Europe

George HW Bush: Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang to dying president

Ronan Tynan Image copyright The Irish Tenors
Image caption Ronan Tynan is a classical singer from County Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland

The Irishman who will sing at George HW Bush's funeral also visited him on his deathbed and sang to the former US president just hours before he died.

Details of Ronan Tynan's final performance for Mr Bush were recounted by the New York Times last week.

It was not the first time they had met, as Tynan has been performing for high-profile US politicians for many years.

He also sang at Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004 and was once described as America's favourite tenor.

Gold medals

However, Tynan was something of a latecomer to the music industry, having overcome extraordinary challenges in his early life.

The double amputee is a Paralympic champion who won 18 gold medals for Ireland.

Before he began selling millions of classical albums, he worked as a doctor specialising in sports injuries and designed his own prosthetic limbs.

Image copyright The Irish Tenors
Image caption Ronan Tynan and his fellow Irish Tenors have performed for presidents and prime ministers

Tynan and his twin brother, Edmond, were born into a farming family in Johnstown, County Kilkenny, in May 1960.

Shortly after birth, their parents were told Ronan had phocomelia - a congenital deformity affecting both of his legs below the knee.

"In layman's terms, this means that my legs were about a quarter shorter than they should have been and both my feet were splayed outward," Tynan wrote in his 2002 autobiography.

"I had only three toes on each foot, which I eventually named Curly, Larry and Moe on the right and Tuppeny, Fuffo and Jinks on the left."

Artificial limbs

The disabled Tynan spent most of the first three years of his life in hospital in Dublin, only going home to Kilkenny for weekend visits.

By the time he was able to leave hospital, he had already lost his twin - Edmond died after contracting pneumonia shortly before their first birthday.

When he moved home, Tynan was fitted with artificial limbs which, at the time, consisted of leather boots re-enforced with steel rods.

He learned to walk, cycle and ride horses and enjoyed an active childhood, but at the age of 20, he was injured in a motorcycle crash which badly affected his mobility.

Image copyright Ronantynan.net
Image caption Ronan Tynan is a Paralympic champion and world record holder

After meeting medical specialists in London, Tynan decided to have both of his lower legs amputated to enable him to walk on artificial limbs again.

"No-one else can make the decision for your limbs to be amputated," he told the Irish Echo in 2011.

"You have to accept the fact that it's the best thing that can happen to you, if it's going to be for your betterment.

"And I knew it would ultimately benefit me. I knew I'd walk again. I knew I'd be fine."

Within a year, Tynan was representing Ireland at the Paralympics in various track and field events.

Throughout the 1980s, he won 18 gold medals and broke 14 Paralympic world records.

He also completed a degree in physical education at college in Limerick and later qualified as a medical doctor at Trinity College, Dublin.

Air Force One

Dr Tynan was in his early 30s before his singing career took off.

His big break came in 1994 when he won the BBC/RTÉ talent show Go For It less than a year after starting formal voice training.

In 1998, he joined the Irish Tenors, a classical trio who have sold millions of albums and regularly tour the USA.

On their website, the group describe themselves as "one of the most successful Irish touring acts ever, second only to U2" in terms of US audiences.

Image copyright The Irish Tenors
Image caption Ronan Tynan joined the Irish Tenors in 1998

In his solo career, Tynan became know for his renditions of "God Bless America" at New York's Yankee Stadium.

He sang at the wedding of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2003 and the following year he performed at Mr Bush's 80th birthday party.

According to his agent, Tynan travelled to the party on Air Force One with President George W Bush.

Controversy

In 2009, Tynan faced criticism over allegedly anti-Semitic remarks he made to a real estate agent in New York.

The singer later apologised for his comments, saying he had meant it as a "joke" but admitted his words were "inappropriate and hurtful".

The Yankees dropped their long-standing tradition of booking Tynan for its games and the singer later revealed he received death threats and abuse on the streets of New York.

His career survived the controversy however, as Tynan continued to tour and also found work in the US as a motivational speaker.

He maintained his links with the Bush family and it is understood that the request to sing at the state funeral was made some time ago.

Silent Night

His final meeting with George HW Bush happened last Friday, according to the ex-president's friend and former secretary of state, James Baker.

Mr Baker told the New York Times that Tynan had asked if he could visit Mr Bush, and when he arrived later that day, he sang two songs - one in the Irish language and a rendition of Silent Night.

During Silent Night, Mr Baker told the paper: "Believe it or not, the president was mouthing the words."

He added that Mr Bush died a "very graceful, gentle death" later that night.

More on this story