Finbar marks his milestone 60th... but retirement is not on agenda, he insists

He turned his back on the priesthood at 30, claiming he couldn’t handle the loneliness. Cork singing star Finbar Wright tells COLETTE SHERIDAN why the Catholic Church needs to change, and his plans to mark his impending landmark birthday
Finbar marks his milestone 60th... but retirement is not on agenda, he insists
Singer Finbar Wright. Picture Clare Keogh

IF priests were allowed to marry, Finbar Wright reckons he could be double-jobbing today.

The affable Cork man, a classically trained tenor, left the priesthood at 30, citing philosophical differences.

He has gone on to be one of Cork’s great musical treasures, both solo and with the Irish Tenors group, married the love of his life, and had two children.

Even so, it’s intriguing to think that Finbar may have combined singing with the priestly vocation had circumstances been different.

"The church talks about declining numbers,” he said. “But there’s no reason in the wide earthly world that you cannot have women priests.

“The church talks about feminism and the place of women. But it doesn’t add up. In my view, there should be women priests and the sooner, the better.”

The singer is approaching a landmark in his life, as he prepares to turn 60 on September 26, and is releasing a new album and planning a Cork concert early next year.

Finbar, born named after Cork’s patron saint, looks back on his clerical years and thinks he really had a vocation “to be a social worker rather than a priest”.

At just 16, he was sent to Spain as part of his studies for the priesthood. Having been a student of Spanish at Farranferris in Cork, he fell in love with that country’s culture and says that “having to strike out on my own in Spain gave me a bit of backbone”.

At the time, the Catholic Church in Ireland “was on a very high pedestal. I was steeped in it. It governed almost every aspect of your life. I thought it was great but being sent to Spain was a bit daunting.

“Dr (Cornelius) Lucey was the Bishop of Cork at the time and he had his own mindset about a lot of things.”

This included sending trainee priests abroad “to broaden their minds”.

Finbar, who is a member of the popular Irish Tenors as well as having a successful career as a solo singer, has always said that he left the priesthood because of loneliness.

“I just couldn’t cope with that,” he said, “I grew up in a very busy household.”

Singer Finbarr Wright. Picture: Wendy McCann
Singer Finbarr Wright. Picture: Wendy McCann

Married to Angela, the couple have two children who are in their twenties. 

“I didn’t really meet Angela until I left the priesthood even though I knew her before that from musical circles,” said Finbar.

Still a practising Catholic, he regrets that the liturgy “has changed so much”.

"It lost an awful lot,” he said. “When I was very young, there was a lot of drama in the liturgy and I think it lost that dramatic side that particularly appealed to Irish people who have always loved plays and drama.

“We lost that and it went too intellectual. Everything had to have a meaning. A lot of people didn’t have time for that.”

Spiritual matters are still very important to Finbar. 

“I think there’s lot of good in a lot of religions. But obviously, I don’t agree with a lot of the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church.”

Finbar recalls being interviewed by Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show. He says the former chat show host “looked at me askance, saying I couldn’t be serious when I said (the church sexual abuse scandals) would go to the very core of the trust of the church. As it turned out, it was a much bigger tsunami than they expected.”

With an album due to be released in the first week of October entitled Finbar Wright: 60, and a much anticipated return to the Cork Opera House on Valentine’s Night in 2018, Finbar is secure in his career. He doesn’t feel any different, hitting his milestone birthday.

“I’m blessed with good health and long may it continue,” he said. “I suppose in terms of my career, I can relax a little. I don’t think I have anything more to prove.”

But the Farran-based singer doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.

“I don’t think musicians ever retire. Look at the likes of Tony Bennett and Charles Aznavour. I love Aznavour’s song She. He is still singing in his nineties.”

Finbar is enjoying life to the full, spending a lot of time with his family and working in his garden.

“We live near Farran Woods, overlooking the Lee Valley. The garden is kind of scattered. It has evolved over the years. We’ve been here for 20 years. I love gardening. We grow a lot of vegetables in a poly tunnel. We have a lot of shrubs and trees.

“Unusually, we have eucalyptus which grows very well in our garden. Gardening is good for the mind, the body and spirit.”

When he’s not on stage, Finbar is indulging his passions for gardening, cycling and “making exotic gins”.

The Irish Tenors, who will celebrate 20 years next year, continue to tour, particularly in America where they have great success.

“I suppose we did for Irish music what Luciano Pavarotti and his crowd did for Italian music. We took what was a lovely tradition of tunes and put a symphony orchestra with them which gave them a different feel.

“The songs tended to be treated as a folk item with banjos and guitars. But these tunes are incredible and when they’re given the full symphonic treatment, it takes them somewhere else.”

In America, the Irish Tenors “have a faithful following in the Irish community and far outside it,” added Finbar. “There are people from every strata of society who enjoy our singing.”

He said the Irish Tenors have a particularly large fan base in Texas. “We often perform in Houston. We’re very conscious of the recent floods there. I know people there. They didn’t lose their homes but they had a tough time.

“We have been talking about doing something in Texas (to raise funds) but there’s nothing concrete yet.”

One of the highlights of Finbar’s career was performing at the State dinner in Dublin Castle for President Bill Clinton in 1995.

But Finbar said that the concerts he most enjoys are the ones he perform at the Cork Opera House. Clearly, he is a loyal son of Cork.

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