music, Irish dancing. I love the fact that we retain our culture and heritage.”
Fitting so that Ronan’s second cousin is Alo Tynan who bred the well-named Irish, an individual bronze medallist at the Barcelona Olympics and his full-brother, Loughehoe Guy. “I used to ride ponies for Alo,” Ronan recalled.
As was the presentation 10 years ago to Ronan of the Ellis Island Medal of Honour, which recognises the personal and professional contribution made to America by immigrants who also preserve the richness of their own heritage.
A beautiful memory
The Irish Tenors performance from Ellis Island’s Great Hall, where some 12 million immigrants went through, is one memorable career highlight. “We sang Annie Moore, Green Fields of France, poignant moments.”
Was that his outstanding highlight? “I’ll tell you the outstanding one; Madison Square Garden. 26,000 people. And the first two rows, all these people stood up on their seats waving their jackets. You can dream of this stuff.”
What made that night even more priceless was that Ronan had brought his mother Thérèse and sister Fiona over to New York for that concert.
“Mam had been developing Alzheimers for some time. She even told me one day when we were out in the back yard: ‘Ro, I keep forgetting things, my memory is bad’. I said, ‘Don’t worry.’
“Dad then said ‘I’m worried about Mam, her memory’s not great’. And I said ‘Look, we possibly are going into a difficult phase here. Mam may have a form of dementia’, knowing full well it was Alzheimers.
“I remember that night in Madison Square Garden. She was quite advanced at that stage and I remember looking down just before singing Galway Bay, she was rooting through her handbag and I said ‘Hey, Mam, I’m up here.’ And she said ‘Hello Ronan!’ It was beautiful, a beautiful memory.
“I wrote Passing Through about Mam and that song resonated with so many people.
“When I had my practice, Mam was my receptionist mar dhea. My patients were so kind to her and they really rallied her. She was a very devout woman but she was political, a Fine Gael woman and that was it. If you mentioned De Valera, she’d go mad and she claimed she was related to Michael Collins. Eve-ry year, we were loaded up in the car to go down to Beal na mBlath!”
‘We’ included his brother Tom, “he was Phil Hogan’s right hand man” and Fiona. “The three of us were brought up to work hard. Fiona is dynamic, her daughter Shonagh is working as a vet in Australia and her son Padraig is a third-year vet student.”
After Ronan set up his practice, there were often amusing incidents when farmers arrived with piglets and calves in tow. “I had my own clinic, right beside a veterinary clinic, for seven or eight years. Sometimes you’d have people bringing in little banbhs and calves and I’d say ‘No, no, no! I’m not the man that will sort that out. Next door!
“I’d gone through a difficult period, I got an infection in my sinuses so I had to stop singing. Dad said ‘Ro, you have to open your practice.” I did and I’ll never forget it: the first day I opened, he sat in the waiting room.
“I felt very secure with him there and after everyone was gone, I said ‘Any harm in asking why you stayed there?’ ‘Ah, I wanted to make up the numbers! The only thing is if anyone came back the next day and saw me in the waiting room, I was worried because they’d think you hadn’t cured either of us!’
“I was very blessed and when the practice took off, there was nobody more thrilled for me than Dad. He was definitely my best friend and when he passed , a part of me went with him. I was just so heartbroken.”
Ronan Tynan celebrates after his Dancing Lady and Mark Enright won the Malton Handicap Hurdle at Killarney in 2014 \ Healy Racing
The experience of his mother’s condition forged a close bond with Nancy Reagan. Back performing again, Ronan was invited to sing at her 75th birthday party where he struck up a conversation with the former First Lady, whose hus-band Ronald had Alzeimhers too.
“I said, ‘We have an experience in common and if you ever need me for anything, let me know’. She wrote me a beautiful letter afterwards and sent a book signed by him.”
That call came from Nancy Reagan’s private secretary in 2004, just before Smarty Jones’s Triple Crown bid at Belmont Park, where Ronan was scheduled to perform New York, New York before the big race.
Advised then that the former President was “very, very ill”, the news that Ronald Reagan, (who, incidentally, 20 years previously, had presented Tynan with an award at the 1984 Paralympics), had died was announced the next day.
At Nancy Reagan’s request, Ronan sang Amazing Grace and Schubert’s Ava Maria at the 40th US President’s state funeral, attended by President Mary McAleese, the Bush family and former heads of state, including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, and watched by a TV audience of 35 million.
Fiona, his talisman, flew over to support her brother and the pair were in-situ in Washington Cathedral by 7am, over four hours before the funeral service began.
Afterwards, the pair travelled on Airforce Two with President George W. Bush and his family to Houston as Ronan was booked to sing at the pre-arranged 80th birthday party for the president’s father, George H.W Bush.
“It was surreal. Here was Fiona and I, sitting beside Barbara Bush on Airforce Two! People forget the person behind the name. Take the politics out of it, they were a fantastic family, especially George Bush Snr. You’ve no idea what a good friend he was to me.”
True to his father Edmund’s good-natured prophecy that Ronan would “pollute” the farm with horses, he started to build up a string of show jumping horses and broodmares back home in Johnstown. Often with opera-themed official names such as Cavaradossi and Puccini, always with nicknames.
“Warrenstown You 2 (Narcos II) was Norm; Walterstown Clover (Clover Bri-gade), her nickname was Ugly Betty! Around that time I had some amazing mares.”
These included Warrenstown Well Aware (Cruising), dam of Lanaken finalist Be Aware (Pacino), now competing in Canada.
“I had some fantastic horses. At one stage, I held the top three positions in the Premier League with three horses, You 2 won the Premier League and National League in the same year. He adored jumping, when he’d have a clear round, he’d buck and put on a display as if ‘I’m the man!’ He just made so many proud moments for me.”
Including the Nations Cup show at Ypäjä in Finland. “I got lost trying to find wherever I was going! Walterstown Clover was third in the Derby, she never knew what a bank was but she was so honest.
“You 2 and Tholm [Keane] anchored the Nations Cup team, we were in a battle with Belgium and one of their riders put a foot in the water. They had four faults and we needed Norm to go clear. And he did! My god, I sung the anthem and we even got lost again on the way home! It resonated with me how great the horse was. That was a wonderful, wonderful day.
“I love that horse, Norm is down in Kilkenny and I basically look after him like a child. He’s like a 10-year-old! When he sees the mares, he prances up and down, thinking he’s a hero. Fiona would feed him at times when I wasn’t there. He’d go to the corner, let her put the feed in and then come forward to the manger, a top-class gentleman.
“He knows I love him. One day I’ll walk out and he’ll have passed and there’s nothing I can do about that. But until that horse goes to meet his maker, he will have the best life possible.”
‘Norm’ was previously based in Paddy Quirke’s yard in Littleton. “Mary Quirke was managing the stallion, we were huge friends and she was just a super, super person. I’m very fond of Paddy, just a great, dapper man, as neat as a pin and his wife Kay. The kettle would be put on as soon as you arrived in that kitchen!
“They’re an amazing family, stalwarts. They had Cavalier, Harlequin du Carel, great horses I used all the time.”
Another Ballymureen Stud stallion was the Holsteiner Ars Vivendi, sire of the full-siblings Krafty Kitty and Rocksy Music. Both were bred by Stephen Keane who owned their Diamond Serpent dam Krafty Kate, a full-sister to Tynan’s good Grand Prix horse Krafty Jack.
“Kitty was possibly the best mare that Krafty Kate bred and her full-brother Rocksy Music went to Richie Moloney. I’ve kind of gone into the racing field but haven’t gone away from show jumping. I’ve four mares: Kitty; Kiss Me Kate; Em, an Emerald mare out of HHS Pinky and I’ve a two year-old OBOS Quality out of a Cruising mare that jumped to 1.50m. I bought her from Charlie Hanley and her name is Coorthafooka, the old name for Johnstown.”
Anthony Crotty is in charge of the Warrenstown-breds during Ronan’s travels. “This man has a passion and a love for horses, it’s palpable. I know when I go away that Anthony will after those mares.” Farrier Dan Breen is another vital team member.
Warrenstown You 2, bred by Harron Eakin Farms, produced a number of five-star eventers including James O’Haire’s mare China Doll and the Kate Jarvey and Austin O’Connor-owned Balham Houdini. Seven years ago, Houdini competed at Lexington, another Tynan base.
“I teach there in the University of Kentucky, I do two semesters each year. They have a wonderful opera music school in Lexington and Altech’s Dr Pearse Lyons was the one who basically brought me in, he was determined that I would teach there.
“When I was teaching in Kentucky, I had the afternoon off and what does Ro-nan decide? ‘I’ll go to the sales!’ And I ended up buying two Street Crime year-lings.”
“One mare Mo Chara, she was a really good mare. She won one race, was sec-ond in another and then I brought her home, so I’m breeding from her. I sold the other fellow and he went on to win some nice races. I’m very dangerous in a sales because I look for a foal or yearling that has attitude, in the sense they walk into the ring and own it.”
Has that worked? “It has, it definitely has. And it hasn’t as well! I remember many years ago looking at Krafty Kitty and thinking ‘You’re the best’, apart from Krafty Jack, who was a fantastic horse.
“90% of my stable are ladies, I always pray to God I get a filly out of my mares because they’re the next generation. It’s funny how the traits come through. You look at the foals that are born, you don’t know who’s going to do the job but I’m as happy as a baked clam if they do.
“I had some really fantastic mares, including Whosgotyanow, she’s won five races for me.”
Her name is courtesy of former Miami policeman Brent Hansen whose catchphrase when making an arrest was ‘Who’s got you now?’
“We were like brothers, we had an amazing friendship and even rode Route 66 on motorbikes.
“I had to rehabilitate Whosgotyanow because she fractured her femur, but she got there. Cian Quirke gave her a fantastic ride when she won in Killarney and then won a big chase in Clonmel. I have my heart on my sleeve on racing days. You just have to embrace the days of glory, they’re rare and you just have to go after it.
“Andy Slattery trains my horse and they’re a great family, his brother Willie is phenomenal too in his dedication and focus. Brian does all the travel, they work well together, they eat, breathe and sleep horses. That’s all they do.”
“I love fillies”
A rare national hunt breeder that prefers a filly foal? “I love fillies! I sell nearly every colt in the place. The only one I kept this year is Krafty Kitty’s first colt (SHS Soco Blue), he’s a stunner. I kept him because he’s precocious and has everything he needs to have; beautiful movement, glides along the ground, great carriage, bold as brass!
“The ‘boss man’ had a back on him like a Charolais bullock! I said, ‘He’s five and a half months old now, Kitty, what do you think?’ and she said, ‘Please take him!” He had her exhausted but funny enough, she missed him when he was weaned. She’s a very bright mare.”
Ronan Tynan is adept in navigating obstacles. Even when it came to writing his ‘half-time’ book: Halfway Home: My Life ’til Now. “I hand-wrote it because I can’t type for nothing!”
His first draft, with its ‘Irish colloquialisms’ caused bewilderment in the publishing house. “Well, I said, they’re Irish-isms and I’m an Irishman so you’ll just have to allow the fact that they’re Irish-isms and let them run!
“It’s always amazing to look back and see what a ride it’s been. We all have dreams,” he mused, looking back on a packed-with-stories life.
The dream closing chapter would surely be a Tynan-bred in the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure being serenaded by the Irish Tenors.