Young talent in Cork set to sing for Hope

Ahead of a fundraising concert this week in aid of the Hope Foundation, we talk to Willow Allen, of Ballymaloe fame.
Young talent in Cork set to sing for Hope
Willow Allen Feature

THE great granddaughter of the legendary Myrtle Allen is looking forward to taking to the stage of Ballymaloe’s Grainstore later this month to raise money for the Hope Foundation.

Willow Allen, 15, is an aspiring singer/ songwriter and musician and is hoping her talent, and that of her friends, will raise €2,500 for the charity that carries out vital work with street children in Kolkata.

Willow is the daughter of Toby, who is the son of Darina and Tim, and along with 13-year-old sister India and mum Penny, lives near the world famous Ballymaloe – HQ of the family business.

The Midleton College transition year student describes it as a ‘wonderful place’ to grow up — and of course, enjoy amazing food’.

She usually calls Myrtle Mrs Allen, while granny goes by Darina.

And far from shunning food — which is practically in her DNA — she combines helping out in Ballymaloe’s shop with her love of music, which sees her play both guitar and piano.

Performing under the stage name Willow Xena (her second name), she describes her music as having pop influences including the likes of Lorde and Twenty One Pilots, adding: “We’re the Spotify generation — we can listen to anything in the world.”

This won’t be her first time performing her own work in the unique surrounds of the Grainstore as she’s already impressed audiences at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest and even supported renowned Brian Kennedy at the venue.

“My stage fright isn’t too bad,” she joked.

The concert on November 16 is called ‘Truth and Hope’ and will showcase other talented young singer/songwriters from East Cork.

Outside of Willow they include Saoirse Garet, Neville Scott Saoirse Daly, Hope Deeny, Camilla Houston and Sonya Keogh.

The audience can also look forward to hearing Willow’s choir AiR Ensemble, set up by Sonya Keogh of ARTlifeCULTURE, an international youth arts company based in Cork.

“We put our individual slant on traditional Irish songs,” explains Willow.

“We have capacity for 200 people on the night and are hoping to raise €2,500. People can look forward to an evening of entertainment from young, energetic singer songwriters,” she said.

Naturally, at only 15, Willow has plenty of time to decide but hopes to make a career from music instead of following her parents into the family business (Toby works in the cookery school and mum Penny in the shop).

“I do cook a bit and I do help out in the shop and in the gardens but music is my focus at the moment. I’ll be looking into all the options like UCC and the School of Music. Midleton College is very supportive of music allowing us to perform at assembly and things like that.”

The Allens are essentially celebrity chefs with Darina, Rory and Rachel all having a string of TV series’ and cookery books to their name.

What was it like growing up as part of it?

“People always ask me that — it’s always been a part of my life so I don’t know anything else but it’s really enjoyable to have the whole family quite close.”

Her only slight quibble is that everyone works very hard and they don’t all get to see each other as often as they would like: “But I’m looking forward to everyone spending Christmas together like we always do in Ballymaloe.”

Dad Toby said he was looking forward to the concert:

“Myself and Penny are very proud of Willow and are amazed every time she gets up on stage with such confidence and sings with such passion.

“We find ourselves humming her songs in the car and are delighted she is using this opportunity with The Hope Foundation and Midleton College to highlight all the great musical talent we have in the area. We can’t wait for the night.”

Tickets cost €10 and are available from the Grainstore. See http://ballymaloegrainstore.com/ To date the Hope Foundation has helped over two million people.

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