How Can I Keep From Singing, A Tribute to Noel Henry

Article from Mayo Abbey Parish Magazine 1995

No storm can shake my in most calm

While to that rock I'm clinging

Since love is Lord of Heaven and Earth

How can I keep from singing

Noel Henry, the eldest son of Matt and Del (nee Coyne) was born on Christmas Eve 1949. He was the eldest of a family of three boys and also the first of this talented family to leave Balla. He attended Balla National School and later Ballinafad College, Belcarra. Here it seems he divided his time and talent between the obligatory textbooks and his music. He studied for the priesthood in St. John's College, Waterford but dropped out of the seminary just prior to completing the four-year course of study. It was in 1969 that he boarded a plane for America leaving Balla far behind.

On arrival in America Noel worked as a singing waiter for Gerry O'Shea, in an Irish resort in the Catskill Mountains. One night, while out with friends in New York at a pub in the Bronx, he was offered a job by the owner. He performed in nightclubs and bars and later released his first album called "With A Little Help From My Friends". Noel never lost contact with his friends and relatives in Ireland and in 1972 his parents and two brothers moved to America.

In 1974, together with his brothers Mattie and Tommie, Noel founded a band named "The Celtic Blues" which was later re-named "Noel Henry's Irish Showband". His voice retained the musical lilt of his native County Mayo, when he sang songs such as "The Old Claddagh Ring" and "Lady of Knock"" he made recent immigrants homesick for the land they left behind and gave second and third generation Irish-Americans a musical taste of the ancestral homeland they never had a chance to visit. So great was the popularity of the band that they were flown out to Hollywood for a major celebrity show.

Noel met his future wife, Winnifred Forde, an Irish stepdancer, in the mid-1970's at an audition for a local TV show. They lived in Westwood and West Yarmouth, where he developed the Irish Village, an 80-unit motel, restaurant and pub. As travels and tours began to dominate his time he sold the operation. As the owner of "Noel Henry Tours", he conducted tours of Ireland and performed regularly on cruise ships in the Caribbean.

While Noel entertained hundreds of people all over America, so too his voice rang from the houses back in Mayo. I remember many nights sitting with the family listening to the familiar songs, hoping one day I might become a famous "pop star". Noel wasn't just our "cousin in America", he was our friend and inspiration and every visit was more special than the last. He was so charismatic, a genuine person who loved life and loved people. He cared for everyone and performed many benefit dances for Cura Visiting Nurses, Cranberry Area Hospice in Plymouth, St. Francis House Boston and other worthy causes.

Diagnosed with bone cancer in 1988, his femur was replaced by one from a deceased donor. His bout with cancer inspired Noel to reassess his priorities. He considered his career to be a gift from God. It reminded him that love of family and friends superseded material wealth. He cut back on several business endeavours to spend more time with his family and friends.

In August 1994, Noel, Winnie and their seven children travelled to Ireland. The day they arrived in Tawnalough was of great importance to all our family, especially our father, who remembered Noel as a young boy followed him across fields and winding roads. Many of Noel's characteristics were easily identified in his younger children, their energy and enthusiasm knew no bounds. The family later travelled to Medugorje. It was very close to Noel's heart. His faith was very strong and he had planned to do an Irish album but because of the graces he received in Medugorje he made a Christian album called How Can I Keep From Singing. This album featured a song written by Noel called Song of Thanks. The message he wanted to convey to people was that they should not wait for something terrible to happen before they realise what is really important in their lives.

Like so many in my search for happiness

I never realised as you might guess,

That around me all the time were the real treasures

And material things and wealth are passing pleasures

Noel Henry died earlier this year aged 46 years. More than 1,200 people gathered to pay their respects. A great ambassador for Ireland, Noel's generosity and kindness will never be forgotten. On September 24th a tea room in St. Francis House, Boston was dedicated to him, in recognition of all his help through the years. His legacy will live on through the band which will retain the name "Noel Henry's Irish Show Band". I will remember Noel as he was on stage, so relaxed, with a smile that reached everyone in the audience.

To smile then is to look at others with the eyes of Christ.

To know how to love them and smile at them, Through our tears if need be,

Is to breathe in advance the atmosphere of Heaven.

by Mary Henry

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