WHEN he was told he had only a 50-50 chance of ever walking again, Barry Darcy took the only option open to him: “I took that chance,” he recalls.
Now back on his feet, the 38-year-old from Castlemartyr has sung his way to the semi-finals of Ireland’s Got Talent, after wowing the judges and viewers of the TV show with his voice, and the story of how he conquered adversity.
“I suffered a herniated disc in 2013 that crushed my main nerves feeding into my legs, causing me paralysis from the waist down,” recalls Barry, who had along history of back trouble.
“Wheel-chair bound for seven months, I was treated in CUH and subsequently in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. The fear of the unknown was terrible. I didn’t know how things would go.”
Luckily, things went well.
And when he entered the Virgin Media TV show Ireland’s Got Talent, things went very, very well.
Barry, who is married to Fiona, and dad to Luke, 16, and Ryan, 11, gave such a wonderful rendition of The Wonder Of You in the audition that judge and music mogul Louis Walsh pressed the Golden Buzzer, which fast-tracked to the semi- final this Saturday — the final is on Sunday.
“It is huge for me,” says Barry. “It means so much to me. I am asking people to watch the semi-final show live, not on catch-up — and don’t press pause on the TV. You have to watch the show and vote! I am going to do my very best.”
Barry, who has been a massive Elvis fan since he was a young boy, is all shook up with the fantastic support of his family, friends, the the community of Rast Cork and beyond, all willing him to make the final eight acts.
“The support I’m getting is unbelievable,” says Barry, who is originally from Enniscorthy, Wexford, and moved to Cork in 2002. “The people of Cork have embraced me, making me one of their own. It’s phenomenal.
“My work-mates at Keepak in Watergrasshill are all behind me.”
Barry was also invited to be Grand Marshall at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Youghal.
Did he feel intimidated appearing on TV in front of the judges at The Helix? “I was a bit nervous. Yes,” he admits. “But I wasn’t intimidated. I just went for it.”
He is familiar with ‘just going for it’.
“My message to my kids and to everyone, is never give up,” says Barry. “If you put in 110%; good things can happen.”
It was one Sunday evening that Barry’s health scare began. “I had a bit of history with back trouble, which is not uncommon to many people,” he says. “I took a couple of painkillers and I went into bed. Half an hour later, I went to get up and I fell to the floor. I thought I’d be grand again in 15 seconds.”
But he wasn’t.
“A disc in my back had perforated, lying on the sciatic nerve.”
He was treated in CUH then the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, fearing the worst in 2014 after being told it was 50:50 that he would ever walk again.
But he knew Fiona was always in the wings, willing him on to get back up on his feet, and back to his beloved family.
“Fiona was so strong,” says Barry. “She took everything on her own shoulders. The song I sang at the Helix, The Wonder Of You, summed up my love for Fiona. I sang it to her and for her. It encapsulates all I want to say to my family. It is a thank-you to them.”
Barry and Fiona met in Clancy’s Bar, Youghal, where he was performing.
“I was smitten straight away,” says Barry.
Fiona stood by her man when he needed her.
“He had weeks and months of intensive physiotherapy,” she says. “He’d ring me and tell me; ‘my toes are moving’. When I went up to the hospital his big toe was barely moving. It was like slow-motion!”
But Barry couldn’t help believing.
“The worst case scenario was that I’d be in a wheelchair forever,” he says. “But I never gave up. I always believed I would walk again. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever sing again.
“When I had down-time in Dun Laoghaire, I kept thinking; I am not defeated. I saw others in the hospital with huge resilience in the same situation. I knew I had the same resilience within me.”
“Slowly but surely, I stood back up on my feet,” says Barry. “Anybody with a 50-50 chance has a fighting chance.”
“I came home from hospital with crutches and two boots. The nerves weren’t quite fully repaired, not sending messages to my muscles properly. I had muscle spasms, they moved on their own! My legs were quite weak. I had sensory issues and foot drop.
“I went back to work in 2015 with the boots on! Fiona and the boys were brilliant.”
But even The King wasn’t invincible.
“I loved doing Elvis tributes,” says Barry. “I couldn’t perform to the same degree after being paralysed and that bothered me.”
Performing had become a way of life.
“Growing up, I practised singing Elvis songs for hours in my bedroom, singing into the hair-brush! I practised Elvis’s stage movements for hours and I studied his mannerisms meticulously.
“I had the jet black hair, the side-burns; the works. For 10 years during the ’90s, the Elvis tributes were my side-line. I performed up and down the country. My voice seemed to resonate with people. I loved it.”
Barry, never one to do things by halves; went the whole hog. “I sent off to America for the white suit!” I was really bitten by the bug.”
As he recovered, he didn’t want to sing any of his Elvis favourites. “I steered away from Elvis. It was too demanding,” says Barry. “I still sang every Sunday at Bat Murphy’s pub. It was enough to feed my love of singing and my passion for it.”
Fiona, who knew how much Barry loved singing and performing, sent off an audition tape to Ireland’s Got Talent, knowing Barry was a winner.
“I saw the ads for the show too,” says Barry. “And I thought; that isn’t out of reach. I was thinking about it all year. So I sent off an audition tape too. We still don’t know whose tape was picked up, mine or Fiona’s. It’s like; we weren’t talking to each other!”
His amazing voice did the talking. How did he feel when Louis pressed the Golden Buzzer?
“On top of the world!” says Barry. “It was just amazing.”
He certainly offers hope and consolation to many people who have lost hope for better days in good health.
“My experience amplified my love for Fiona and for my sons,” says Barry. “We are a solid, solid unit.”
See Barry in the Ireland’s Got Talent semi-final this Saturday on Virgin Media 1 at 7.30pm. Voting details will appear on the screen.