Enniskillen-educated singer and composer Neil Hannon has written a piece of commissioned music for London’s Royal Festival Hall’s newly renovated organ, inspired by his father, the former Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, the Rt. Rev Brian Hannon.

Writing this week in The Guardian, the composer talks about setting out on a mental pilgrammage on his father’s behalf while writing To Our Fathers in Distress. Six years ago, the former Bishop told his son that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“When the nice people at London’s Southbank Centre came to me last year about writing a piece for the Royal Festival Hall’s newly refurbished organ I was chuffed and excited. With my background in foolish pop, it’s still a surprise and an honour to be asked to do such things. I straightaway put forward the idea of writing something for my dad, as the pipe organ naturally put me in mind of his ecclesiastical career in the Church of Ireland. And though the finished piece is not specifically about him, it was his condition that persuaded me to delve back into my own memories; to make a kind of mental pilgrimage on his behalf,” he writes.

“The commissioning authorities generously offered me a choir on top of the organ and strings, so the work is a kind of oratorio on the subject of an average Hannon family Sunday in the 70s and 80s. It begins with a breakfast of lard, ends with Ireland being beaten in the rugby and visits the church and the woods in between. Not forgetting the obligatory awkward Sunday lunch with a visiting cleric of course,” he adds.

Bishop Hannon served as Dean in St. Macartin’s Cathedral throughout the 1980s, a time when Neil and his brothers attended Portora Royal School. Neil was a chorister in the church choir.

“There is so much about going to church that I remember fondly. My father’s sermons were full of warmth and common sense, and never over-long; his stage technique was flawless, and a valuable early lesson in how to put an audience at their ease. And the music! Well, anyone who knows my stuff and has a passing knowledge of Anglican hymns and anthems can see the overlap,” he wrote..

“It may seem silly but the prospect of trying to consciously recall a Hannon family Sunday from three decades ago really scared me. And it’s not as if there was anything particularly controversial in there. But sometimes, a detail I hadn’t thought about for 30 years – such as the way my brother’s socks would hang perpetually half on, half off his feet would return vividly to my imagination, and I would break out in a cold sweat.

“One would think I was suppressing some deep dark family secret the way I was carrying on. No such luck. Mine was a beautifully uneventful upbringing. Barely a tinge of tragedy or upheaval ruffled my blond bowl-cut hair. I have, nonetheless, developed a hypothesis to explain my reluctant recollecting. It may well be the worst kind of amateur psychology bunkum but here goes … In my teens I gradually brainwashed myself into believing that I was going to be a pop star. In order to achieve this I had to either change or obliterate various unhelpful aspects of my personality; my ghastly shyness, my pathetically weedy self-image etc. And because this was not a conscious activity, I may have somehow thrown the baby out with the bath water. I guess it’s what we all do when we are growing up. We retain the things that make us who we want to be, and discard the rest. I just did a particularly good job – with the result that now I have a tough job remembering who the hell I really am.

“Of course it may have been the ever-present mood of violence and hatred in Northern Ireland at the time that made me block it all out … but I like my idea better. Whatever it was, I am deeply grateful to the Southbank Centre for giving me the excuse to gaze lovingly at my navel for a while. And of course, I dedicate this piece to my dad – his memory’s not what it used to be, you know”.

The world premiere of To Our Fathers In Distress will be performed as part of Neil Hannon’s Guide to the Organ on Saturday, March 22 at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre as part of the Pull Out All The Stops Festival.