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“You get the nod from the conductor and then, just then, the magic begins”

Claire Donnelly,  Songster and Operational Manager Laois Vaccination Centre Portlaoise

Claire Donnelly,  Songster and Operational Manager Laois Vaccination Centre Portlaoise



“The music starts, everyone draws in, you get the nod from the conductor and then, just then,  the magic starts.”

And magical it is, as Claire Donnelly sums it up so well.  A seasoned choir singer, Claire will feature in one of the HSE Staff Choirs participating in the HSE Health and Wellbeing Online Christmas Concert on Tuesday December 21st,  performing along with colleagues from around the country.

Delighted to be involved, Claire has always sung and always sought out choirs wherever life, work and travels have taken her.  For those who may remember the HSE Tullamore Staff Choir flashmob performance of Coldplay’s Fix You in 2016, you may remember catching Claire’s contribution.  More recently she featured in the well-received RTE Frontline Choir production.

 HSE Tullamore Staff Choir 

Back in 2016, working as  Physiotherapy Manager, Claire was involved in the HSE Tullamore Staff Choir from the outset:  

“I hadn’t been part of a workplace choir before so I jumped at the opportunity. Under the musical direction of Andrius Kozlovskis,  it took off very quickly.  Although she clearly enjoyed the singing,  Claire says it afforded the opportunity of getting to know colleagues in way that had its own kind of equality.  There were no hierarchies or divisions within the choir, at Thursday evening rehearsals they were all just sopranos, altos or tenors.  That flashmob outing, supported by Offaly County Council Choir “wasn’t a perfect musical performance by any means but it was a very fitting song choice – Fix You by Coldplay.  It went up on Facebook and instantly grabbed people’s attention.  And that then became our anthem for a while.  We sang in various venues and events - we also went to local nursing homes and participated in different fund raising events. A highlight for us was always the Remembrance Services we participated in for patients who had passed away in Tullamore Hospital. So we were going along nicely until March 2020 when Covid scuppered everything.”


For Claire and her team, post March 2020, there was the immediate realisation that their one to one patient service could not continue in the same way. “A lot of our physiotherapists had to change their roles – they went  from the outpatient settings up onto the wards.  And they went  from the wards to  Intensive Care – we doubled our capacity in Intensive Care in Tullamore.  My team were helping out in differing ways including as healthcare assistants on the wards.  Then a lot of physiotherapists like many others were re-deployed to swabbing/testing centres and helping in nursing homes.  Obviously some continued providing specific Covid related physiotherapy services for patients who were critically ill, but also in the rehabilitation phase as they recovered from this debilitating illness.

“Crucially we were trying to identify at that particular time if we were a bigger risk to our patients by seeing them or not seeing them.  For people cocooning in their homes – they didn’t want people going into their homes understandably, but at the same time they needed our intervention. It was very challenging to re frame your whole service.  Of course we all had some staff off sick or as close contacts – like every other parts of the service it was very stretched.  But there was massive team work, co-operation and flexibility right across the service and everyone just focused on one thing.  We looked out for each other and in one way everyone felt relieved that they  were able to get out, go to work and do something to help.  There were often times when your car was the only car on the road in the morning going to work. It was both a challenge and a privilege.”

And of the choir – “It just stopped of course but then even as things opened up, we knew that singing was a high risk activity.” It was an outlet they all missed. ”Some choirs went online and for a variety of reasons we didn’t go down that road. Every time we thought we might be able to re start,  Covid always got in the way. However, we are nevertheless positive and hopeful for the return of the choir next year.”

 RTE Frontline Choir

But 2021 brought a new outlet and a new experience for Claire when she was nominated to participate in hugely popular RTE Frontline Choir production.  Through that, Claire and her fellow songsters initially went online and returned to a world full of music. By June they were finally able to meet up outdoors and it meant a summer of song.


In July this year Claire moved into an Operations Manager role at the Laois Vaccination Centre in Portlaoise.

“While it was a complete change of job for me,  I was using a lot of the skills I had built up over the years.  It was and is great to be there, part of history and part of that hope that we all got and continue to get from the vaccination programme.  It’s a great place to work (and to be) as everyone there is focused on one outcome – the administration of as many vaccines as possible in a safe and effective way.  Its kept everyone’s morale up too that everyone who comes to us is so hopeful and grateful and positive.”

The summer of opportunity continued with Claire revelling in the Frontline Choir experience.  “It was great to meet people from right across the health sector – not just the HSE.  And of course hearing peoples stories of Covid and how everyone had coped throughout. And then to be coached by David Brophy was such an opportunity and experience.  After our initial time and sessions on zoom,  when we were able to meet up,  it was great to be able to meet everyone in person and  build on those relationships and networks in person over the summer.”

It all culminated in a performance in Dublin Castle in November which Claire recalls as “just amazing because we were performing with professional musicians and performers.  We did a backing vocals for Aslan and Paul Brady and Sibéal Ní Chasaide.

'Once in a lifetime'

You only get chances like that once in a lifetime.  It was all televised and it was wonderful to be part of it.  We were in Dublin Castle for over 12 hours that day, rehearsing in the morning initially,  just ourselves with David Brophy.  The rehearsals for me were the highlight because you could see that the professional musicians and performers were just so hungry to perform at live gigs.  Paul Brady was delighted to be there as were the guys from Aslan.  Aslan were supposed to just sing one song with us and then do one separately but they reached out to us and asked if we could sing on that one too.  It was electric for me to be there and observe the creative process between them and David Brophy.”

Claire recalls that there were “many goosebump moments that day, in particular being able to perform the U2 song we had recorded individually in public for the first time.”

Online Health and Wellbeing Christmas Concert 2021

And of course Tuesday December 21st will see Claire participate in the HSE Staff Choir which will feature in the online Health and Wellbeing Christmas Concert 2021 from 4pm to 5.30pm.  The concert will include some very special guests and staff choir performances from across the country.  Claire was delighted to be invited to participate and was especially pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to avail of coaching sessions with a professional singer. “I had a couple of sessions with Eimear Collins, a singer based in the UK and it’s been great focusing on technique and range.” 

While it’s been a technical challenge for the HSE Staff Choir participants in recording their own pieces, Claire is delighted to be participating and looking forward to enjoying the final production when the wizardry blends it all into a seamless production and delivers the magic of sound, vision and uplifting music.  Claire is anticipating an emotional and stirring experience for both participants and audience alike. Goosebump moments guaranteed.   

Staff can register to watch the concert on this link