To Make of Hell a Heaven
“For relief of the Prisoners in the several Gaols, and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s-street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay, on Monday the 12th of April, will be performed at the Musical Hall in Fishamble-street, Mr. Handel’s new Grand Oratorio, called the MESSIAH, in which the Gentlemen of the Choirs of both Cathedrals will assist, with some concertos on the Organ by Mr. Handel.”
—Newspaper notice, Dublin, 1742
“To harmony like his, celestial power is given
To exalt the soul from earth, and make of hell a heaven."
—From a performance review, 1743
Each Christmas my dad would wrestle
with the old reel-to-reel
as if it were angel, grapple
its dusty mouth open
until the orchestra would stir,
the chorus rise. I’d hear
Mom groan, The Messiah, again?—
chorus of voices a Babel
we could not knock down.
Like the old tower in Kildare,
Conolly’s Folly, stone
by stone hauled by the hungry poor
Irish mauled by the famine,
In the heart of Dublin
on Fishamble Street, the lovers
of charity gathered,
some seven hundred souls, to hear
Handel’s first Messiah—
at which a priest leaped from his seat,
literally moved to speak—
Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven!
Freed hundreds from prison,
this song. WONDERFUL. COUNSELOR.
ALMIGHTY GOD. THE EVER-
LASTING FATHER, my father
sang, finding a river
deep beneath his heart now surging,
the dam so overflowing
I felt the music sting my eyes.
Without moving my mouth,
I prayed such light would curl inside
our voices when, at last,
they flowed out.