IRISH TENOR Ronan Tynan was at George HW Bush’s side during the final few hours of the former US President’s life.
The New York Times reports that Tynan sang poignant renditions of Silent Night and a Gaelic song for the 41st president of the United States at his home in Houston. In a moving description of the scene that unfolded, former secretary of state and friend James A. Baker revealed to the newspaper how the late President began “mouthing the words” as Tynan sang Silent Night.
It made for a magical and moving moment in Bush’s final hours – and yet it was almost completely unplanned.
Tynan had only got in touch on Friday to see if he could drop in and pay his respects to the President. When he arrived there, former chief-of-staff Jean Becker asking the Irishman to deliver one final, unforgettable, personal performance for the man she worked side-by-side with, in the Oval Office. Tynan duly obliged, giving Bush the perfect Irish send-off after a prolonged period of ill health.
Born in Dublin, Tynan is a member of the famed Irish Tenors and previously performed at the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, Bush’s predecessor and the man he served under as Vice President. However, Tynan was something of a latecomer to the music industry, having overcome extraordinary challenges in his early life. The double amputee is a Paralympic champion who won 18 gold medals for Ireland. Tynan and his twin brother, Edmond, were born into a farming family in Johnstown, County Kilkenny, in May 1960. Shortly after birth, their parents were told Ronan had phocomelia – a congenital deformity affecting both of his legs below the knee.
“I had only three toes on each foot, which I eventually named Curly, Larry, and Moe on the right and Tuppeny, Fuffo and Jinks on the left.”
Tynan spent most of the first three years of his life in a hospital in Dublin, only going home to Kilkenny for weekend visits. By the time he was able to leave a hospital, he had already lost his twin – Edmond died after contracting pneumonia shortly before their first birthday. When he moved home, Tynan was fitted with artificial limbs which, at the time, consisted of leather boots re-enforced with steel rods. He learned to walk, cycle and ride horses and enjoyed an active childhood, but at the age of 20, he was injured in a motorcycle crash which badly affected his mobility.
After meeting medical specialists in London, Tynan decided to have both of his lower legs amputated to enable him to walk on artificial limbs again.
“You have to accept the fact that it’s the best thing that can happen to you, if it’s going to be for your betterment.
“And I knew it would ultimately benefit me. I knew I’d walk again. I knew I’d be fine.”
Within a year, Tynan was representing Ireland at the Paralympics in various track and field events. Throughout the 1980s, he won 18 gold medals and broke 14 Paralympic world records. He also completed a degree in physical education at a college in Limerick and later qualified as a medical doctor at Trinity College, Dublin.
Dr. Tynan was in his early 30s before his singing career took off. His big break came in 1994 when he won the BBC/RTÉ talent show Go For It less than a year after starting formal voice training. In 1998, he joined the Irish Tenors, a classical trio who have sold millions of albums and regularly tour the USA. On their website, the group describes themselves as “one of the most successful Irish touring acts ever, second only to U2” in terms of US audiences.
In his solo career, Tynan became know for his renditions of “God Bless America” at New York’s Yankee Stadium. He sang at the wedding of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2003 and the following year he performed at Mr. Bush’s 80th birthday party.
In his final meeting with George HW Bush, he sang two songs – one in the Irish language and a rendition of Silent Night.
During Silent Night, James Baker, friend and former secretary of state, told the paper: “Believe it or not, the president was mouthing the words.”
He added that Mr. Bush died a “very graceful, gentle death” later that night.