Northern Ireland

Singing priest shocked at Hallelujah success

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Media caption Fr Ray Kelly sang a pitch-perfect version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

An Irish priest who surprised wedding guests with his version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah says he is flabbergasted that it has received more than 28 million views online.

Fr Ray Kelly has sung the song with new, marriage-themed lyrics at weddings for four years, but his performance earlier this month travelled around the world.

"This morning, I was on Polish television over Skype and I did an interview with New Zealand radio, I'm doing a magazine interview later and a television crew is coming down today to film a documentary," he says.

"I'm handling it with ease at the moment, but it's Holy Week - the biggest week in the church's calendar - so it's quite a bit of pressure to work around the parish life while dealing with all the media attention."

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Image caption Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah has been covered by a diverse range of artists

Fr Kelly was in the middle of recording his third album that he planned to release for charity in his parish of Oldcastle, County Meath, when the video went viral.

While he had vowed that it would be his last album, he now says he is getting attention from record companies.

"I was recording it at a local guy's amateur studio but that may have to change now - a bigger organisation has booked me up," he says.

"The first two albums are nearly sold out now, because there were only so many copies printed."

The lyrics of his version of the song are based around the theme of marriage, but Fr Kelly says he had forgotten where he had got them until he saw a video of a wedding ceremony he had performed in 2010 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

It turned out the words that struck such a chord with many people were written by a 10-year-old girl.

Lucy Pitts-O'Connor, who is now aged 14, says: "I wanted to make the song personal for my godmother's wedding.

"Fr Kelly asked for the words and has been singing them ever since.

"My teachers were very shocked and really happy that it has been so big."

Fr Kelly says: "I was looking at the video of Lucy singing, and it brought back a lot of memories.

"When all of this broke, I genuinely couldn't remember whether it was a group who gave it to me, but I'm delighted to see she's getting the recognition and her mum and dad as well."

While his success has brought international exposure and a live performance on Irish television, it is not his first taste of the limelight.

"I used to be part of the All Priests Show, where we travelled all over Ireland and to places like New York and Boston," he says.

"I've always loved singing and performing, and even while studying for the priesthood we'd put on shows and musicals."

His performance has received plenty of acclaim, but he says there is one important person who has not yet said if he is pleased with it.

"I don't know what Leonard Cohen would have to say about this - he hasn't made any contact with me, so that's probably a good sign," he says.

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