Life has thrown more than its fair share of twists and turns at Celtic Thunder’s Ryan Kelly, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It is crazy to think that about this time last year I was still in the hospital and in a coma,” said Kelly in a telephone interview with the Western News from his home in Ireland earlier this summer.
“You never know what is going to happen in your life or what turn it is going to take.”
For Kelly it was June 3, 2012 that he truly learned to appreciate life. He tripped down a flight of stairs in his home that day and hit his head on a wall, putting him in a coma with swelling of the brain. He woke up three weeks later.
“It didn’t look so good at one point for me, so I have been told. It was scary times for close family and friends but it just wasn’t my time to go yet,” he said.
Awakened with a new perspective, he set a goal to make the taping of their TV special for Celtic Thunder’s album Mythology which was less than two months off. In between was two weeks in a special brain-injury hospital and a rehabilitation period.
Reflecting back on that time, Kelly said he could feel his life changing as he got to the filming process.
“I feel like I was given a second chance and I look at life very differently. I took a lot of things for granted and now I have taken a step back to see how lucky I am. I think that is why I connected to the songs on Mythology so much,” said Kelly. “It was my first show after my accident and my family was in the audience. I knew I could not look at them because they would cry then I would cry.”
The singer is still awestruck by the support he received during this time from fans around the world who held church services in his name, prayer groups and online communities that dedicated prayer pages.
Celtic Thunder fans quite often refer to the singer as the heartthrob of the group, a title that makes Kelly blush and gives his friends back home in Ireland fodder to tease him with when he does get home.
“They give me plenty of stick about this heartthrob bit. I will never get used to that,” he said. “I love speaking with fans and answering their questions though and people are inquisitive. If I have to answer the odd embarrassing question then I’ll take it, I guess it just comes with the territory.”
He wouldn’t change it for anything. Kelly said the reactions from audiences that come to watch Celtic Thunder make it all worth it.
“Things like seeing people smiling when we are singing, or singing a song that touches somebody and they have a tear in their eye, that’s enough for me. Even those who can’t get to shows and write a letter or comment through social media with kind words, that to me is giving back 100-fold of what I give to them,” said Kelly.
All of this for a guy from a “wee village” in northern Ireland, who almost took on a career as a investment banker.
“I was probably the only accountant in the office that was gigging on the weekends and coming in Monday morning worse for wear from singing on Sunday night,” he said.
It was during a period of transition to a new bank when Kelly found himself with some time off and he heard about the Celtic Thunder auditions and thought he would give it a whirl.
What he always believed was a pipe dream, became reality.
“I had to go meet the bankers and told them I’m not going to be joining them and I was running off to the circus,” he said with a laugh. “That circus started six years ago and I am still part of that circus. It’s funny how life can work out you know. You think it is going in one direction then it takes quite a dramatic change. A lot of things went my way, or didn’t work out, and I thank the lord for that.”
With time off from Celtic Thunder before their Canadian and U.S. tour, Kelly said he has been working hard on writing songs for his second solo album. He will take on the role of the “bad guy” in Mythology with a solo on the dark ballad The Hunter’s Moon, written especially for him. He also performs the original track The Thunder Rolls and nostalgic Irish folk song Carrickfergus and in the original ensemble the group performs Voices and My Land.
Kelly is excited to return to Canada where he says a massive fan base has been nothing but loyal Celtic Thunder.
While the singer is settled in on his new perspective, one year out from his life-altering accident, he admits with all the downtime in touring he still needs to be put on the right path every now and then.
“There is nothing like getting off the tour bus, putting on the trainers and getting out there. It makes everything alright,” he said. “People are more than welcome to join me if they see me out running. I often get lost and have to ask people to turn me in the right direction again.”
Tickets for Celtic Thunder Mythology at the SOEC are $55 and $75 (including tax, plus service charges). They are available in person at the Valley First box office at the SOEC, Wine Country Visitor Centre, by phone at 1-877-763-2849 or online at www.ValleyFirstTix.com.