Tom Eblen: Chieftans, Lyons join for Haiti benefit

Herald-Leader columnistOctober 6, 2010 

At the University of Kentucky's Singletary Center on Monday night, the world-famous Irish band The Chieftains and their musical friends from Ireland, Lexington, Nashville, New York and Canada joined with 24 singing Haitian children for a benefit concert that rocked the house.

It was part of Alltech's Haitian Harmony project, an effort by Pearse Lyons, founder of Nicholasville-based Alltech, to help people in the impoverished nation.

"When you get an invitation like this, you can't refuse," said Paddy Moloney, who has led The Chieftains for nearly a half-century. "This was our way to help. The thing hasn't gone away; (Haiti's) just as bad as ever.

"It's a pity we didn't have another day to rehearse so we could have done some Haitian music," Moloney said, adding with a wink: "But it was a hell of a show."

Lyons said Moloney and friends agreed to donate their services after Shane Ryan, who owns Lexington's Castleton Lyons farm and Europe's biggest discount airline, Ryanair, agreed to fly The Chieftains from Ireland on a private jet. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who performed at the Games' opening ceremony, returned from a gig in Florida to join the benefit.

"We had a meeting of the Irish minds," said Lyons, a native of Ireland, adding that his brothers John and Lorcan helped with the arrangements. The Chieftains got to see the Games' cross-country competition Saturday before a private dinner downtown with Ireland's equestrian team.

"The hospitality has been just amazing," Moloney said.

The concert raised more than $53,000 from donations and sales of tickets and Haitian coffee, but Lyons said the most important thing was raising awareness of the project.

The children's choir returns to Haiti on Thursday, and Lyons and UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey have been thinking the same thing many others have: How will these children ever be able to cope back home after having such an amazing trip?

"I have a personal responsibility for these 24 children," Lyons said. "There's an outpouring of compassion for these children but, at the end of it, we have to give them a future. They will have an education. We will follow through."

There is talk of scholarship funds for them and others, of a traveling choir and ways to expand the concept to other Haitian schools, but nothing has been decided. With this concert and others, Lyons hopes to have recruited lots of help.

"The audience was really with us," Lyons said, "and that was the important thing."

Reach Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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