WHEN Hermione Hennessy-Ross speaks about her late father Christie Hennessy, you can feel the love immediately.
The genuine sense of loss is still palpable 10 years on, and the love and admiration she has for him now is every bit as strong as it was before the untimely death of one Tralee’s most beloved sons in December 2007.
Hermione was speaking to Connect ahead of a tribute concert to honour her father at Killarney’s INEC on June 15, when she and her sister Amber and brother Tim will celebrate the incredible life and career of one of Kerry and Ireland’s most loved performers.
The Killarney performance of Hennessy – A Tribute to Christie takes place just two days before Father’s Day and will be the ultimate way to honour him, Hermione says – through his music and through personal memories.
As well as performing some of his favourite and most famous songs, the show will also feature exclusive and heart-felt stories and anecdotes about a man for whom fame came late in life. Also on show will be previously unseen memorabilia and personal effects that the family have curated for fans for the first time.
“We are all really excited about it and mum is even getting involved to help us talk about some of the songs he loved most and explain why they were important to him,” Hermione explained. “We cannot wait to meet all of Christie’s fans as we sing his favourite songs, ones everyone will know and love, as well as arranging a few surprises from our family to yours.”
Asked if she felt pressure to put on a good show in her dad’s home county, soft-spoken Hermione – who herself is an accomplished artist – said it’s more a sense of excitement and nerves, than pressure.
“My biggest problem will be holding it together and not crying,” Hermione openly admitted. “That will be quite tough, but when dad performed he was very open with his emotions too – he could laugh ‘til he fell off the stool or he could sometimes cry. My feeling is, you can’t get it wrong if you approach it from the heart.”
During her career, Hermione Hennessy-Ross has worked with acts as diverse as Willie Nelson, Justin Timberlake, Dionne Warwick and R Kelly, but it’s clear from speaking to her that her greatest achievement was taking on the role as Christie’s manager in the early ‘90s and seeing his career finally flourish.
She didn’t hold back in explaining why she felt the need to take her father under her wing – openly admitting that she believed he was being ‘taken advantage of’ and wasn’t getting the credit he deserved.
“It’s my opinion that he was really badly taken advantage of and that hurt me a lot,” she said. “I remember once seeing a very well known comedian on TV telling one of dad’s jokes and I was devastated – and dad was devastated too. Then, another time, he had a song stolen by someone who hasn’t ever written a song since and I thought, enough is enough. I’m not going to stand by and watch this when my dad is working the folk clubs every evening and up and down ladders every day.’
Hermione said she made it her ‘mission’ to see her dad get the success he so truly deserved and said she would have found a way to make that happen at all costs.
‘For me it became my mission and I suppose I got into music exactly for that reason. All my life, I was listening to a person so dedicated to performing and creating great music and I didn’t want him playing in clubs to little or no people or in front of people who joked that they didn’t understand his accent.’
True to her word, Hermione made it happen, with Christie signing to U2’s Mother Records – at the age of 47. He later signed to Warner Records Ireland and became one of the eldest performers to ever receive the Best New Artist award at the 1992 IRMAs. Christie Hennessy – born Edward Christopher Ross in Tralee in November 1945- went on to record 10 multi-platinum selling albums, playing to sold -out concert halls all over Ireland and regularly appearing on Irish TV throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
While Christie loved performing and meeting his fans, his new found fame was something that never went to his head, Hermione said.
“He was the same man on stage as he was off – genuine and honest -which was extraordinary,” she said. “In fact sometimes he felt a little out of his depth – we both did – because I don’t know if he ever really believed he would be successful. It was strange too sometimes, because dad always loved to talk to people and meet with them, but when he started to become more successful, people were a bit more guarded and tended to stand back a little and that was hard for him.”
Christie’s untimely death at the age of just 62 from a rare form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure rocked the entire Ross family to the core, Hermione says – her voice fading a little as she is consumed with sadness. She says she still finds it incredibly difficult to accept his death, which she believes shouldn’t have been cut short so soon.
“For me, I still can’t believe he’s gone. I have suffered other losses but what makes this so hard is that this was such an extraordinary man who went too soon for something that should never have happened,” she said. “He was a fit, healthy man and looked after himself so when we learned about the cancer and the cause we were in total shock.”
After Christie’s death, Hermione recorded her debut number album, Songs My Father Taught Me, which was produced by her brother Tim and remained at Number One for over five weeks. It was something she never intended to do – but a project she is extremely proud of.
“I never expected to make that album but a friend at Warner told me I needed to do it. It was a selection of songs that dad had previously wanted me to sing and said would suit my voice, and of course he was right,” she said.
“He was a real visionary and knew what was happening in music way before it happened. The album was also a way of giving Tim something to work on that was personal and meant something to him as he was just starting to become successful in his own right.”
While Christie’s success as an artist is now well known, his success as a family man and a father is even more important to Hermione and her siblings – her voice lifting again when she remembers the good times.
Looking at a photograph of her dad with the words ‘I love you – Dad’ complete with a hand
drawn heart and kisses, Hermione is bursting with love.
“It’s been well documented that dad couldn’t read or write, so these kind of messages are so special to me because I knew they probably took him five or 10 minutes to write,” she said. “He was love. He was compassion and he was always there for me, which is why I find it so tough that I can’t pick up the phone and talk to him and get advice anymore.
“He didn’t have it easy, coming to London at the age of 15 and working on the buildings with no prospects and no shoes and being told he’d go nowhere, but he never complained or moaned,” Hermione continued.
“He had so much wisdom and advice to give, mixed with amazing humility. In fact my brother Tim and himself are very similar – a kind, gentle, considerate man with very sensitive qualities, which is quite rare. He was a good man. A proud man, who was very philosophical about the limited time we have on this earth, so he did things his way. He was absolutely fabulous.”
Tickets for Hennessy – A Tribute to Christie on June 15th are still available from the INEC box office on 064 6671555.