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Helena’s Pandemic Story Of Zoom To Boom

by Jimmy Rhatigan

A combo of passion, pride and perseverance has spurred a talented daughter of Kilkenny to even greater heights in her career in the world of entertainment.
While most are cursing the sound of silence and pain of inactivity because of Covid-19, a Kilkenny woman of courage, resilience and ingenuity is in bigger demand than ever.
The big difference is that Helena Byrne from the hurling hamlet of Ballyhale has moved from jetting around the world to wielding her magic of song and story from her now Dublin home.
Not only has she overcome the problems of travel, empty theatres and locked schools, she has also sparked a new era of live Zoom shows that she believes will flourish post pandemic.
From her tender years, Helena has been in love with singing and storytelling.
The tale of how she wooed world audiences with her beautiful voice and excited cosmopolitan families as an Irish seanachai with international nous could eventually make fascinating reading.
Making a U-turn of bravery, Helena, with the support of her German-born husband, Jorn Rodaebel from Hanover, moved the global stage furniture to her sitting room and come hell or high water, the show goes on.

Helene online

It was a classic case of when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
A ruthless invisible terrorist had wreaked havoc on an unsuspecting world.
But Covid was to meet its match as Helena, songstress and fireside mistress of fun, farce and fairytale, akin to a cornered Katie Taylor, refused to throw in a towel.
The great world stage had been hijacked and millions ran for cover as a killer Coronavirus lashed out in World War 3.
From travelling the globe spreading her undoubted talents, Helena was cocooned in her Dublin home.
Her nest became her podium, her roving mic, her collection of words of wisdom, her dynamism, delight and intrigue that bamboozle, tease and encourage inter-action.
“When everything was shut down in March of last year, I had been booked for two US tours for October 2020. The United States tours disappeared and so did all other planned performances,” Helena told Kilkenny Press.
“I was feeling sorry for myself.”
But any self-pity was quickly smothered by clever ingenuity with a generous dash of professionalism in new challenges.
“I started looking into performing through Zoom. That went well as we created lively online experiences.
“Families booked me for parties and we all celebrated through Zoom.
“Pre-pandemic I had performed for the Irish Embassy in Singapore, at the Oulu Irish Festival in Singapore and for lots of Irish clubs and organisations throughout the United States.

Helena live

“On Zoom I was doing something similar without leaving home. I even performed in two countries on the same day. Zoom proved a hit in Ireland too.
“I was happy to have discovered an outlet but I knew there was lots of online competition and the key was to ensure that standards were always high. People need to feel engaged.
“Something good has come from this awful pandemic. I always knew there was something very special about sitting in a theatre or at a fireside with a seanachai. I was reluctant about online.
“You need atmosphere and you can certainly adapt. The latter took a bit of doing but I am getting there.”
From being down in the dumps, albeit for a time it takes only for a donkey to whip his tail, the world was again Helena Byrne’s oyster, with lots of substance and less trimmings.
Smiling like a Kilkenny Cat and enjoying her newly invented role, Helena looks back with love on her tender years on the amateur stage.

Helena in singing mode

Although only knee high to a grasshopper, she recalls warbling to her heart’s content at her family home where she was hugely supporter by her parents, Mary and John, both psychiatric nurses in St Canice’s Hospital, her father being a member of the then Kilkenny Musical Society.
The roots were strong and the seeds of success continued to grow as Helena learned her A, B and C in Ballyhale National School and matured into a real star at Presentation Convent in Loughboy, Kilkenny City.
She went on to admire ace seanachai Eddie Lenihan, a superb performer she saw as a great role model.
She attended a few acting courses and hit the US for theatre internships.
She started work as a tour guide 12 years ago when she moved to Dublin and threw the odd story into the mix.
From singing and storytelling her career moved to storytelling and singing.
“While telling a story, you look into people’s eyes and they will reciprocate,” Helena said.
“I enjoy both art forms but storytelling has opened more doors for me.

“I have been working full time as a singer and storyteller for 12 years with no waitressing jobs on the side. There is a demand for good shows.”
She remembers with fondness, Ballyhale teacher Nuala Cummins, sadly deceased, who always encouraged her love of the stage.
“I was the Gingerbread Man when our school performed in a competition in Dublin. I was then 7 or 8.”
The irony of a wonderful career is that a worldwide tragedy just may add many years to a glorious career.
Regardless of how the cookie crumbles or how long song and story will be Helena’s bread and butter, the pandemic is proof positive that every cloud has a silver lining.
Helena is very proud of a show called The Irish Pub Experience she put together with Seán Fitzmaurice, a newspaper designer and part-time brewer in Clare.
“Seán tells about making red ale and Guinness and I tell stories of history and sing a few songs. That was a great experience.”
For more insight into the wonderful world of a woman of real talent and charm go to helenabyrne.com

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